Imposter Syndrome is a shockingly common psychological phenomenon experienced by an estimated 70% of the population. Chances are you’ve probably had such a mindset at least once, but perhaps you couldn’t pinpoint the exact words to describe the feelings you had. Imposter syndrome, as defined by the American Psychological Association (APA), is where “highly accomplished, successful individuals paradoxically believe they are frauds who ultimately will fail and be unmasked as incompetent”. In other words, it’s when you feel like you aren’t worthy of what you have accomplished, and are not good enough to be where you are. Successes and accomplishments are thought to be attributed to sheer luck, rather than one’s actual skills and capabilities. While this psychological pattern was initially thought to be applicable to women and women only, studies over the years have shown that men are equally as susceptible to the same psychological pitfall. This phenomenon is rarely spoken of – individuals with imposter syndrome usually suffer in silence, and this is a likely case of them being afraid to be exposed as a “phoney”.
An expert on imposter syndrome and author of The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Imposter Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, Dr. Valerie Young categorises it into 5 main types:
1. The Perfectionist
The broader definition of an imposter syndrome may sound superficially applied to intelligence and achievements, but as we delve deeper, we can see that it has close links to perfectionism as well. Perfectionists tend to set extremely high expectations for themselves, and for some even unrealistic ones. You may have heard something along the lines of “the higher the expectation, the greater the disappointment”, and this can hold true for these perfectionists. When expectations are set too high, these individuals tend to feel like a failure when they are thrown off by even the smallest mistakes or setbacks. Waves of self-doubt and inferiority can overcome them, making them feel like they are unable to measure up to other accomplished people when they overly fixate on their flaws. This group of people are thus also prone to developing anxiety due to the great deal of pressure they impose on themselves.
2. The Superman / Superwoman
Individuals who fall under this category tend to overwork themselves (past the point of what’s really necessary) as they have convinced themselves deep down that they are phoneys. Fearing that they are unable to match up to real-deal colleagues, friends or family members, these people drown themselves in work in an attempt to achieve more. This can take the form of working extra long hours, feeling guilty and stressed whenever they’re not working, or feeling the need to sacrifice self-care for work. These are unfortunately merely false cover-ups for their insecurities, which may not even be a cause for concern. Needless to say, these individuals must take care not to over-exert themselves, as it can take a tremendous toll on their mental and physical health over time.
3. The Expert
Experts base their competency levels on how much they know, or how much they can do. In a sense, they try to quantify their capabilities in order to prove their worth. Constantly haunted by the idea of not knowing enough, or being exposed to be unintelligent or underqualified, these people often underrate their current level of expertise. As such, they may strive to seek out additional trainings, certifications continuously and excessively in order to upgrade themselves and to attain success. Of course, there is no fault in focusing on self-improvement, but hoarding knowledge for false comfort isn’t the way to go.
4. The Natural Genius
This group of individuals are somewhat similar to the Experts, yet there are still slight differences between them. Instead of measuring their successes by how much they can do or know, these people measure their level of competence by the ease and speed of which they can achieve their goals. As the categorical name implies, these people believe that they need to be “natural geniuses”. They pressure themselves to achieve their goals fast, and if possible, on their first try. When plans fall through and they end up taking longer to master certain things, they start feeling an overwhelming sense of shame and worthlessness.
5. The Soloist
These people are highly individualistic – to the point where they feel like a failure whenever they have to seek help or assistance from others. They equate their self-worth to their productivity and ability to achieve results on their own. Hence, asking for assistance can seem like a sign of incompetency or weakness for them.
For some, imposter syndrome can act as a motivational force for them to strive to achieve a better version of themselves. However, this can come at the cost of your mental wellbeing, developing into feelings of constant anxiety and even depression. A major issue with struggling with an imposter syndrome is that it deprives you of the ability to internalise your successes – you may very well be capable of achieving the goals you set, but the more you achieve, the more you feel like they were merely flukes. This brings us to our next point: how can we get past this imposter syndrome?
It is very important for us to first acknowledge our thoughts and put them in perspective. When you start feeling waves of insecurity, worthlessness and start downplaying your own abilities, try focusing on the facts. Focusing on the valid reasons and on your qualifications can help you see things in a different light, and realise that you’re truly deserving of your achievements. Let’s think this through – how many “flukes” will it take to convince you that you’re actually good at something?
