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Kaleidoscope of the Heart: Don't waste time worrying over spring changes

Rika Kayama

March is a month of "change" in Japan. Graduations, company personnel shuffles, retirement, moves -- there must be many people whose environment up until now has changed, or will change in the near future.

    But not everyone is thrilled by these changes. Beginning this month, I've had patients come to my consultation room with worries like, "My contract as a temporary company employee ends in March, but I haven't found a new job yet," or "I've been assigned to move to the one department I've been avoiding in the company," with their shoulders slumped and their spirits down. At this time of year, the number of people reporting these new "negative changes" that they now must face as they come to me for advice about how to deal with the physical and mental stress increases.

    For these people, I have this to say:

    Of course you probably aren't happy about these changes. However, it's actually the people who are awaiting "welcome change" from April who should be the most cautious. That's because those people get over excited and jump into the fray from the start and quickly wear themselves out, or get depressed or lose hope when the reality awaiting them is even a little different from their expectations. In your case, don't you think that you can definitely start things at your own pace?

    These are not simply comforting words. Serious-minded Japanese people, in particular, often get caught up in working their hardest to succeed and get to the top. They then end up losing all of their energy, sometimes causing conditions known as "advancement depression," along with other effects. The mindset that you must work your very hardest at a new position or task amounts to increasing pressure on yourself.

    To be honest, medical school was not my first choice, and even when I graduated from university and became a doctor, I often thought, "But I'm not cut out for this..." Leaving Tokyo where I had spent my university days to do my residency in Hokkaido was also a huge blow to my spirits, and I vividly remember thinking on the verge of tears, "It's cold. I want to go back to Tokyo," at a welcome party held at an outdoor "Genghis Khan" grilled meat restaurant.

    Still, it was precisely because it wasn't the happy change that I had imagined that solidified my will to do my absolute best. I relaxed my shoulders and thought "I just have to get the hang of things," and was able to make my first step as a working member of society. When I look back now, I see it as an extremely valuable experience. All around me, there were cases of people who worked too hard and destroyed their health simply because they had achieved their dream of becoming a doctor.

    For those who know that an unwelcomed change will soon occur or feel anxious about the start of April, it's OK to worry a little this March. I hope you can feel lucky that you can meet the new year at a speed that matches your current comfort level. A peaceful April most certainly awaits you. (By Rika Kayama, psychiatrist)

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