Happy Chinese New Year!

horseyear2014

Have a happy horse year!

Naaay… have a happy mentally healthy year ahead!

According to a Jobstreet survey last year, it appears that most Singaporean employees are mentally exhausted (AsiaOne, 16 Jul 2013). Not surprising and in line with the previous job surveys (read these previous posts in Jun and Aug last year). But it’s a new year (again)…so you can still work in some “me time”!

Here are 8 things you can do:

  1. Get into an exercise routine like walking the park connectors near your home.
  2. Get your family involved in your walk by organizing a meal afterwards.
  3. Challenge your brain by learning a new sport, dance, or exercise form.
  4. Get your friends to join in. Ask for discounts for introducing new classmates.
  5. Organize your catch-up get-togethers around social activities like board games, urban walks, frisbee, or kite-flying instead of just brunch.
  6. Spend time with others at the soup kitchen, willinghearts, social day care centres or senior activity centres, dog shelters, and/or special needs schools.
  7. Manage your stress. Here are some extra tips.
  8. Look after yourself and your mental wellbeing!
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10 Things To Know About Caregiving

The current ratio of adults aged 20 to 64 years to older adults aged 65 years and above is 6.4, according to the Department of Statistics Singapore, although a recent news article (“Fast-ageing Singapore, fewer to support aged; Trend worries experts”, The Sunday Times, 27 Sept 2013) put this figure at 5.5. Concerns about an ageing demographic aren’t solely a local concern. According to the facts and figures from WHO, life expectancy and medical advances make this issue in other countries too.

It should be pointed out that its entirely arbitrary that we should support someone at age 65 but not the year before. But nevertheless, ageing is a pressing issue. Consequently, ageing issues receive much media attention, with recent special reports such as those listed below, putting the spotlight on caregivers.

While it’s reassuring to know that one isn’t alone in the sandwich generation of being a parent of young (and not-so-young) children and being a caregiver of parents (and for some, siblings), it may be useful to have the resources one needs or will eventually need, when caregiving needs arise.

As full-time employees, we may be only part-time caregivers, but we are still caregivers in some capacity or other nonetheless. Given that the mental wellbeing of caregivers is important, here’s 10 things you should know about caregiving:

  1. Most caregivers in Singapore are employed. You’re not alone.

    According to a 2010 survey, almost 75% of individuals who said they provided regular assistance to friends or family were employed (Singstat Singapore Newsletter, Sept 2011). That means that many caregivers endeavor to manage their time between work, caregiving and others responsibilities at the home.

  2. Caregivers may experience high levels of stress.

    Research shows that caregiver stress increases with the physical dependency of the care receipient. As reported in a 2007 NCSS Social Service Journal, research shows that care receipients who have lower scores on Activities of Daily Living tend to have caregivers who experience higher levels of stress (Mehta & Joshi, 2001). Specifically, those who look after care receipients who have dementia tend to have high levels of stress (Kua & Tan, 1997). Don’t be surprised when this turns up as one of the WHO’s 10 Facts About Dementia!

  3. There are many resources available for caregivers. Several local organizations also have online caregiving resources.

    These include among others: a fact sheet about dementia (WHO), the 10 early warning signs (Alzheimer’s Association), books on coping with caregiver emotions and stress from the US National Institute of Aging, useful tips and facts for caregivers from the US Family Caregiver Alliance. 

  4. Touch Caregivers Support

    Touch Caregivers Support provides useful Caregiver Tips, runs courses and talks, and counselling services. Their website also has resources in Chinese.

  5. Caregiving Welfare Association

    The Caregiving Welfare Association has an free online counselling service for caregivers providing care to older adults with physical or mental disabilities, where caregivers are residents of Singapore and above 18 years of age.

  6. WINGS

    WINGS organizes regular exercise programmes, talks and workshops, and other activities to support women in ageing successfully.

  7. Council for the Third Age

    Council for the Third Age has resources for helping seniors with lifelong learning. Modules include resources for tech topics, library resources, recommended reading and videos. 

  8. AWWA

    Caregivers Connect is a community network for caregivers by caregivers through events organised each quarter and on online forums. Other services offered by AWWA include a Caregiving Life Skills Training programme.

  9. Tsao Foundation

    The Tsao Foundation has caregiving resources on caring for the frail, looking after your emotional wellbeing and physical health, and financial security, as well as information about TCM and acupuncture.

  10. SG Family Caregivers

    Information about caregiver stress is also available at Singapore Family Caregivers’ website.

What’s the deal with mental wellbeing?

Mental wellbeing, what is it? It is, according to the World Health Organization, “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. But what’s the deal with mental wellbeing? Well, here are some facts about mental wellbeing:

  1. Employee wellbeing is lower than that of the general population.

    A media report last year (“Mental well-being of working adults 13% lower than general population”, Asiaone, 3 Aug 2012) revealed that mental wellbeing among employees in Singapore was 13% lower than that of the general population. Results from the HPB survey comprising a 1,000 respondent sample showed that working adults were more likely to experience higher levels of stress than non-working adults.