Instead of fixating on your mistakes alone, remember to celebrate your successes! We need to acknowledge that while we may occasionally miss the target, there will be times when we’ll hit the bullseye. A great start would be to start embracing your successes and allowing yourself to receive praise and recognition for them. For example, picture a scenario where someone commends or compliments you for achieving certain targets. A person with imposter syndrome would likely have an urge to ignore it, reject it, or simply brush it off awkwardly. However, the next time you encounter situations like these, try something new. Say “thank you”, bask in these moments and accept the recognition you deserve.
So you are going to see a psychologist for the first time – now what should we expect? The thought of having to step into a psychologist’s room for the first time can be nerve-racking, and understandably so. Oftentimes, individuals may be apprehensive and would wonder if talking to a complete stranger is really going to help, or if opening up your innermost thoughts to a stranger was too much of a risk to take. However, rest be assured that these mental health professionals are well-versed in psychotherapy methods to help you manage your issues as best as possible, and will work closely with you at a comfortable pace. Just like in the treatment of physical illnesses by physicians, patient privacy and confidentiality are also primary obligations for psychologists. In this article, we hope to give you a clearer idea of what you can expect from your visit to a psychologist, especially if it is your first session.
First things first, it is important to understand that psychotherapy isn’t merely a one-off session. While the duration of treatment may vary from one person to another, the American Psychological Association (APA) reports that “recent research indicates that on average 15 to 20 sessions are required for 50 percent of patients to recover as indicated by self-reported symptom measures.” The type and duration of treatment also heavily depend on the nature and severity of each client’s conditions, and it would simply be unfair to make an overgeneralised statement. Regardless, it would be beneficial to go in with an open mind, and to have an honest conversation with your psychologist. It really helps to trust that the process works, while acknowledging that it takes time.
Meeting the psychologist
At the beginning, the first few sessions would aim to help one identify the most pertinent issue that needs to be dealt with. The psychologist will talk through with you gathering some information on your life history, your family’s mental health history, the problems you are dealing with, and analyse those details – no matter how insignificant they may seem at first – that could have possibly led to emotional distress or coping difficulties. For the psychologist, being able to get a good grasp of the situation and seeing the big picture is vital for formulating the treatment plan and treatment process, as it will help to determine the type of psychotherapy that is best suited for you. The psychologist is trained to listen and analyse your conditions in order to help you with your recovery. As such, it is equally important that you don’t hold yourself back from being fully honest with your psychologist. To a large extent, the patient’s participation in the therapy is an important determinant of the success of the outcome.
While we fully understand that it can be unnerving, these mental health professionals are trained to help you work through the challenges you face, and the therapy room is very much a safe, non-judgemental space. Goal-setting is one of the key aspects of psychotherapy, and it is exceptionally important to set goals from the start that you can use to track your progress. You may start by identifying personally meaningful broad motives, hopes and dreams – having a clear direction in mind will better steer future sessions towards alleviating symptoms of distress and tackling the root cause of one’s concerns. Don’t worry if you feel the need to change your goals or take a different approach halfway through the treatment process. Psychotherapy is a dynamic process after all, and increased self-discovery along the way can certainly give you a better sense of what needs to be changed.
Different approaches to psychotherapy
There are several approaches to psychotherapy that can be implemented in the following sessions. Not strictly limited to one or the other, psychologists may make use of psychoanalysis and psychodynamic therapies, cognitive-behavioural, interpersonal, and other types of talk therapy. They can help you focus on changing problematic behaviours, feelings, and thoughts to build on healthy habits, or teach you emotion-coping strategies to cope with your symptoms. Forms of treatment like cognitive-behavioural therapy also aim to help individuals recognise negative thought and behaviour patterns, thereby working towards a positive change. Each session is essentially a problem-solving session. By allowing yourself to talk to your psychologist about your most difficult moments, your feelings and the change you want to observe, the psychologist is then able to make use of his/her expertise to assist you. Many mental health professionals don’t limit their treatment to any one approach. Instead, they blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment according to each patient’s needs.
