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?
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!