  2. Is employee wellbeing just a “nice-to-have”?

    It’s been established in research that employees’ mental wellbeing is indicative of their engagement and work performance. This view is supported by findings that “employees who are dissatisfied and unhappy are also more likely to be disengaged, absent without valid reasons, cynical, non-cooperative and more likely to engage in counter-productive behaviour” (“The importance of employee well-being”, Business Times, 25 Sep 2013).

  3. Mental wellbeing constructs include psychological resilience, social-emotional intelligence and cognitive capacity

    The definition of mental wellbeing proposed by the local authority on health and wellness, Health Promotion Board, comprises psychological constructs which include self-esteemsocial intelligence, psychological resilienceemotional intelligence, and cognitive efficacy. Positive outcomes such as life satisfaction are closely associated with higher scores on measures of these constructs. As such, it’s worth knowing how to improve one’s self-esteem, social and emotional intelligence, resilience, and cognitive competencies.

  • Some self-esteem is desirable

    Correlational evidence indicate that self-esteem, based on self-report measures, is positively associated with mental wellbeing. That is, having low self-esteem likely reflects poorer life satisfaction and mental wellbeing. However, other findings also indicate that it may be important to not view self-esteem as a goal but rather a by-product of psychological wellbeing. As noted in a Harvard Mental Health Letter, it may be also important to examine implicit self-esteem, rather rely on an explicit measure of self-esteem such as self-report. Another way to think about this is that it’s important to develop self-esteem, but it’s also critical that self-esteem arises from positive reinforcement which is provided to reward real improvements in work competence and/or academic performance. This Psychology Today article, “Parenting: The Sad Misuse of Self-esteem” provides useful tips for parents. There are also strategies to help those with low self-esteem: This November 2013 press release by the Association of Psychological Science suggests that touch may be one such useful strategy.

  • Social intelligence is the ability to navigate social interactions

    The ability to thrive in the social world depends on our ability to understand and interpret social situations and act appropriately. In keeping with in this textbook definition of social intelligence, our understanding and ability to manage complex social interactions is what helps us manage at the workplace and at home. Psychology Today provides tips for developing social intelligence, while social intelligence can be observed to have business applications, as this article in the Bangkok Post business section suggests. But the concept of social intelligence does overlap with that of emotional intelligence, so read on!

  • Emotional intelligence is rooted in the ability to perceive and manage one’s or other people’s emotions

    The authors of emotional intelligence propose that people with high emotional intelligence are those who are able to solve problems relating to emotions (Salovey & Mayer, 1990). One such example cited in Mayer’s clarification on what emotional intelligence is (and is not) in Psychology Today, is the ability to accurately identify people’s facial emotion. A consequence of having emotional intelligence is the capacity to respond appropriately to perceived emotions, thus facilitating one’s ability to manage emotions in oneself and others. More recent empirical research supports the importance of emotional intelligence to successful relationships at home and at the workplace (Salovey & Grewal, 2005). Programmes to build up emotional intelligence are not only catching on at schools, a topic which a New York Times article documents and a Huffington Post report explores, but they are also being implemented at the workplace. Reassuringly, cognitive-behavioural approaches to training up our emotional intelligence are shown to be effective (“Can you really improve your emotional intelligence?”, Harvard Business Review, 29 May 2013). But first, perhaps you might want to find out what your EQ is? Try this quiz!

  • Psychological resilience is key

    Resilience is key to boosting mental wellbeing. While self-esteem and cognitive abilities likely reflect our capacity to realize our own potential, and social and emotional intelligence help us live productively and fruitfully, resilience plays an important role in our ability to cope with the daily stressors of our lives. The public broadcasting service (US) has an excellent definition of resilience, while the Huffington Post article “Hope and Survival: The Power of Psychological Resilience” offers illuminating illustrations. And there are many ways to build resilience: Psychology Today describes the 10 traits of emotionally resilient people; this magazine Experience Life! includes self-care as a useful tip; a Harvard Business Review mentions the role of optimism in building resilience; Forbes offers a change in perspective; and Life argues for teachable moments from the difficulties we face in life. We can’t possibly learn to get up when we haven’t had the chance to fall down.

  • How fluid is our cognitive capacity?

