“Life in Japan, Gogatsubyou, and Self-Care”の日本語版はこちら: 「5月病とセルフケア」

“How is your mental health in Japan? Is it better, worse, or remains the same as pre-living in Japan?”

This was the question that I encountered recently on a forum for foreigners in Japan. 

Living in Japan comes with its own challenges and difficulties, and navigating the cultural differences while dealing with personal issues can be overwhelming. 

The driving force behind [EDO BEAUTY LAB] is my personal motto, “Self-Care Through Skincare,” and this blog explores self-care practices to manage burnout.

Today let’s take a look at life in Japan, gogatsubyou, and self-care.

What Is Gogatsubyou?

The original poster did not elaborate on their query. However, given the timing, I wondered if the question was related to “May blues.” 

Known in Japanese as gogatsubyou (5月病), “May Blues” or “May Sickness” stems from an inability to adjust to a new work/school environment or routine. 

April, as the start of the Japanese academic and fiscal year, is when many substantial changes take place. 

For starters, graduates join the workforce while seasoned workers are transferred or relocated. Students, on the other hand, may start the new school year with much excitement at the prospect of being in a new grade.

April, as you see, is a whirlwind month of changes: A new commuting route; new teachers and friends; new coworkers, and managers.  

All of these changes, followed by a week-long holiday, can result in a sobering come down when the novelty of starting a new job or school in April wears off and reality kicks in. 

As a result, symptoms of gogatsubyo often appear in May, after the Golden Week holiday, hence its name. (The Japanese word for May is “go gatsu” while the suffix “-byou” is used to denote an illness.)

Self-Care & Treating Gogatsubyo

Self-Care is often thrown around as a cure-all to life’s ailments, but what exactly is “self-care?” 

To put it very simply, “self-care” is a means of monitoring one’s physical, mental, and emotional state by maintaining a healthy and honest relationship with yourself. 

Just as with as the Japanese idiom juu nin to iro (十人十色 // じゅうにんといろ), how you self-care is up to you. You may prefer to relax in a hot bath after a long day, or an intense workout at the gym before going home. 

The underlying causes of gogatsubyo are stress and fatigue, and “self-care” is a tool that can help cope with daily stressors so that they do not build up and overpower us. 

No matter how you choose to self-care, remember that self-care is never selfish – although it certainly can feel that way when things are spiraling out of your control! 

Life in Japan, Gogatsubyou, and Self-Care — 3 Steps To Take

1. Recognize the Signs and Symptoms of Stress

Life in Japan, Gogatsubyou, and Self-Care

Those who suffer from gogatsubyou frequently cite feelings of anxiety, nervousness, or helplessness. Other signs to look out for include changes in eating habits, mood swings, insomnia, and depression. Be aware that stress can also manifest itself physically as headaches, chest pains, and shortness of breath.

2. Make Healthy Lifestyle Changes

Life in Japan, Gogatsubyou, and Self-Care

It’s important to get a good night’s sleep and eat a balanced diet. Of course, this is easier said than done if work/school-related stress is the reason why you can’t sleep or eat! 

In Japanese convenience stores, you’ll encounter a wide variety of low-calorie nutritional drinks (栄養ドリンク // eiyou dorinku). They boost appetite and energy levels, as well as replenish vitamins and minerals.

While these nutritional drinks aren’t meant to be a replacement for a balanced diet, they can certainly help you reach your daily intake of vitamins and minerals.

It’s also important to regularly engage in physical activity, which improves your mental health through the release of “happy hormones” like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins

3. Aim For Progress, Not Perfection

Life in Japan, Gogatsubyou, and Self-Care

Making mistakes is normal, especially when you’re just starting a new job and it seems like everyone has got “it” under control. Try not to pressure yourself into reaching for perfection.  

When things are not going as you intended, take a break to refocus, whether that means leaving early or taking a day off. 

You may feel as if you don’t deserve to take a break. Or, you may feel as if you don’t deserve to complain when others have it worse. However, gogatsubyo has the potential to turn into real depression if left unattended. Do not hesitate to seek help if you are struggling.

Mental Health Resources in Japan

Tokyo English Lifeline (TELL): https://telljp.com/ // 03-5774-0992

Tokyo Counseling Services: https://tokyocounseling.com/ // 03-5431-3096

One final resource I want to share for those living in Japan is the Instagram account @blossomtheproject.

This bilingual account focuses on mental health in Japan, self-care tips and daily affirmations, and also addresses important issues in Japanese society.

Life in Japan, Gogatsubyou, and Self-Care

Our next blog post explores 10 ways to self-care during the rainy season in Japan

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