In 2019 Cigna’s study revealed that one in eight Singaporeans considered their stress level “unmanageable”. In fact, the study reveals that at a global level, Singaporeans are one of the most stressed. That should alarm any Singaporean and any company functioning in Singapore, as when stress is ignored, it can mean serious ramifications – for individuals, teams and organisations.
As an update the numbers are no less rosy with Working From Home situation. In fact the indications are it is worse especially for women and the youth.
Whilst this article does not cover how we can, as organisations, do better at supporting our people with their mental, emotional and physical wellness, it does take a look at what each of us can do to put back some control and management of stress back into our own hands.
A note on stress first though.
You may have heard or read, that there is “good stress” and “bad stress”. Good stress has been explained by others as the type of stress that can be a motivator. For example, just before a major presentation, a little stress can motivate someone to plan and prepare better for the intended audience and for the potential questions that may come after. Research now also suggests that some short-term stress can even boost your immune system
I, however, want to address “bad stress”. The type that can be detrimental to our mental, emotional and physical health. Continuous amounts of acute stress can turn into chronic stress. And chronic stress kills. The American Medical Association has noted that stress is the basic cause of more than 60 per cent of all human illness and disease in the US. At the time of writing this article, I could not find a current study of what is the main cause of illnesses in Singapore.
Whatever it might be, the fact is, most types of stress can be managed. We just need to put the control back in our hands.
Some symptoms of stress to look out for are: inability to sleep, constant headaches, chronic stomach upset, frequent colds, muscle tension, anxiety, irritability and maybe even depression, loss of concentration and loss of interest at work and for social gatherings. Here are some possible strategies (and by no means an exhaustive list) you can use, for some forms of “stresses” we unconsciously bring into our lives.
One of the things we can do is stop pressing our internal REWIND button. Very often we stress over conversations that took place or events of the past that play on our mind and our emotions. We stew on what was said and done, there may be anger or guilt or regret and maybe even fear and worry associated with the memory. We cause unnecessary fatigue and waste time and energy on events we have no more control over. And what is worse is some of us keep pressing REPEAT on those scenarios! This will take a toll on our nervous system.
o STOP and THINK
Often with just some space and time between ourselves and a negative incident, situation or person, can give us the perspective we need for a rational way forward. Once done, let it go. There is nothing more left to do. Move Forward.
Many of us also have a tendency to worry about things that have not even happened yet. We worry about whether our jobs are safe, what people think or are expecting of us and the general state of the economy. We project our fears into a future event and work ourselves up into a tizz – which is the last thing we need as we have other very real and demanding deadlines and decisions we have to make….in the NOW.
o PAUSE and Check-in
Choosing to respond differently, and somehow using different lenses to look at any fear or threat we feel, perhaps even re-code the event, person or situation in our minds, can change our responses to a “fight-or-flight” situation.
Finally, we need to remember we were all created to indulge in PLAY.
Schedule PLAY Time – By creating time to indulge in sports we love and hobbies like singing and dancing and painting, we are helping the brain to let go of the negative and pump our bodies with happy chemicals called endorphins. The Mayo Clinic shares in its newsletter that any physical activity, whether aerobics or yoga, is a stress reliever. Even for those of us that are not fit, starting with simple 7-minute routines will do the trick.
Schedule PLAY Time with your team, your friends and family as you build bonds. Building social connections can be a stress-busting strategy. Organise meals, have karaoke sessions, team cricket or schedule movie nights…in the middle of the week. This will be your support network so invest time in building this. You may need them to lean on in tough times. An interesting point that was raised recently was that people working from homes were stressed far more than frontlines. The insight is that the feeling of being there at the front-lines with a team – feeling supported and a sense of “in-this-together” helps alleviate stress somewhat.
Schedule PLAY Time for daydreaming about your goals and plans and visualise all the fun and joy that will happen as if you already have it! My favourite strategy here is scheduling a holiday (or two) way in advance. So get those dates blocked off, and apply for your leave. The stress buster is as much in the time off, as in the fun that comes planning and researching for the holiday – which does not have to be overseas. And does not have to be happening any time soon. This I can attest to personally as a guaranteed tried and tested stress buster!
Stresses can come to us from anywhere and we may be unaware of the impact it has on us. So, become aware. Pay attention to the chatter in your mind and physical symptoms of stress in your muscles and body.
This article has covered only some of the sources of stress and some of the strategies you can use to cope with them. If you feel chronic stress is what you are experiencing, then please, seek professional help. This decision too is in your hands.
(This article was written using research on the topic for personal insights and knowledge only and is not meant to replace any professional consultation.)
Main Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay