Ever had the thought “What can I do when my friend is anxious?“…”What do I do or say when someone starts crying?“…
We offer a workshop for individuals who want to learn strategies and communication skills to manage concerns like these. Read more »
Ever had the thought “What can I do when my friend is anxious?“…”What do I do or say when someone starts crying?“…
We offer a workshop for individuals who want to learn strategies and communication skills to manage concerns like these. Read more »
There are only 3 days left before we can enjoy a day of rest (and possibly too much murukku). It’s only 68 days before the long weekend during Christmas this year and the ensuing three working days before the New Year, when everyone is at their desk but no one wants to do any work. Another 42 days to filing corporate annual tax returns. And another 26 days before children are free to roam the shopping malls downtown and prowl the science centre, zoo, and bird park.
In order that we don’t burn ourselves out to survive another fast-paced year in the corporate jungle, we can innoculate ourselves against stress. Here’s some things to try:
29. Do you precrastinate?
We can feel stressed out by our “to do” list, which more often than not gets longer as the day yawns on. Sometimes we get so stressed that the last thing that’s added to our list, is also the first thing we tackle, even when we’re in the middle of doing something else. Choosing to reply to a new email (precrastination) gets it off our list but may be counterproductive. It could be more efficient to let emails accumulate and reply to all of them at the end of the day.
28. Go away!
A 2014 study argues that multiple interruptions reduce quality of work produced. It may be a good idea to put your phone on “do not disturb” (only important calls will get through) and stop your email client from running in the background.
27. Indulge in a short break at the office
A 2014 study found that employees who took breaks while at work reported more satisfaction at work. But the study also showed that these were usually employees who had a physical job, or those who had jobs with a lot of face-to-face interactions, and needed to decompress with “alone time”. But breaks don’t have to be “workplace internet leisure browsing“; they can be time well-spent filling up at the water cooler or having breakfast!
26. Facebook at the office
According to this 2014 study, taking a 5-minute break to browse non-work-related websites helps younger employees stay focused at work. Using company internet to surf Facebook for 5 minutes was a more effective break than a similar duration spent comparing online insurance policies, doing nothing, or not taking a break. But it’s not for those aged 30 and up…
25. Smartphone breaks (and tea breaks) can be helpful
We’re better at paying attention to a task which requires constant vigilance (think air traffic controllers) when we’re allowed brief breaks. A 2014 study observed that employees, who spent time playing a game, checking Facebook, or posting on Twitter while at work, had higher levels of mental well-being at the end of the day. The microbreaks help by allowing us to destress in between tasks. Though those in organizations where smartphones are not allowed, will probably need to do it the old-fashioned way — talking to co-workers in person or taking a tea break in another part of the building.
24. When TV is bad for you…
Apparently it’s hard to relax by watching TV or playing computer or video games. A recent study suggests that when we use TV and gaming as a distraction to escape more pressing tasks, we fail to be destressed from watching TV or from playing a computer or video game. Instead, we feel guilty for procrastinating on the pressing tasks. That’s not to say TV is not an effective way to destress. It is, but only if we’re not using it as a means to escape from a problem. If you’re not escaping, then go ahead…watch TV (skip to #13 and #14).
23. If you must procrastinate…
Then choose something that you have to do. If you’re at home, that could be the laundry, dishes, ironing, walking the dog, or dinner prep. If you’re at the office, that could be clearing out your inbox, tidying up your desk, backing up your data, or sorting out your filing. At least you’ll feel accomplished at the end of the day.
22. Get those creative juices flowing
A recent study has found that employees with creative pursuits outside work are more productive than their peers who don’t have such interests. Even being an audience member at a dance or musical performance or a visitor to an art gallery or museum exhibition can bestow benefits which include improved mental wellbeing and mood. It may be that creative hobbies help us relax during our downtime, which in turn boosts our effectiveness when we’re on the job in the work week.