To make the most of the treatment process, “homework” may sometimes be assigned as between-session tasks to clients as part of your treatment. A variety of homework assignments exist – sometimes in the form of practising new skills, habits, and other coping mechanisms, or someone who is dealing with complicated emotions could be asked to record your negative thoughts in nightly journal entries. When you return for your next session, the psychologist would then check in on your progress, and address any issues that may have arisen while you were completing your tasks. For some clients the benefits of therapy can be achieved in a few sessions, while for other clients they might need more to improve. Empirical evidence supports the benefits of homework in promoting positive symptom change and increasing patient functioning, that is, the quality of a client’s participation in therapy through active application of what they learn will lead to improvements in their conditions.
Was the psychologist right for you?
Often during the conversation with the psychotherapist, or after the session, you may feel a sense of relief, elation, or anxiety and exhaustion. However you feel, it is important to take note of those feelings. Did the psychologist put you at ease? Did he/she listen to you carefully and demonstrate compassion? Did he/she develop a plan to guide you with your goals and show expertise and confidence in working with issues that you have? For the treatment to be effective, you need to be able to ‘click’ with the psychologist, that is you are able to build trust and a strong connection with your psychologist.
To end off, the first session with a psychologist is understandably a bit intimidating and overwhelming, but the first step in the journey to recovery is a critical step to regain your mental wellbeing.
There is often much confusion between the terms psychiatrist and psychologist. People may use these terms interchangeably, but this is not to be the case. While both psychiatrists and psychologists treat people suffering from mental health issues and behaviour disorders, they are not the same. When should I see a psychiatrist? Is psychiatry and psychology even the same thing? Who should I see first? Such thoughts may run through your mind when mental health treatment is brought up. In this article, we hope to clear the doubts and achieve greater clarity on who they really are and how they differ.
Before we begin, if you’re reading this article to find important insights on seeking help from a mental health professional, we would like to commend you for taking the necessary steps to help yourself or your loved one. Making such a decision can be very daunting, and your mind might be in a disarray with constant worries of familial, societal and cultural stigma. However, it is ever so important to remember that there is no shame or embarrassment in wanting to help yourself or your loved one get better. Mental health is equally as important as physical health and seeking help is a sign of strength rather than weakness.
What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist?
Fundamentally, the biggest difference between the two is in the approach they take towards treating mental disorders, and the capacity to prescribe medications. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are trained medical doctors at their core. Amongst the network of mental healthcare professionals, psychiatrists are certified to provide neuropharmacological support that is deemed essential in stabilising certain mental conditions, such as where chemical imbalances in the brain are involved.
As medical doctors, psychiatrists play a crucial role in the diagnostic process, as well as the prevention and treatment of emotional, mental, behavioral, and developmental issues. While conducting assessments, they may also involve relevant physical examinations, blood tests, or pharmacogenomic testing to narrow down the scope of diagnosis. While psychiatrists specialise in the mental phenomena, such physical examinations cannot be omitted entirely especially if they provide important clues to help them rule out other possible physical conditions.
Psychiatrists also have the capacity to assess your medical history. Physical and mental wellness go hand-in-hand – psychiatrists will need to grasp the full picture before finalising on a diagnosis. On the Huffington Post, Carol W. Berman, M.D., a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center in New York City, writes, “Because we learned how the body interacts with the mind, we can rule out physical disorders as a cause of mental illness. This is important, since a person may have a hyperactive thyroid, for example, which can trigger panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia, or anorexia. We can look at thyroid blood tests or have a patient consult an endocrinologist if we suspect the problem stems from thyroid disease.”
In contrast, psychologists are not trained medical doctors, and thus cannot conduct any physical examinations nor prescribe medications. Clinical psychologists however, possess an accredited Master’s in Applied Psychology at the very minimum, and can make a diagnosis for the patient if he thinks he has a mental health condition.
Psychologists typically make use of various methods of psychometric testing, personality tests, observations and interviews to come to a conclusion. But that’s not all – psychologists also engage in psychotherapy treatment, with common forms including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Psychotherapy aims to help clients identify their key issues and concerns, before moving on to create a treatment plan to achieve the desired outcomes. Often conducted over several sessions, psychotherapy equips the individual with problem-solving and emotion-coping strategies to overcome the problem. For example, if a client comes in hopes of seeking help for social anxiety, psychotherapy (such as CBT) would be greatly beneficial in tackling maladaptive, limiting thoughts and behaviours that fuel negative emotions.
