Vietnamese youth seek healing to overcome anxiety

By Kim Ngan, Bao Tran   October 9, 2023 | 12:31 am PT
Phuong Thuy, 26, left her hometown Hanoi for the northern mountainous province of Son La after suffering an anxiety disorder she says was caused by family feuds and boyfriend troubles.

"My family introduced me to a few companies after my university graduation, but I couldn’t work at any of those places for long and ended up being unemployed," she says. "So, my family started criticizing me and comparing me to other people my age."

Her anxiety got worse when her boyfriend took sides with her family.

"I often felt I was useless, and everything in my life was troublesome," she says. "I was unemployed, my family put pressure on me, and my boyfriend did not give me comfort."

"I sometimes felt like I was all alone and did not have anyone by my side."

Suffering from insomnia, the young woman lost 10 kg in not even half a year. She began looking for communities for those seeking healing methods as well as job opportunities.

She eventually left Hanoi for Son La two months ago to work as a manager of a local homestay, with a monthly salary about half of her previous Hanoi income.

A 2022 report by the National Institute of Mental Health of Vietnam pointed out that 50% of mental health problems start emerging when patients are in their teenage years, hinting at how Vietnamese youth are suffering from many mental health issues.

The same report also revealed that one in every five young people in Vietnam was diagnosed with at least one mental problem, with depression being the most common trouble, followed by anxiety disorders.

Because of these alarming figures, young people are also increasingly seeking help from external healing methods, including escaping the hustle of life in metropolitan areas, just like Thuy.

Many young people in Vietnam are trying to escape the hustle of life in metropolitan areas. Photo illustration by Freepik

Many young people in Vietnam try to escape the hustle of life in metropolitan areas. Photo illustration by Freepik

She says that ever since she came to the mountainous province, her life has become better.

"I got the chance to clear my mind," Thuy says. "I have got more time for myself and more time to reflect on what I’ve achieved."

Based on her observations, Thuy claims that nine out of 10 gen-Zers (people born from 1997 onwards) she has met since relocating to Son La cite "stress-relief" as their motivation for their trips to the remote area.

"Some attend voluntary projects and work without salaries simply for the sake of relocating to more rural places like [the Central Highlands towns of] Da Lat or Mang Den," she says.

Aligning with Thuy’s experience, going on short healing trips is an option an increasing amount of Vietnamese, particularly younger generations, are choosing.

Thuy Nguyen, representative of a tourism company that holds frequent "travel healing" trips, says gen-Zers are her loyal customers. They often willingly spend millions of dong every month on these kinds of trips.

Activities in these trips often include things that can help the attendees spend time with themselves and with nature instead of with their electronic devices, such as picking bamboo shoots, bathing in the streams, sitting in the middle of the forests singing, and many other "organic" experiences.

"I know some young people who go on this type of trip once a month," Nguyen said. "That means those belonging to generation Z are enjoying their lives and taking care of themselves more, which is a good sign."

Another popular option for people with the need for this type of healing is taking part in healing training courses.

Hoang Chau, of Hanoi, is a frequent attendee of these courses. She began such endeavors after spending a large part of her life working between 12 and 14 hours a day.

"[As a result] I suffered from a feeling of disconnection from my family, friends, and boyfriend," she says. "I got insomnia too and found it hard to control my temper."

Chau felt drained after some time and decided to quit her job. She researched healing training courses and has spent VND30 million on six courses, aiming to regain her energy.

"40% of my fellow course-mates have been gen-Zers," she says. "The majority of them were born between 2000 and 2003, while the youngest members I’ve met were born in 2005."

Hoang Minh, a healing trainer with four years of experience, confirms that the number of gen-Zers attending his courses is increasing.

"Gen-Zers are aware of taking care of their emotions," he explains. "They also know how to research information in order to come up with the best solutions [so many of them have signed up for healing courses when suffering from mental issues]."

Minh suggests that those looking for healing courses should patiently and carefully investigate available options in order to avoid wasting time and money.

More specifically, he says these people should clearly identify what they want to achieve with these kinds of courses, research the prices with Google or communities on online platforms, and consult with experts about legal issues before deciding to attend a course.

Overall, as mental problems are increasingly afflicting the youth, these healing trips and courses are also experiencing a boom.

Thuy says she started living more healthily since moving to Son La. She now gets up at 5-6 a.m. in the morning, makes herself a teapot, and finishes cleaning the homestay before guests’ check-in time.

"I don’t have as many thoughts as I used to have," she says, adding that her thoughts have become lighter as well, She says she mainly thinks about whether she has performed well in doing her job, and she plans her schedule for the following day at the end of each day.

She says she has also established the habit of keeping her loved ones updated about her current life through phone calls or social media.

"I feel my family bonds have improved since I came here," she says.

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