Dear Douglas,


Please tell me how to stop worrying. I am a 25-year-old Vietnamese woman, who works in Hanoi. My family is from a town outside of Hanoi. My father is controlling my life. He is never happy with my decisions and now I cannot sleep. My work colleague quit six weeks ago and my boss still hasn’t hired a person to replace her. I have to do the work of two people and have no free time for myself. I want to quit and find another job, but my father says I should stay where I am. He doesn’t care if I am exhausted and bored with life. What should I do? How can I have less stress? I think my future will be unhappy because I cannot live my own life.


— Trapped


Dear Trapped,


I can tell that you are feeling lots of intense feelings… frustration, anger, fear and helplessness. Those feelings have become so strong that they are affecting your ability to sleep, which is something that is important to feeling OK.


I think you are feeling trapped because you can’t seem to feel more calm and trust that these problems will find their own solutions. So the most important thing is to work on becoming calmer.


Your mind tells you that you have to solve the problems in order to become calmer, but I think works the opposite way. First, work on slowing things down by acknowledging your feelings… of course you are frustrated and angry. Of course you are fearful and worried. Of course you feel helpless when your father doesn’t allow you to make decisions for yourself or tries to control your life too much.


We don’t want your feelings to be ignored… they are real and come from the experiences you are having. We only want to them to be less intense.


The problem with intense feelings is that we make decisions to escape from them. We react to our situation, rather than respond. There is a difference. When we react, we make decisions that are often not well thought out and we sometimes regret what we have done. When we respond, this happens when our emotions are balanced with our thoughts and our values, and we can trust the decisions better.


It is important that you take a time-out from the pressure you are under. Say to yourself: “I cannot make decisions when I am feeling this stressed, so I will postpone any decisions for one week so that I can take the time to calm down first.”


Focus your attention on things that will help you relax your mind and body. Exercise is one important way to relieve stress. Some exercises can be done in short amounts of time even in your workplace. There are also guided meditations and mindfulness trainings that don’t take much time, but do help you calm your mind and relax your whole being. Look on YouTube.


There is a lot we know about what helps people sleep when they are having a hard time. Learn what is best to do when you cannot sleep. It includes how you get prepared for a night’s rest, what you do if you are lying in bed worrying or having ruminating thoughts, and what not to do when you are awake in the night… i.e. watching a video screen.


I suggest you go to meet with a psychotherapist to help you with all of this. It might take a few sessions to understand what triggers your intense feelings and how you can work towards a calmer response. It might also include ways for you to learn how to be more assertive in the way you represent yourself to your father or your boss, so that they can better understand how you feel and where your limits are.


Everything in life seems to go better when we are calm. We cannot control what happens to us, but we can learn to gain a calmness that helps us to respond in the best way.


I wish calmness to you,




Do you have a question you would like Douglas’s help with? You can email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Personal details will not be printed

More in this category: « After the Affair Rape »
Douglas Holwerda

Douglas is an American trained psychotherapist, writer of the Dear Abby-esque monthly column in the Word, "Dear Douglas". He holds to the notion that the living of life is a creative endeavour... an eternal adventure without promises. And that we are both shaped by the journey and the shapers of what is possible. Our greatest hope is to find love and connection along the way. Live it all.

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