While there are differences in qualifications and the methods of treatments applied by psychiatrists and psychologists, it is key to note that they still work closely together. For the optimal treatment of certain mental health conditions, psychiatrists may refer you to psychologists for concurrent psychotherapy. Likewise, if a clinical psychologist determines your condition to be better managed with medications, a referral to a psychiatrist can be expected. Often once a proper diagnosis is done, the psychiatrist and psychologist may work together to build a treatment plan for the patient, focusing on managing symptoms through the use of medications and psychotherapy.
Who Should I See First?
Where physical symptoms may be severe, or where it may be hard to take basic care of yourself, turning to a psychiatrist would be a good option. After all, psychiatrists are trained medical doctors who can also work with your primary care doctor (if any) to provide optimal treatment. It is also suitable for individuals who are unsure as to whether their physical symptoms are linked to other underlying medical conditions. In such cases, psychiatrists will be able to detect a medical mimic. To put it simply, take for example a presenting complaint linked to the shortness of breath. While it may seem like a panic attack, it is crucial to eliminate any other clinical suspicions of lung diseases such as pulmonary embolism.
On the other hand, you may choose to make a trip to see a psychologist if you think you have a less severe mental condition. For individuals seeking to overcome phobias or resolve difficult issues in life, it may be more effective to undertake psychotherapy. A Psychologist can help you work through your problems, deal with emotional challenges or cope with particularly traumatic life events so as to make positive changes in your life.
We can all play a part in alleviating our own or our loved one’s suffering by increasing our understanding of mental health disorders. If you’re still struggling with making a decision after much thought, making the first step to contact a professional would help. You can be assured that the team at Promises will serve with your best interests at heart, and will work closely with you to provide optimal treatment.
Overspending your way into debt? Depending too much on sleeping pills or other sedatives? Snacking non-stop, even when you’re not hungry? Old habits die hard – as personal experience would reflect, we all know that it can be extremely challenging to break a habit, much so to maintain a good one. According to a rather appalling statistic, it was revealed that approximately 9 out of 10 individuals who have undergone heart bypass surgeries as a result of poor health were still unable to change their unhealthy lifestyle habits, even with their lives on the line. Whilst not all habits need to be broken, learning to overcome unproductive ones and replacing them with healthier habits can be vital towards a more fulfilling existence.
As defined in the dictionary, a habit is “an acquired mode of behaviour that has become nearly or completely involuntary”. Some neuroscientists posit that the brain is fundamentally lazy, so where possible, it would program our thoughts, emotions and behaviours into circuits where they would be automated and turned into “shortcuts”. The process of habit formation essentially takes place in the basal ganglia, a group of structures embedded deep within the cerebral hemispheres of the brain. Apart from being responsible for motor control, emotions and behaviours, this region also plays a key role in reward and reinforcement, as well as addictive behaviours.
What occurs in the brain when we try to form a new habit? Habit formation bases itself on neural pathways, involving countless nerve cells connected by extensions known as dendrites to form a larger network. As the frequency of a particular behaviour performed increases, so does the number of dendrites, and the connection between brain cells strengthen. Over time, neural pathways are developed and the messages sent through the same neural pathways are transmitted faster and faster, thus allowing for certain behaviours to become automated with enough repetition. In simpler terms, the more you perform a certain action, the more it gets wired into your brain. This adaptive quality of the brain is also known as neuroplasticity.
On the flip side, when you successfully quit a bad habit, synaptic pruning occurs. Synapses are small pockets of space between the neurons which allow for electrochemical messages to be sent through your neural pathways. Synaptic pruning can be likened to throwing out the old clothes in your closet to make space for new ones. When you no longer perform certain actions, these synaptic connections weaken. At the same time, more resources are allocated towards building the neural pathways of other important or prioritised habits, thereby strengthening them. This means that it is completely possible to rewire your brain to support healthier habits!
How can I develop good habits?
