New ways to de-stress

Apparently, we’re a very stressed workforce.

According to a 2015 workplace survey of 7, 883 employees who used their company’s employee assistance programme (read more here to find out about EAPs), there was a high level of anxiety among younger employees. Compared to X-gen and baby boomer employees, high anxiety was reported by 5% more employees in the millennial age group.

But it’s probably not just the Y-gen who need help managing their stress and anxiety. Even foreign domestic helpers have mental health concerns. According to a study by the Humanitarian Organization for Migration Economies, 2 in 10 domestic helpers showed signs of psychological distress.

The fact is, we all could do with a bit of help. A 2014 study showed poor coping strategies were more likely to lead to the development of insomnia.

So what does help?

1. Zap your fatigue with a nap
It’s not new that getting a nap helps your brain perform better at tasks of memory. But if you were in doubt, here’s a new finding that supports that idea.

What’s new is the finding that taking a nap is “an effective strategy to counteract impulsive behavior and to boost tolerance for frustration”, so says this new 2015 study. So, go ahead and get those 40 winks. Look here for the best way to nap.

2. Exercise and meditate your stress away
Previous studies show that exercise improves your mental health and psychological mood. But new research shows that sports and physical activity can be as effective as depression meds. Put another way, exercise has been shown to be an effective way to lower stress hormone levels, in turn alleviating depression.

Like exercise, doing relaxation exercises while at work can help us cope with high levels of job stress. A 2015 study showed that mindfulness techniques to be as effective in alleviating depression as depression medications, while another 2015 study found that workplace mindfulness exercises helped reduce stress responses among nurses.

So, getting physical and mindful are some of the best ways to manage stress.

3. Boost your mental health with a balanced diet
The experts advocate the consumption of “key nutrients, such as polyunsaturated fatty acids Omega-3, essential amino acids, B-group vitamins (B12 and folate), vitamin D and minerals like zinc, magnesium and iron” for our mental health..

4. It’s all in your attitude!
Research suggests that staying psychologically healthy can be as simple as just having a positive outlook. A 2015 study found that people had better mental health when they were able to stay calm and/or cheerful while coping with a stressful situation.

And when you have tried all that, you can try a few more whimsical options:

5. That’s how the smart cats do it
A new study found that watching cat videos helped boost viewers’ positive emotions, while reducing their negative ones. Here’s a Maru video to get you started.

6. Time to get your colour pencils out
Colouring is the new black. Not only are there colouring books for adults, there are colouring workshops too. Research findings about the mental health benefits of colouring for adults are as easy to find as an oak tree at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. But research has found creative pursuits to be helpful for relieving stress. So go on, get those crayons and watercolour brushes out.

7. After work, doing nothing is better than checking facebook
A recent study found local commuters reported more positive emotions “zoning out” than being connected online on their evening commute home. In contrast, they reported more positive emotions while engaged in online social networking and text messaging on their morning commute into work.

So, you have it now. The official endorsement to engage in a little bit of people-watching. Without any pangs of guilt. It’s for your own mental health of course. And it works best when on your way home from work.

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Dealing with the terrible twos

Parenting

There isn’t unfortunately a module in university or textbook in school to teach parents good parenting skills. Parenting skills are also not directly taught to teachers, although such skills are to be valued in the classroom.

Research on child development is consistent in advocating positive and consistent parenting, together with warmth, as must-haves. They’re useful for dealing with toddler tantrums. They’re applicable for handling teenagers and the pre-teens. They’re relevant even with undergrads.

We are quick to provide tuition and enrichment classes to encourage cognitive learning. But children’s social and emotional development is just as important.

Here’s a look at what the literature actually says:

1. Praise behaviours
Children who receive positive reinforcement for their effort (and not their intelligence) were more willing to try a more challenging task than their peers who were praised for being clever. This seminal 1998 finding shows that it’s crucial to reward children for their good behaviours.

2. Be consistent
Recent reports argue that the naughty step may be inappropriate for very young children (because it assumes very young children can calm themselves down and gives them a moment to reflect on their actions when they may well not be cognitively able to yet: read this article for why). Instead, experts recommend positive parenting (see #1 above). Moreover, being consistent is paramount: here’s a useful guide.

3. Nuture emotional intelligence
Social emotional intelligence is the new black in school these days. But children don’t acquire emotional intelligence by themselves. Guiding children to articulate and gain awareness of their emotions, anger, and frustrations can however be an important first step towards handling difficult behaviours at home and in school.

4. Encourage collaboration
Soft skills are the thing at the workplace. But it’s easier said than done. The local schooling system encourages competition rather than collaboration (a lesson from learning the Finnish way). It’s also hard to let children learn things the hard way (there are advocates for this approach: “go ahead, let your children fail“), but it is an important lesson. And better learnt earlier, rather than later.

5. Sleep is key
We don’t get enough sleep. So it’s normal for our children not to either. But sleep is crucial to learning and remembering thingsStudies show that mobile phones and games prevent children from getting quality rest, which is essential for cognitive learning and academic performance. Cranky children also make for anger tantrums and uncooperative learners. It’s never too late to encourage good bedtime habits!

6. Breakfast is essential
Adults need breakfast to stay congenial as employees and to be engaged at work. More so for children: Their brains need constant fuel (here’s why)! Mum was right: breakfast is the most important meal of the day (especially if it’s oats and fruits)!