Do you find yourself working extra long hours and falling ill often as a result? Be careful, work-related stress is a slippery slope towards a mental burnout. Vanessa Tai finds out how we can get a handle on stress.
It’s not news that Singapore is a stressed-out nation, but a series of reports have recently emerged about how more young professionals are facing burnouts and depression. In a survey conducted by Regus in November 2013, 67 percent of Singaporean workers said they’re experiencing more stress-related illness due to economic volatility. A recent report in The Straits Times also revealed that psychiatrists are seeing more patients with mental health disorders due to work stress.
Although most of us understand the importance of downtime, there’s still a sense of guilt and perpetual fear of missing out that holds us back from fully relaxing. I guess this is in part due to our work culture – we tend to associate ourselves so intrinsically with our jobs that we feel out of depth when we’re not working. Then there’s also “the busy trap”. This phrase was first coined by The New York Times’ columnist Tim Kreider, and it points towards a culture where being busy is worn as a badge of honour. It’s a #humblebrag, if you will, about how your life is so full and productive that you don’t have time to slow down.
However, living a life that’s constantly in full throttle mode comes with a slew of unpleasant repercussions. In 2012, a study of more than 6,600 Singaporean adults found that the most prevalent psychological problems here include anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and alcohol abuse. According to mental healthcare professionals, a big reason for these disorders stem from work-related stress combined with living in a densely populated area like Singapore.
While Singapore currently has the fourth-highest life expectancy rate in the world, we shouldn’t get complacent and assume this will always the case. One just has to take a look at the USA. From being in the top five countries for life expectancy, the US has plummeted in recent years to its current 35th position. According to Dr Mark Liponis, Corporate Medical Director at Canyon Ranch* Lenox, this dismal ranking is due to skyrocketing stress and productivity levels as well as a decrease in exercise and healthy eating in the US. In a recent interview with the doctor, he told me sagely, “Don’t let Singapore become America.”
Okay, got it. So how does Dr Liponis propose we lower our stress levels?
“Many people think getting stronger is just about the physical aspect. However, even as you build your physical strength, you’re also getting mentally fitter. You become more determined and resilient, and you don’t get as worried about things happening to you because you know you’ll be able to handle it. This is why I always recommend women to work on strength training when they hit the gym – it helps create confidence and grit.”
“People in the city always seem to be running, seemingly from one place to another, but many of us are actually running away from something. Perhaps some of us are running at full speed at work because we’re afraid of being seen as lazy or incompetent. Whatever it is, you need to slow down. There are two main causes of anxiety – one, being worried about something that might happen in the future; and two, being unable to let go of something in the past. It’s important to always bring your awareness back to the present. Here’s a trick – every time you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, take a couple of moments to breathe deeply. For each inhalation, take twice as long to exhale. You’ll soon find your stress levels going down.”
Get Proper Rest
“People don’t seem to appreciate the importance of a good night’s sleep. When you don’t have enough sleep, your mind isn’t as equipped to deal with problems later in the day, which can lead to even more anxiety.”
Make Small But Significant Changes
“Living in the city brings about plenty of other insidious forms of stress; namely pollution, a lack of access to whole foods, and constant exposure to noise and light. One way to combat air pollution is to install an air filter or air cleaner into your bedroom and work station. After all, these are the two places where you spend the most time.
I understand dining out is a big part of the local culture, and while it’s great that dining is such a social experience here, try to make discerning food choices as much as possible. Apart from knowing the type of ingredients that go into your meal, it’s also good to find out how the food is being prepared.
To deal with the problems of excessive noise and light, I highly recommend switching your phone to ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode before going to bed. You don’t want to be interrupted by a late-night email or someone replying to your Tweet! Also, try to ensure your bedroom is in an optimal state for restfulness – it should be quiet, cool, and dark.”
*Canyon Ranch is an award-winning brand of wellness retreats that include fitness, nutrition, and stress management services. From 2015, Canyon Ranch services will be available a hop, skip, and a jump away at Treasure Bay Bintan, an upcoming luxury resort development. Watch this space for more updates!
About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.
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