It is not uncommon for people to be ambitious when it comes to seeking positive lifestyle changes. Especially when a new year begins, many of them would have prepared a long list of new year resolutions, such as wanting to make exercise a habit or to meditate on a daily basis. The problem is, how many of them would follow through with it? Enthusiasm is not the issue here, but commitment is. Keep in mind to take things one step at a time. In order to develop a good, sustainable habit, refrain from tiring yourself out even before it takes flight. It can be very effective to focus on just one clear goal at a time and to commit to it every day (or as per your ideal schedule), even if it means only doing it for 10 minutes each time. As you go along, you can then build on your habit according to your pace and your desired end goal.
Another tip is to “stack” your habits. You probably already have a few strong daily habits that you never fail to execute, such as brewing a cup of morning coffee, taking a walk after lunch, or brushing your teeth at night. Leverage these strong connections and use them to your advantage to build on new ones. For example, if you’d like to pick up meditation, tell yourself, “After I brew my morning coffee, I’ll meditate for 5 minutes”. If you aim to cut down on screen time at night before bed for better sleep quality, tell yourself, “I’ll turn off my devices before I brush my teeth”. By creating a link between your new and old habits, you’ll find yourself more likely to stick to new changes and behaviour.
Create frequent reminders of your goal if consistency is something you struggle with, or if you tend to be forgetful. Out of sight usually means out of mind, but that’s natural! You can easily put reminders on your calendars, set alarms on your mobile phones, or even have post-it notes around your house if you will. Sharing your goal with someone else can be an added source of motivation too. Be it a friend or a family member, working together with others who are also striving to pick up on the same habits will act as a catalyst and spur you on. If they aren’t keen on making the commitment, that’s fine too. Instead, let them serve as an accountability partner. Let them in on your goals and progress – when you are accountable to someone for doing what you said you aimed to do, you are more likely to stay committed.
Of course, identifying a goal is easy. But remember to stay mindful and have a clear understanding of what you want to achieve at the end of the day. Apart from asking yourself what you want to achieve, ask yourself how it will look like and how you will feel when you get to the end. Most importantly, remember to set your mind to your goal and take active steps towards it. Instead of merely browsing through tons of self-improvement posts or looking up “quick hacks” for golden tips on Google, focus on the actual tasks that need to be accomplished. It may be a rather mundane, time-tested process at first, but it will eventually bring success and satisfaction.
“A sad soul can kill you quicker, far quicker, than a germ,”John Steinbeck, an American author, once wrote. True enough, regardless of the stage of life we’re in, everyone strives to seek gratification and success – and to many, that is what makes life worth living for. People often perceive happiness as the achievement of certain materialistic accomplishments (such as a nice house, a big salary, career advancement, etc). Work hard, become successful, earn lots of money, then you’ll be happy. At least, that’s how most of us think about happiness, with such a notion instilled upon us from young. Indeed, these achievements can make us feel great and happy at first, but the thrill often doesn’t last very long. The good news, however, is that researchers in the field of positive psychology have found that we can genuinely increase our happiness and overall satisfaction with life, and all that it takes is just an inner change of perspective and attitude. Happiness shouldn’t be seen as an end goal or a destination, but rather as a continuing practice.
Importance of being happy in the workplace
According to studies conducted, researchers posit that happiness can in fact precede success, thereby highlighting its desirability. At the workplace, the optimism showcased by happy people often translates into increased self-confidence, as well as better task performance. Especially in the case of business transactions, happy people are more likely to make negotiations palatable and successful, as compared to their unhappy counterparts. In a sense, positive emotions brought to the table may just be the spoonful of sugar needed to nudge them towards mutually beneficial solutions and concessions.
A person with a high positive affect is more likely to be associated with additional desirable traits as well. Subconsciously, people around him (both colleagues and superiors) may endow him with traits such as stronger job performance and social skills, since he already possesses a socially desirable trait (i.e happiness). In other words, a halo effect is created, where a favourable impression in one area influences opinion in another area. Happy people are also known to be more productive. They are less likely to skip work habitually, procrastinate or shirk their responsibilities. Due to this, happy people are likely to receive more encouraging peer and supervisor evaluations, hence further increasing their chances of success.
In reality, the pressures of contemporary society can be enormous, and therefore it is completely understandable that the average person is inclined to live life in a mere “survival mode”. As with many other notions, there is no universal prescription for attaining total, authentic happiness. However, there are certain things we can take note of to make us happier.
