What has work got to do with it: Coping with stress at work

Demanding boss? Annoying colleagues? Unreasonable deadlines and excessive workload? Check, check and check. Ask anyone who’s a paid employee (including those working for themselves) if they’ve experienced these before and you’re sure to get many fervent nods. Work-related stress caused by, among others, toxic work environments, time pressure and excessive workloads, can be harmful to both physical and emotional health. How then, can we cope with stress at work?

To begin with, let’s look at some numbers. According to a survey conducted in 2019 by healthcare consultancy firm Asia Care Group (on behalf of health insurance and services company Cigna), a staggering 92 per cent of working Singaporeans report feeling stressed. This was higher than the global average of 84 per cent. They also found that Singapore spends about 18 per cent of its total healthcare expenditure on stress-related illnesses annually, which amounted to a whopping S$3.1 billion! This was the second highest out of the nine regions studied in the report, with Australia coming in first at 18.8 per cent. The other regions included Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the United States.

So, then what can we do to cope with the inevitable work stress? I have combed through the vastness that is the Internet and shortlisted what I feel are some of the best ways people have used to cope with such stress.

First, develop a healthy lifestyle. The best weapon we have to respond to anything that life throws at us is ourselves; specifically, our bodies. Indeed, the American Psychological Association recommends having a healthy diet, physical activity and quality sleep. Limit caffeine, unhealthy food (yes, this includes your favourite sugar-laden BBT) and alcohol. This may be easier said than done, as most of us may have turned to them to get through the day. However, healthy choices lead to a healthy body, which in turn prevents us from falling sick easily. In addition, make time for hobbies and activities that make you happy. Taking some time to recharge will also help. All of these contribute to a healthier you, mentally and physically.

Second, reframe negative thoughts. How many times have we used words like ‘stupid’, ‘useless’ and ‘incompetent’ on ourselves in our minds? Dwelling on negative thoughts is of no help to anyone. It can deflate your morale and self-esteem and we become less motivated in our work. For example, instead of saying ‘I am so stupid to have done this’, think ‘I will learn from this mistake and avoid repeating it’. Made a mistake at work? Make like Elsa and let it go! If things turn out well, it is an experience; if they don’t, it becomes a lesson.

Perhaps the third way of coping with stress is the most important: Getting support. No man is an island, and there is no disgrace in asking for and accepting help. One vital source of support can be your colleagues. Try forging a friendship with the nicer people in the office. This can create a more cordial working relationship and pleasant working environment. It is easier to ask for help and support from someone you know as more than ‘that tall guy from IT’. Speak to your colleagues or superiors if you need advice, mentorship or help. Sometimes having lunch together and chatting about life outside work can be a welcome break from the office. Another source of support may be your friends and family. Confiding in trusted friends and family members can help you manage stress and cope with burnout. Having a listening ear can be more comforting than you expect it to be.

Recently, another source of support is gaining popularity: Peer support. But what is peer support? Peer support refers to support from someone who has experienced what you are experiencing right now, usually a mental/physical health condition or emotional issues. Connecting with them provides emotional and practical support, which can improve health and well-being. Many mental health associations and advocacy groups organize support groups for an array of issues and concerns. Resilience Collective is a charity made up of and led by people with lived experience. Our Circle of WE monthly peer support sessions provide a safe space for people living with mental health challenges to share personal experiences and develop networks of support. Other organisations cater to varying needs. For example, the Singapore Cancer Society conducts peer support group sessions for cancer patients and We Care Community Services organizes Recovery Support Groups where members with addictions experience support each other through hardships and celebrate victories. Psaltcare offers a Christian Peer Support Group that incorporates faith-based practices as part of the support process. For more hands-on recovery activities, SAMH organises creative therapeutic group-based programmes.

Stress and pressure can be unavoidable due to our fast-paced and competitive working environment in Singapore, but there are ways to cope and avoid burnout. Staying healthy, staying positive and sharing experiences with others are just some of the ways to cope with stress at work. Joining peer support groups for mental health and well-being may just be the latest tool to fight work stress in Singapore.

Useful resources:

  1. For a list of support groups available in Singapore: https://www.aic.sg/caregiving/Self-Care%20Tips
  2. Resilience Collective: http://www.resilience.org.sg/about-us/
  3. We Care Community Services: http://www.wecare.org.sg/services-recovery-support-groups.asp
  4. Psaltcare: https://www.psaltcare.com/
  5. SAMH: https://www.samhealth.org.sg/

Authored by: Joy Soo. Joy is working in the field of social research with a strong interest in mental health and well-being. She is also a self-professed animal lover and is currently serving 5 kitty overlords.

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