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)
It is an undeniable reality that life, in general, is busy. With long work hours and bills to pay, there are so many things going on that we must and are expected to do. With the increase in pressures and demands in daily life, it is very common for people to feel exhausted and burnt out.
Burnout is a state of exhaustion caused by chronic stress. According to the World Health Organisation, it is classified as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. It is characterised by 3 dimensions: Feeling exhausted or devoid of energy, being mentally detached from your job and being less efficient in work. Employee burnout in Singapore is among the highest worldwide, where work is a vital cause of high-stress levels, and where almost one in eight employees cannot cope with their stress. There are many potential causes of chronic stress in the workplace, such as having too many responsibilities, having a negative view of yourself and the world, or a perceived lack of control over your life and work. All of these factors could cause one to burn out easily.
Let us recognise the signs that indicate a burnout. Physical signs include exhaustion, change in sleep habits or diets, frequent illness and headaches; Emotional signs include lack of motivation or enjoyment towards life events and feeling negative emotions such as anger, anxiety or depression; Behavioural signs include adverse coping mechanisms such as overconsumption of alcohol, withdrawal from responsibilities, taking out your frustration on others and reduced work performance. If you are currently experiencing these symptoms, then it is very possible that you may be burning out from work.
Now, you may ask, if busyness in work is inevitable, then how do we overcome this seemingly unmanageable stress? Below are 4 tips that could help you manage stress and prevent burnout:
Turn to other people
It is extremely beneficial to have a social circle or support network, such that there are people that you can rely on for support, encouragement and a listening ear. Friends or family members can recognise maladaptive patterns in your behaviour, identify your burnout signs, and offer you constructive feedback or advice. Through doing that, you can work towards overcoming burnouts. Likewise, if your loved one is going through a burnout, engage her in a conversation and let her open up about what she is going through, while staying patient and understanding. Confiding in and spending time with loved ones would serve to reduce stress and strengthen your relationship with them as well.
If it is possible, try befriending your colleagues. With a similar job scope, your colleagues can better understand your stress at work and everyone can draw support and motivation from one another. Additionally, good relationships with your colleagues enable you to work faster and better while reducing your work’s monotony. Thus, a more positive work environment keeps you energised and productive, countering the effects of burnout.
Live a healthy lifestyle
Healthy lifestyle habits such as sleeping, exercising and healthy eating can have a huge impact on your mood and energy, helping to reduce stress and prevent burnouts. Exhaustion or a lack of rest often worsens burnout through causing you to think irrationally, and can take a toll on your energy and emotional balance. Thus, getting a good night’s sleep energises you and improves your mental state, ultimately improving your productivity at work.
What you consume can greatly impact neural circuits in your body that control emotion, mood and motivation. As such, eat food that can elevate your energy and mood such as fruits, vegetables and food that is rich in whole grains; and reduce consumption of food with lots of caffeine, sugar, chemical preservatives and hormones.
Exercising also enables stress relief. While engaging in exercise, you can focus on your body rather than your thoughts, and how your body feels as you move (feeling the sensation of the wind against your cheek can be strangely calming!). However short or simple, any form of rhythmic exercise is beneficial as it can increase your energy while simultaneously relaxing your mind and body. Ultimately, a healthy lifestyle does wonders to your wellbeing.
Find ways to relax and unplug from work
We often burnout due to lack of time for ourselves. Thus, give yourself a chance to slow down, rest and heal. Set time aside for activities that are not work-related and do activities that make you happy and relaxed. This includes your personal hobbies, interests or a passion project such as photography, baking or exercising. Doing these activities can make you feel rejuvenated and accomplished, and helps you rediscover joy and meaning in your life outside of work.
Additionally, reserve some time to disconnect from technology. In today’s day and age, smartphones cause us to “carry an office in our pocket”, and make us psychologically connected to our work all the time. Hence, it is a good idea to limit your phone time after work, to prevent yourself from checking your emails or calling your office; such that you can spend quality time with yourself and your loved ones. Through these regular breaks, you are given an opportunity to restock your mental energy and engage in self-care, which can increase your happiness and quality of life.
Re-evaluate priorities and set boundaries
Lastly, reflect on the cause of your burn out and consider what makes you feel stressed and anxious. Ask yourself, Is my work making me stressed? Exactly what aspects of work are making me stressed? Do I spend enough time for myself? Through this self-reflection, you can find ways to reduce this burnout. A good solution is to set boundaries for yourself and re-evaluate priorities, such as knowing how much time to allocate to work and relaxation (possibly placing more importance on rest and less importance on work) and learning how to say “no” to tasks. Do not stretch yourself beyond what you can handle or commit to. If you struggle with this, remind yourself that saying “no” enables you to say “yes” to tasks that you find more fulfilling. Through re-prioritising your commitments and tasks, you are able to find balance in your life and focus on parts of life that bring you joy, meaning and satisfaction (even beyond your job).
If possible, you can also identify or consider which aspects of your job you enjoy and find the most fulfilling. After doing so, you could ask your supervisor if you can focus on these tasks as they are more aligned with your responsibilities and strengths. Doing this helps you find value and regain a sense of control in your work, giving you a positive outlook and attitude towards your tasks.
Healing from a burnout definitely is not easy, and takes lots of time and commitment to overcome, but it is possible. Take the effort and steps necessary to manage your time and reduce stress, and keep to it. It may be difficult to adjust and keep to these new changes, but ultimately, it will prove effective in preventing burnouts and will improve your physical, emotional and mental well-being.