One of the most important things that matters in life is relationships. Human beings are inherently social creatures, and forming deep meaningful connections with the people around us can greatly fulfil our basic need for belonging and social intimacy. Investing sufficient time and energy with family members, friends and romantic partners can hence be a central component of finding happiness. However, we also need to pay attention to the type of friendships we form. Finding the right birds to flock with can also be a stepping stone towards a greater sense of happiness. How we look for happiness may depend on where we look for it – and the key lies in surrounding yourself with happy people. Some of us may be biologically predisposed or prone to depression, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are predestined to a life of negativity. Akin to how one’s bad mood may rub off on another, one’s sunny disposition can be contagious too. The emotional closeness you feel with these happy people and the effect it has on you has a positive correlation. Social contagion allows for positive emotions to pulse through social networks – just like a chain reaction – and interacting with happy people often will greatly boost your sense of well-being.
Our next tip may come off as rather cliché, but we cannot stress this enough. One of the most important steps to attaining happiness is to count your blessings and to express gratitude. Many a time, individuals would be left with feelings of dissatisfaction and wanting more, even after they have achieved their goals. However, regardless of how small your achievements may seem compared to others, it is essential that you remember to thank yourself for the effort you put in and for what you have. Express your gratitude to the people around you who have been ever so supportive, and while you make their day, you’ll make yours too.
Do good, feel good
Have you ever noticed that when you do something good, you feel happy? Studies have shown that helping others, along with other types of social interaction, is associated with positive mental outcomes. To start small, you might want to offer help around the house, or to help your friends whenever you deem fit. Why would helping make you happy? It would seem that trading favours are important innate adaptive goals. By helping others, happiness is the psychological reward obtained upon the successful solving of an adaptive problem. Performing such acts of kindness – even to strangers – boosts happiness and well-being. Increasing happiness all around you would undoubtedly make you a happier individual, and such a virtuous cycle is worth fostering.
By increasing your long-term happiness, you’ll find yourself achieving success with greater ease. A note of caution though, is to remember that this doesn’t mean avoiding negative emotions that may arise throughout your life. Happiness and inner peace can come from embracing the bad, and tackling any negative emotions head on. Whenever you find yourself struggling, don’t be afraid to turn to your support networks or a mental health professional.
Walsh LC, Boehm JK, Lyubomirsky S., Does Happiness Promote Career Success? Revisiting the Evidence. Journal of Career Assessment. 2018;26(2):199-219. doi:10.1177/1069072717751441(Accessed 03/01/2020)
Oliver Scott Curry, Lee A. Rowland, Caspar J. Van Lissa, Sally Zlotowitz, John McAlaney, Harvey Whitehouse., Happy to help? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of performing acts of kindness on the well-being of the actor, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 76, 2018, Pages 320-329,ISSN 0022-1031, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2018.02.014. (Accessed 03/01/2020)
Stress is something we can never escape from, be it good (eustress) or bad (distress). From the small, tedious daily hassles to long-term occurrences that weigh on your mind, stress can impact us in different ways, and the experience varies for everyone. Just as how different individuals have differing levels of pain tolerance, the same applies for stress.
Stress comes in many forms, but they can be largely categorised under ‘environmental’ (e.g noise), ‘social’ (e.g family demands, friendship conflicts), ‘physiological’ (e.g sleep disturbance) and ‘cognitive’ stressors (e.g low self-esteem, high expectations of oneself). While a certain level of stress may be necessary to provide motivation and encourage positive growth, excessive and unhealthy levels of stress especially in the long-term may cause undesirable mental and physical health consequences:
Disrupted sleep patterns / insomnia
Undue anxiety or fear
Difficulty concentrating / forgetfulness
High blood pressure
Nervous behaviours such as teeth grinding or nail biting
Increased frustration and irritability
A racing mind / constant worrying
Poor eating / digestive upsets
Poor decision-making processes
Increased heart rate / rapid breathing
Sweating / sweaty palms
Sense of helplessness
Restlessness / fatigue
When stress becomes chronic, physical health consequences can definitely worsen, and an individual may also develop depression or anxiety disorders. As such, while there is no one-size-fits-all, this article aims to provide useful tips and suggestions on how you can better manage your stress levels, and to avoid being overwhelmed and giving in to chronic stress.
