Stress. What is stress? This word is used so casually nowadays that it has lost its impact as something that can be detrimental to health, especially during this unsettling period of the Covid-19 pandemic. We might have adapted to the restrictions put in place, like wearing a mask and practicing social distancing wherever we are, but have we truly come to terms with these regulations, or are we trying to distract ourselves from the pressing concerns of our future? Adhering to the past few months of circuit breaker regulations definitely have not been easy on everyone, be it young or old. The stress and inconveniences experienced due to a sudden change in routine habits have been unnerving for many and as we progress on to the next few phases, what does this mean for us?
By now, Singaporeans would have been working from home or have been home-based learning (HBL), adapting to these changes of environments whilst managing their hectic schedules. However, as the world economies bulldoze to get things back up and running, we cannot ignore that there might be no place for permanency again i.e. making our homes temporary workspaces then returning back to original practices or shuttling between the two.
Undoubtedly, there are pros and cons to each family being at home together, where relationships are constantly tested and stretched. Some might argue that it’s been a good time for family bonding: to better understand one another as the rat race may have left some in a time capsule ignorant of changes; while others unable to compartmentalise their thoughts, feel that it’s a disruption to their workspace and schedules, having to juggle work and personal life in the same physical space.
Moving forward, our government aims to have routines restored back to normal, this means returning back to the high demands of work and student lives, but what is normal? We wonder if it will be difficult to get back into the grind after the somewhat sedentary lifestyles some of us have been living in the past few months, giving up on flexible self-dictated work hours and or dragging our muscles to leave home and travel to work. Also, companies and schools will have to work around challenging social distancing measures, which can pose a problem considering our highly interactive nature. Whilst schools are drawing out plans for rotational return of students, trying to stagger and minimise cross contact within large groups, companies on the other hand, have to reorganise their “back-to-back” cubicle style like workspace that was easier for communication, into something less compact. These new arrangements will potentially be disruptive to students’ learning, having to conduct lessons both online and face-to-face (f2f), along with teachers who will have to adjust their teaching methods accordingly and capture the essence of each lesson, whilst engaging students. Offices will have to convert into something less compact or cut down on the number of employees on site, which may not only slow down productivity but also potentially decrease employee satisfaction and well-being. Nevertheless, this creates a lot of physical, emotional and mental stress.
At the initial stages, non-chronic stress may be beneficial to give people an adrenaline boost to encourage them to press on. However, if we are not capable of managing stress, it may become chronic. This can cause our brains, nervous systems and behaviour to affect the expression of genes in sperms or alter brain development of our offspring.
A more immediate manifestation shows that the brain activates neuropeptide-secretion systems in response to stress, leading to a cascading effect involving adrenal corticosteroid hormones. This can result in stress-related brain diseases, like depression and anxiety disorders as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, chronic stress can stunt memory growth and even kill brain cells, which result in learning impairments. Not forgetting, the physical aspects of stress such as headaches, muscle fatigue, changes in appetite or insomnia, all of which can be overlooked as just temporary “disturbances”, rather than a contributing factor of stress that is beginning to pose a hindrance on daily activities. This might be threatening if it’s not diagnosed and dealt with in its early stages. Prolonged periods of stress can also cause some to turn to less favourable options like alcohol, smoking or even drugs, which should be avoided at all costs.
Here are some suggested precautionary measures we could take to prevent the rise of chronic stress:
One of the possible solutions to relieve stress is exercise, although some might be deprived of going to their usual gym studios, we can opt for a nature setting outdoors to get some vitamin D too! Instead of being cooped up at home, fresh air is always welcomed.
Another way to destress is picking up new hobbies like baking or cooking. Unknowingly, you can invest loads of time into learning new recipes to convert into practical use that may come in handy in the future!
Next, meditation. Even though it might take a while to enter a full meditative state, this is definitely worth the try to keep calm and relaxed amidst this chaos, to be at peace with yourself. It also clears your head to think about self-goals and plans ahead.
Last but not least, laugh! As the saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. This is easily attainable to get your tummy hurting watching humorous videos or sharing silly jokes and the best time to share happy moments with your family!
Food For Thought: If Covid-19 is here to stay, how do we embrace it without crippling our way of life?
Relationship Advice from Relationship Therapist & Coach, Winifred Ling
Chelsea, a stunning flight attendant and her partner, Clayton, have been experiencing the Covid lockdown blues. Being in the early stages of their relationship, they both confessed to feeling the effects of being apart from each other – while they were somewhat used to incompatible schedules, the loss of physical intimacy that was at least within reach before amplified the tattoo of each pining heart.