For someone who struggles with emotional self-regulation, what does having a “breakthrough” mean? A “breakthrough” could mean coming to a point of realisation and acceptance of one’s mental state, and taking a step forward to change his/her seemingly challenging behaviour. To achieve this, we’ll need to learn the art of self-mastery in order to transform our emotions, attitude and most importantly, our behaviour.
Let’s not beat about the bush – the most pivotal factor to attaining self-mastery is for the person in question to understand that he/she needs to take charge of his/her own thoughts, emotions and actions. The model of self-mastery dictates that we should acknowledge and accept that we are the ones who are responsible for changing our own life experiences. It is often said that we are each the author of our own lives, in which we live in whatever we create. At any point in time, we should always be open to learning life skills to deal with whatever life presents us, instead of resisting or reacting against it. We should learn to control what happens to us by exercising creative control over the circumstances that we throw ourselves into. Without the will to take charge and make the relevant changes, this “breakthrough” would, unfortunately, be a tough feat.
There is a difference between control and self-mastery, and it is crucial that we internalise this. Oftentimes, people with mental health conditions tend to display controlling behaviours of themselves or others.To put it succinctly, controlling behaviour arises when we compel others to change their behaviour to cater to our own experiences of life. On the contrary, self-mastery means transforming our own behaviour in order to change our own experiences of life. Practising self-mastery implies that we adapt to what life presents us, instead of quitting or getting emotionally erratic when things become challenging. This involves learning new life skills that we have yet to master in order to carry us through frustrating tough times and eliminate controlling behaviour. Controlling or manipulative behaviour often emerges from within ourselves whenever things don’t go as we expect. We victimise ourselves and push the blame towards others or life in general for what was presented so as to “correct” the situation. The truth is, when you feel that people aren’t showing you the gratitude or appreciation that you deserve, the fault is not with them. In actual fact, you are exhibiting a need to control – to bring your current life experiences to fit your idealised version of it. For individuals with disruptive emotions and impulses, self-mastery may not come easily to them, as a result of the dysfunction of their self-regulation skills. Yet, this doesn’t mean that it is entirely impossible.
Self-mastery means not allowing our past negative experiences to affect our present and future. It is not easy to undo those past experiences, as they are like deep-seated stains on our clothes that cannot be removed. However, we can choose not to wear those clothes again. It is hard to pick up anything new if our hands are full of burdens. Making peace with our past by letting go, forgiving or even forgetting, will give us space for an untarnished and more objective approach to our present and future. Practising self-mastery also includes being mindful of how you interpret an event in a way that reduces the negative thought or completely replacing it with a positive one. This psychological strategy can be understood by looking at a glass and asking yourself whether it is half full or half empty. Instead of focusing on the dark clouds, we should change our interpretative lens to uncover the silver lining. For example, instead of envying your friend’s success, you should see your own failure as a temporary detour and not a dead end.
Being mindful of our actions and reactions helps us see them for what they are so as to reign in any impulsive controlling, or difficult behaviour. Truth be told, we have all displayed difficult behaviour at times, which as a result, might have caused us to burn a bridge or two. However, the display of fluctuating emotions may be a regular occurrence for some individuals who may not know how to work towards a “breakthrough”. In this case, only if we are mindful of our behaviours can we be less reactive and better able to reframe our perception of our current experience in a less emotional and upsetting manner. With practice, we will slowly become better at creating that space which will then allow us to choose our reactions rather than just reacting out of habit or impulse. Of course, this, in turn, leads to happier and healthier relationships, ultimately improving our mental state of health as well.
Last, but not least, a crucial step in developing self-mastery is to start with self-honesty and truthfulness. Do some self-reflection. That is, have an honest assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as owning up to your problems. When you are able to identify your weaknesses, you will be able to direct yourself better to what needs to be worked on and the relevant life skills you’ll need to master in order to find a breakthrough. In contrast, focusing on your strengths will also help boost your self-confidence, and act as a motivation for you to work towards making the change you need (i.e., self-improvement). If it helps, attend a peer support group. Peer support groups are built on shared personal experiences and empathy – it focuses on one’s strengths and helps you work towards your mental health and happiness goals. At the same time, it comforts you that you aren’t on the road to mental resilience and self-mastery alone and that there are many out there like you. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help too, for it could very well be the push you need to help you achieve the breakthrough you desire.
If you have compelling, irresistible cravings to drink, smoke, use drugs and gamble, which leads to behaviors that is destructive to yourself and others, you can seek help from a professional counselor for addiction treatment.
They can offer you tools and techniques to deal with urges and cravings. One powerful practice that has been shown by several studies to reduce urges and cravings is mindfulness. Mindfulness allows you to control your cravings by noticing in the moment what is arising in your thoughts, emotions and body. By being in the moment with your cravings and not being subsumed by them or reacting to them, the craving will fade away. Do you have difficulties in controlling your urges and cravings? Do you feel that you have no control over your life and that the cravings are controlling you?
At Promises, we have skilled, compassionate counsellors that can help you overcome your cravings through the practice of mindfulness and various techniques. At Promises Healthcare, we are committed to helping you through your journey to recovery.
Discover a new life, away from addiction and find renewed hope. Please contact our clinic for inquiries and consultations.