    Having good mental wellbeing also means that we’re able to analyze problems, find solutions, make decisions, and do ordinary things like remember, read, and recall things. Research shows that these abilities can be improved with training, and this applies to even school-age children. Lucky for us, other studies have demonstrated that playing video games can enhance our cognitive kills. Playing Starcraft helped young adults with no gaming experience improve their cognitive flexibility, while practice at a divided-attention task (with a car-driving video game interface) helped older adults improve not only their scores for tasks of attention skills but also their performance at working memory tasks (“Put away the knitting”, The Economist, 7 Sept 2013). Of course, it should be remembered that this is only an effective strategy when it’s novel to us. Challenging our brains to learn something cognitively demanding improves not only working memory but episodic memory – our ability to remember new things (Park & Lodi-Smith, Drew et al., 2013). This recent study shows that, in contrast, there are no benefits to staying in our comfort zone (“Mentally challenging activities improve memory as baby boomers age”, UT Dallas,  22 Oct 12). Caffeine is another way to boost our problem-solving and thinking abilities in the short-term (and the short-term can be quite useful!). But of course, too much caffeine has consequences on our ability to make good judgements about our and other people’s emotions, as well as wise decisions in difficult social situations (“Caffeine: The silent killer of emotional intelligence”, Forbes, 21 August 2012). Can’t have too much of a good thing!

Good intentions

New Year resolutions

It’s that time of year again when we think about the things we want to accomplish this year. A week ago, the opinion piece that that was published in the New York Times, “Fighting to kick the habit”, highlights the struggle of one person (one rather famous person). Having the facts about addictions is one thing. Overcoming the barriers to recovery is another.

It may not be addictive behaviours that we’re trying to set straight this year. We may just simply be trying to keep our list of new year resolutions simple and accomplish a few simpler things. This year, we will:

1. Manage our time efficiently. It’s on our perennial wish list. We want to spend time with family and friends. And that means being efficient at work (and household chores, groceries, errands, school runs, and the list goes on). Prioritizing the things on our to-do list is one way to go. Exercising the delicate power of delegation is another. Communicating effectively with your boss and team as well as your family at home, and using technology to our advantage (Life Hacks, time-saving tips, the Real Simple stuff) are also important strategies which are not to be underestimated. Go, get on with it!

2. Live healthily. A two-week plan (see Dr Oz’s) for achieving a healthy body mass index (BMI) seems short-term. But it’s not. It’s a small step we can take on the road to better cholesterol levels, lower blood pressure, and better readings of blood glucose. The two-week plan won’t get us there instantly. But two weeks is plenty for retraining your body to achieve greater satiety during meals (that is attaining a feeling of fullness so that we don’t crave nutrient-free caloric-full foods ten minutes after lunch or breakfast; tips here and here). And it’s certainly plenty of time for scheduling in more activity into your routine (and exercise will certainly help with achieving number #1). Falling off the wagon today doesn’t mean we need to fall off it the rest of the week. As the saying goes, try. And try again.

3. Do something about it. We want to be more assertive at work. Shop less. Save more. Sort out the cupboard for which its contents will unravel and cover the floor when we open the door (it might help the next time we’re tempted to get another one of those things we already have five of; tips here and here). Get help with psychological issues. Spend less time with non-hostile acquaintances who don’t seem to appreciate us (practical advice here). Have fewer arguments at home (helpful tips here). In any case, it’s a good time to do something about it.

And anyway, there’s a second new year for our resolutions (akan datang)!

Getting your facts straight

Recent media attention on substance abuse, problem gambling, and other addictions has put the thorny issue on the spotlight yet again. Although acupuncture is a new addition to the current multidisciplinary treatment approach comprising medication and counselling (“IMH takes a stab at helping addicts”, Straits Times, 6 Sept 2013), there are a number of existing resources available to address the problem of addictions:

1. Local resources

  • National hotline for all addictions: 6-RECOVER (Mon to Fri, 8.30am to 10pm)
  • National hotline for Problem Gambling: 1800-6-668-668 (24h hotline)
  • Resources and services | National Addictions Management Service (NAMS)

2. Problems with substance use

Drug addiction is a complex disease (NIH). It’s important to have the facts:

3.  Problems with alcohol use

When does drinking become a problem? Find out from this NAMS fact sheet.

4. Problem gambling

Activation of brain reward areas of people with problem gambling is similar to those of people with alcohol use disorders. It’s important to know the signs:

Talking to your teen

Talking to your teen

It’s the start of a new year, and a chance to start afresh. Along with making new New Year resolutions to eat healthy, exercise more, work smart, sleep well, and party less, maybe one of your resolutions was to engage in better communications with your family, specifically your children.

One of the challenges facing parents in this day and age is that the unfashionable problems of substance and alcohol use issues persist today while newfangled problems of online gaming addictions have surfaced and are likely to stay for a while. But just as there are national hotlines to help grown-ups address their own problems, there are a number of resources to help children, as well as to help parents provide the right direction for their children:

1. Local resources

  • www.youthinmind.sg is a chat forum for youths
  • 1800 274 4788 Tinkle Friend Helpline for children | S’pore Children’s Society
  • 6346 9332 | Teen Challenge Youth Axis offers counselling services
  • 1800 377 2252 | Touchline offers advice on life issues
  • 6336 3434 | Youthline is a counselling hotline
  • A list of helplines for parents from NCSS (PDF)

2. Understanding addictions

3. Online gaming

4. Alcohol use

5. Substance use