They shared how they were managing to stay sane and close throughout the lockdown – by making use of technological advances, utilising Zoom to keep each other apprised of the happenings in their lives.
Winifred Ling, a Gottman Certified Relationship Therapist, featured in the Mothership vlog – gave this couple some tips on how to be “out of ‘touch’ but not out of love” and how to keep their relationships healthy. Love takes effort, and she relayed to her audience some suggestions that were remarkably common-sensical, like making sure to check in with your significant other with words of encouragement.
COVID-19 has posed a challenge to everyone, and those more physically vulnerable in our community clearly need our care and attention.
There are also people whose mental vulnerability deserves equal care.
Mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and addictions are exacerbated by a pandemic crisis in multiple ways.
Collective family and community fears are (in themselves) contagious; and the constant bombardment of medical and financial bad news, can leave those with mental illnesses lost in a cascade of negative rumination and catastrophising.
The mentally ill and people with addictions commonly have compromised immune systems, and suffer stress or substance, tobacco and alcohol abuse related diseases – leaving them wide open to severe pneumonia with acute respiratory distress symptoms – and other complications from COVID-19.
Isolation, separation and loneliness – caused by working at home and social distancing – are perhaps the worst contributors to: low mood; agitation; irrational fears; moments of panic; self-disgust; resentment; anger; and even rage.
People whose ability to pause, use reason and find practical solutions can be severely compromised. They may find themselves bereft of the motivation, and ability to engage in even the simplest tasks of self-care.
Added to this, listlessness, boredom and frustration can lead to despair. Then self-harm and suicidal thoughts may arise, take hold, and even overwhelm them.
Those in recovery or active addiction may also turn to their compulsive and impulsive behaviours of choice, to sooth and find momentary respite from the moods and thoughts that have hijacked their mind. Triggers, urges and cravings may become relentless and unbearable.
The solution may begin with finding a way out of isolation.
Starting the journey out of this darkness can start with talking to people who can demonstrate unconditional positive regard, show kindness and compassion, and help reframe the situation. Such people can assist those suffering to put a name to and validate their emotions.
In short – therapy can help!
In times of COVID-19, working with a therapist via teleconsultation can be effective using ZOOM, Skype, WhatsApp video and FaceTime.
Although the calming and soothing sensation of the physical presence of a therapist is absent, for those in isolation – distraught with shame and despair – Internet enabled therapy can prove a lifeline.
Isolation can be further broken, using similar Internet methods, by attendance in recovery groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous – all of whom now hold Zoom meetings in Singapore.
These Zoom opportunities in Singapore are supplemented by Zoom, Skype and telephone conference meetings in Hong Kong and Australia (in Singapore’s time zone) and in the U.K. and the US (during our mornings and evenings).
Having broken the isolation, the second step therapists can provide is guidance and motivation towards self-care. This would include tapering or abstinence from the addictive substances or behaviour. A well thought through relapse intervention and prevention plan, specifically tailored to a person’s triggers, will also assist.
Triggers may be particular places, situations, people, objects or moods.
The acronym “HALT” is often used by those in recovery; which stands for the triggers of being: Hungry; Angry; Lonely; or Tired.
When these triggers arise, people are encouraged to
HALT their behaviour;
breathe deeply, with long outward breaths;
think through consequences;
think about alternatives;
consult with others; and
use healthy tools to self-soothe.
Daily mindfulness, meditation, exercise, sleep hygiene, healthy eating and following a medication regime are important aspects of self-care – and for some suffering mental illness – these actions – and time – may be all they need to find their footing again.
Luckily, the Internet gives a vast array of possible self-care options, including things to distract us, soothe us and improve us.
Everything is available from: calming sounds and music; guided meditations; games; home exercise, yoga and tai chi; self-exploration and improvement videos; video chats with loved ones; to healthy food delivery options. They can all be had with a few keystrokes.
Today we live at a time when suffering from mental illness and addictions is commonplace. But we also live at a time when the solutions are literally at our fingertips – if we only reach out for them.
The coronavirus is known to be extremely contagious, with its ability to transmit from person to person through tiny respiratory droplets. At work, it is inevitable that we come into close contact with our co-workers, especially if we are working in tight, enclosed workspaces. This unfortunately increases the likelihood of infection for everyone. For the betterment of everyone’s health and safety, many firms have thus implemented a ‘work-from-home’ scheme in an effort to limit the COVID-19 spread through proper social distancing. In fact, the Singapore government has made it mandatory for employers to allow their staff to work from home as far as possible, or else they would risk bearing fines or stop-work orders. In fact, just recently, the Singapore government has made it mandatory for most workplaces to shut down, except for essential services and key economic sectors. This will help limit the physical interaction between people as much as possible.