To guide us along, there are two main types of stress-coping mechanisms – ‘Problem-focused’ and ‘Emotion-focused’ coping. These are possibly the most basic approaches to healthy stress-coping, and aim to reduce or eliminate the causes of stress, apart from merely alleviating its symptoms.
Problem-focused coping is where action is taken to clarify and resolve the stressor directly, and hence addresses the demands of a given situation. An example of this method of coping is when a student who is worried over an upcoming examination copes by attending more review sessions and reading up on her course materials diligently. This serves to reduce her anxiety and increase her confidence to excel in her examination. A problem-focused mechanism is primarily used when one appraises a stressor to be within his capacity to change, and hence makes the appropriate adjustments and alterations to cope with the impending demands. As such, it is also important to learn how to identify the root cause of the direct stressor before responding to it accordingly.
Emotion-focused coping may be a concept that you find familiar. Unlike problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping involves making efforts to regulate your emotional response to a stressor. This means identifying your feelings, focusing and working through them. According to Folkman and Lazarus (1980), such a mechanism can be extremely helpful especially when you need to work through your emotions before you can think clearly enough to act rationally. Emotion-focused coping can be done in various forms such as:
Venting or talking to a friend / close oneWhenever you feel stressed or overwhelmed, bottling up may not be the best way around. Talking to others about what’s bothering you could bring great relief, and perhaps they could also provide you with the constructive feedback or encouragement that you need. Physical affection, such as hand-holding and hugs can help combat stress too. Just as how others may come to you whenever they need support, don’t be afraid to lean into your social circle and find comfort in your friends. Of course, do also remember to be mindful of your friends’ emotions and needs while you’re busy venting!
Journaling In this digital age, perhaps Journaling may come across as a rather old-fashioned way of coping with your emotions. Many a time, people would rather distract themselves and destress by playing mobile games or browsing through social media as and when they are feeling stressed. Although those can be a possible methods of destressing, the beauty of journaling shines through when you give yourself some time to reflect and balance yourself by creating your very own safe space. Writing in a journal can help you clear your mind by releasing any pent-up feelings, to let go of negative thoughts, as well as to enhance your self-awareness as you write about your progress.
Meditation Practising mindful meditation is an effective strategy to combat stress, for it can help you eliminate the stream of jumbled thoughts that are contributing to your heightened stress levels. Studies have shown that training in mindfulness can potentially increase your awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and maladaptive ways of responding to stress, therefore allowing one to cope with stress in a healthier and more effective way (Bishop et al, 2004, in Shapiro et al, 2005). With guided meditations that can easily be found online, all you need to do is to set aside some time for some mental self-care.
Reframing the situation and finding meaning in it When we are stressed, we often only focus on the bad and how much we dread a particular situation. However, it can be helpful to look on the bright side and to find the benefit and meaning in a stressful event. By doing so, we can make these experiences a little more tolerable, as well as to grow and build resilience as we go along.
Other Means of Coping with Stress
Last but not least, pay more attention to your diet and nutrition intake. For some of you, caffeine is a must-have on a daily basis, with some people having four to five cups of coffee per day. However, when you combine stress with the artificial boost in stress hormones from caffeine, this creates a significantly compounded effect. While caffeine can be particularly effective in providing you with the short-term energy boost and increased alertness, it can potentially heighten stress levels in the long-term. As such, it is always good to consume it in moderation and to be mindful of your caffeine intake. In addition, you may want to consume foods rich in vitamin B, which can help to reduce stress responses in your body.
As previously mentioned, everyone experiences life events in their own unique way, and a strategy that works for you may not for others. With that said, we hope this article has helped you to understand the various ways to combat stress better, and that you find the strategy best suited for you. However, if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with stressful life events, do reach out to one of our psychotherapists or counsellors for help.
Zimbardo, P. G., Johnson, R. L., & McCann, V. (2017). Psychology: Core Concepts (8th ed.). Pearson. (Accessed 25/11/2020)
Shapiro, S.L., Astin, J.A., Bishop, S.R., & Cordova, M. (2005). Mindfulness-based stress reduction for health care professionals: results from a randomised trial. International Journal of Stress Management, 12 (2), 164-176. (Accessed 25/11/2020)