Stressed, sad, angry | Inquirer Opinion

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It’s more fun in the Philippines? More like it’s more stressful in the Philippines after a new Gallup survey revealed that the country is the most stressed and also the second angriest and saddest in the Southeast Asian region.

Global analytic firm Gallup measured the world’s “emotional temperature” from 2021 up to early 2022 through extensive surveys and studies to discover the emotional states of people in more than 100 countries and areas. The respondents, aged 15 years or older, were asked if they felt stressed, angry, or sad the day before the survey was conducted, with answers varying from “yes,” “no,” “don’t know,” or “refused to answer.”

Almost half, or 48 percent, of the respondents from the Philippines said they felt stressed—the highest among Southeast Asian countries. The country took the second spot for angriest with 27 percent answering “yes,” and was also second saddest with 35 percent saying “yes.”

These findings are sobering, considering that Filipinos are known for their fun-loving spirit and ability to smile and laugh at life’s tribulations.

But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the stress and emotional levels were high since the survey covered a period of uncertainty not only in the Philippines but in the rest of the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic—an uncertainty that continues today. The pandemic has contributed to people’s stress and affected their mental well-being, its lockdowns causing an economic slowdown that resulted in millions losing their jobs. Despite the country’s unemployment rate declining to 3.7 million in 2021 from the 15-year-high of 4.5 million in 2020, the number of Filipinos who considered themselves underemployed—or those whose employment was inadequate for their economic needs—in fact, went up to 7 million last year compared to 6.4 million the previous year, and 5.9 million pre-pandemic. Coupled with price hikes in gas and other basic commodities, no wonder Filipinos are feeling stressed.

Another survey, the Global Workplace Report that was released only last month also by Gallup, likewise showed that stress among workers in the Philippines was the highest in the region—even higher than the global average with 50 percent saying they experienced a lot of stress. Common stressors, as cited by previous studies, were work- and study-related issues, finances, personal relationships, and, unsurprisingly, traffic.

Traffic, without a doubt, has contributed a lot to workers’ stress, especially those in Metro Manila—the third most stressful metropolitan area in the world next only to Mumbai in India and Lagos in Nigeria, according to a ranking by Berlin-based wellness company VAAY released last year. Metro Manila scored low particularly on traffic congestion, noise pollution, unemployment, and weather. On a daily basis, the travails of regular commuters are documented on social media, with one recent tweet raising the hackles of people online for stating that a four-hour commute from Cavite to Makati was normal and that it depended on “diskarte” or being resourceful.

But as the paper, “Defining Diskarte: Exploring Cognitive Processes, Personality Traits, and Social Constraints in Creative Problem-Solving” published in the Philippine Journal of Psychology in 2017 pointed out, “An integral element of diskarte is the presence of constraints imposed by one’s environment, particularly inequality in social positions or in resources. Diskarte is utilized to respond to these situational limitations.”

Diskarte may be considered a positive trait by many, but it also points to inadequate resources that force Filipinos to be “madiskarte.” The lack of efficient public transport system, shortage of job opportunities, high prices of basic commodities, inadequate health and social services—these highlight inequities and force the ordinary Filipino to find ways to survive; and these are also the very factors that contribute to their daily stress and can explain why the Philippines is the most stressed country in the region.

The President, in his first State of the Nation Address last week, sought to address these problems when he outlined his plans: build sufficient road network and transport facilities, schools, hospitals, and mass housing, raise efficiency of public health services, protect workers’ rights, etc. Basic services that impact people’s daily lives and are attributes of countries that have attained social progress and are considered the best—least stressful—places to live. Because before a country can be considered truly progressive, it must first take care of its people—ensuring that their basic needs, mental and physical well-being, and quality of life are addressed.

These are all daunting challenges for any government, especially a new one like the Marcos Jr. administration elected by an overwhelming majority. Filipinos will be counting on you, Mr. President.

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