With such measures implemented, we would have to start relying more on telecommunication methods. Working from home may hence mean that face-to-face social interactions are limited as we are no longer able to meet others physically. Communication between colleagues may also be delayed, since more time is required for information or messages to be sent across. Over time, this may cause us to feel increasingly frustrated and anxious, and unless we know the right methods of keeping ourselves mentally and emotionally healthy, this will be greatly detrimental to our wellbeing. And for this, we will need to identify potential sources of distress in order to counter them effectively.
Unwanted feelings of stress and loneliness can indeed be an issue of concern if an individual works alone at home – after all, humans are social animals. This is especially so if he/she is extroverted in nature, and is highly dependent on social interactions on a day-to-day basis. Coupled with the unprecedented demands of meeting deadlines, these individuals may feel a sense of detachment and isolation if they are unable to socialise with colleagues which they had already bonded closely with. Thankfully, with an increasing number of social platforms such as Zoom or Skype, employees can make the most of them and easily arrange video calls with their colleagues to catch up with one another over lunch. Make sure you reach out to others and seek support as well whenever you are feeling too overwhelmed.
On the other hand, some of you may face a whole new set of problems. Some individuals may have siblings or other family members working alongside them at home, and it may simply create an unfavourable working environment. Having your family members around you, be it young or old, could be distracting at times, and employees could be more easily affected by their moods or habits. The stress of having to manage those around you may kick in, thus heightening the level of anxiety and irritation. In order to tackle this, employees must make sure to set clear boundaries between themselves and their family members during working hours at home. This could mean allocating specific rooms for respective family members to work in, and ensuring that they stick to their allocated rooms. In addition, perhaps there could be an agreement made between members of the household, where no one is permitted to enter others’ rooms when the doors are kept closed. This would help to protect the working space of everyone at home, and to minimise any disruptions or distractions. With this, it would undoubtedly be easier to remain focused and productive. However, it is also necessary to designate enough space for yourself to work in. Cramming yourself into a tiny room and working in it for long hours can make you feel claustrophobic and restrained. This will certainly not be beneficial to your mental wellbeing.
Some may question: “I’ve ensured that my family members are aware of my work-from-home schedule. Why do they still keep barging in?” If you are one of these individuals, you may want to consider if you are creating a “work” atmosphere. Are you lying in bed with your laptop, with your PJs on? Or are you sitting upright at your desk, and dressed the part? If you find yourself doing the former, then perhaps it is sending a false signal to other household members that you are available, or that you are working “casually”. Establish a proper routine and follow through with it. Always ensure that you have the right working attitude whenever appropriate, and this will surely help your family members understand. Nonetheless, remember to set strict limits to your working hours as well. Working from home can, understandably, cause the boundaries between work and your personal life to be blurred. Learn to detach for the day once working hours are over to spend time with your family and loved ones.
We also cannot exclude the possibility of experiencing technical difficulties when communicating with our colleagues through online platforms – this creates a need for better understanding and exercising patience with one another. Expecting an instant reply from your co-workers may be more challenging, due to possible time lags from network servers or devices. Others may also be busy handling other tasks at hand, and settling down amidst the new work arrangements. One way to prevent yourself from getting distressed or anxious is to plan ahead. Try creating a plan of action by listing all the tasks you need to complete. Ensure that you have prioritised your tasks wisely, that deadlines are set clearly, and that you have sufficient time to complete them. Allow for buffer time if you are working on certain assignments with other colleagues, so that any delays will not cause you to overshoot your deadlines.
Last but not least, work aside, always remember to take movement breaks! Such breaks act as a form of self-care, allowing you to recuperate and to free yourself of your burdens momentarily. This may sound trivial, but taking a short walk at the neighbourhood park (alone, and keeping a safe distance from others) or doing some stretching exercises in your room will surely benefit your mental health in the long run. Doing so will also help you to return to work refocused and to regain productivity. Likewise, get plenty of sleep and don’t stay up too late! Ensure that you are well-rested and rejuvenated before your work day starts. In light of the current situation, we should still remain positive and not let our worries take over us. Let’s all do our part to support each other in this period!
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, there is evidently a growing sense of distress amongst the public – from panic-buying at supermarkets to wearing several layers of masks for fear of being infected. While ensuring our physical well-being is of great importance, we cannot deny that our mental health is also equally important – especially during the stress of a pandemic. The ever-changing situation can cast a shadow of uncertainty over us, creating feelings of vulnerability and helplessness.
However, allowing coronavirus related fear to overcome us certainly isn’t the way to go. Let’s take a look at how we can help ourselves by avoiding the pitfalls of anxiety and depression.
CNN recently published an article on how to keep coronavirus fears from placing an undue burden on our mental well-being. In the same vein, we would like to emphasise the utmost importance of self-care during these trying times.
In the context of this pandemic, what does self-care entail? By keeping our minds from straying into muddled uncertainty, we can avoid the toxicity of excessive worry – with the world already so volatile, it’s in our best interest to try to stay cool-headed to better make decisions. There’s no point expending precious processing power on unwarranted concerns. With the influx of information and ease of access to social media, it can be mentally exhausting if we choose to hang on every update. If you feel the urge to check your phones for up-to-date news constantly, learn to walk away. Know when to put away your phones if necessary.
Depending on the individual, the idea of self-care may vary, but ultimately, it is still a means of managing our stress and anxiety levels.
During this period, some of you may well experience higher levels of mental stress. Worry over your own health and your loved ones’ may consume your mind, in turn leading to knock on effects such as – changes in sleep and eating habits; worsening of chronic illnesses; and increased substance usage. Needless to say, we would do well to guard against the deterioration of our mental health, to better cope with our negative emotions appropriately.
Connecting with our own feelings is a great place to start. It’s important to stay in touch with our feelings, taking care to identify our worries and concerns. Try naming your emotions. It sounds simple enough, but you’ll soon learn that there are nuances that set apart sensations, emotions and feelings.
Is there anything specific about the situation that is heightening your stress level? Emotional awareness is often neglected, with some studies showing that only 1-in-3 people have the ability to correctly identify them. If you have reached a state of panic or hysteria regarding the virus, you might want to start considering how realistic your concerns are. There is a high chance that we often over-magnify our fears and underestimate our capacity to handle the situation.
As mentioned, there is a need for us to remain cool-headed and not plagued by excessive worry in these trying times. Here are some tips that may help you to get through this difficult time, if you ever find yourself feeling overwhelmed with anxiety or fear.
Firstly, it is of great importance to consider if your worry is solvable. Is the problem within your control? In the case of the COVID-19, you may be constantly worrying about contracting the virus. However, if you are certain that you have done your part, such as washing your hands occasionally and not touching your face unnecessarily, does worrying excessively help in any way?
In some cases, excessive anxiety may cause one to hyperventilate – and this is where proper breathing techniques will come to your rescue. The 7/11 breathing technique is an exercise where one breathes in for a count of 7 seconds and exhales for a subsequent count of 11 seconds. This exercise is very simple, yet proven to be extremely effective in helping one regain his or her composure. Try this for approximately 5 minutes (or whatever duration that is best for you), and you’ll eventually feel calmer and be able to think more clearly.
Remember, while you may not have power over what happens to you, you are able to control how you react to it hence your state of mind.
Avoidance and escapism from acknowledging the root of our uneasiness is not a healthy method of coping. Coming to terms with and recognising our concerns can in fact help us to better seek social support. Stay connected and start talking to the people you trust. Talk to them about your feelings and worries. Get them to share theirs too, and by the end of it, you’ll realise that you are not alone. Understanding others’ perspectives on the situation and recognising that they are most probably experiencing the same concerns will surely help to calm your nerves and help you feel less lonely and vulnerable.
It is also important that we spend more time with our families and friends. Taking a break from our busy lifestyles and hectic work schedules will benefit your mental health. Make sure to take time off to unwind, and to do activities that you enjoy. This could mean exercising, socialising, or some form of recreation in your spare time.
Although socialising may be slightly more of a challenge due to the increased need for social distancing, it is still largely possible, especially with technological advancements. Now and then, you can opt to organise your own get-together through ‘Zoom’ or ‘Skype’, and perhaps have lunch with your friends over video-calls. Do you have something you’ve always wanted to learn, but could never find time for? Well, this might just be the right time for it too. In addition, some places of interest have started providing virtual tours. With this, one can explore and discover new areas whilst staying in the comforts of his/her home. With countless things to do on the internet, one can easily find various means to unwind and to de-stress.
Doing things you love will help to ease the burden on your shoulders and distract you from your fears and concerns. Life goes on even with the COVID-19 situation, and constant worrying is in nobody’s interests.
One crucial thing to note is that you should never feel guilty or ashamed of your fears, and neither should you blame yourself for worrying. It is completely normal to worry, especially with uncertainty at every turn. After all, evolutionary biology dictates that it’s perfectly natural to feel threatened and afraid during a pandemic.
Do not hesitate to seek help and support when the going gets tough. If you ever find yourself barely treading water, there’s absolutely no shame in reaching for a helping hand. Stay safe!