21. Enjoy your time at work and at home
Although not all tasks are suited to being accompanied by music, music can be helpful in boosting productivity. And putting up the bass can make one feel empowered. So, put on those headphones and turn up the bass before that all-important client meeting, business negociation, or employee performance review.
20. Channel your spending towards friends and family
Spending on things which provide us opportunities for social interactions (e.g., meals, theatre shows) makes us happy. Relative to spending on things which are only appreciated by us. Research also shows that we’re happier when we spend on others rather than ourselves. And we’re most happy about charity donations when these further a cause supported by friends or family. What all this tells us is that we value social experiences. By that reasoning, we should expect to be ecstatic about making a home-made picnic for friends and family at Marina Barrage. Or a potluck get-together with all your office BFFs.
19. The magic of delegation
Some of the things that we do don’t need to be done by us. But giving responsibilities away takes practice. It helps if we also prepare by finding out ahead of time whom we can give the tasks away to. Here are some tips and a how-to guide.
18. Give it away, give it away now
There’s a difference between something which is important but not urgent, and something which is urgent but not important. It’s tough deciding which to do first. Here’s a step-by-step guide on what to do.
17. Say no (or else…)
Much easier said that done. But since we don’t have superpowers, we need to know what we do want to do and don’t want to do. It’s not just about finding ways to do things more efficiently (though that helps). We can do things which fit into the time available. Here’s how to go about doing it and a useful fact sheet. If not, you can appoint someone to remind you to say no.
16. Be assertive, not passive-aggressive
Part of “learning to say no” is learning to be assertive. Being assertive means saying what your needs and feelings are, with the right body language. This helps you manage your stress, particularly if we have difficulty turning down more work responsibilities. And prevent you from “vaguebooking” and “posting statuses for attention” for the next two hours, when you should be working!
15. Look into ways to improve yourself
Key competencies for employees in today’s workplace include awareness of one’s emotions, ability to manage one’s emotions, ability to motivate oneself, empathy, and the ability to manage relationships with others. You can’t change others; you can only change yourself. It’s an important part of stress management. Find out about yourself here.
14. Laugh it off
Laughter alleviates stress and protects against heart disease (read this article). It’s not just common sense. Laughter is the best medicine: Patients were found to cope better when their long-term chronic illnesses were explained with cartoons. Seeing the funny side of things helps us cope when life gets stressful (here’s the science behind it). Now you have an excuse to read Sherman’s lagoon. Or view some self-deprecating thoughts.
13. Have a good cry (and a friend to hold your hand)
Some argue that crying has a stress-reducing effect, but it appears that the benefits of a good cry may depend on who’s doing the crying and who they’re with at the time of their crying. Findings from a 2008 study suggests that having emotional support in the form of friends and family produces positive outcomes from the crying episode. So, station your social support network on your sofa, get ready the tissues, and turn on the K-drama channel…
12. Watch a funny movie
A recent study found that watching films with a stressful scene (heart surgery in the film Vertical Limit) makes our heart beat faster. And not in a good way. In contrast, watching a funny movie reduces anxiety levels. A 1991 study showed that we’re better at solving a problem when we’re experiencing a positive emotion than a negative one. It appears that we are more apt to think of possible solutions when we’re feeling happy.
11. Ready, steady, laugh!
In fact, just knowing that we’re about to laugh relieves stress. Anticipating a funny movie lowered stress hormones (cortisol) and two other mood-regulating hormones (adrenalin and a dopamine-related brain chemical). Amazing. Time to self-medicate with Toy Story 3 and Despicable Me 2!
10. Spend time on your financial health
When we have money problems at home, we spend time at work solving these problems or worrying about them. All this worrying can lead us to destressing in less than healthy ways. So it pays to keep tabs on your spending, saving, and investing (here are some tips for getting started).
9. Spend time with your kids
Toddler tantrums and preschool meltdowns are unlikely to be your idea of a restful weekend. Odd as it may sound, children can behave in much more predictable ways when they spend more time with their parents. And if parents engage in warm and consistent parenting, focusing on rewarding desirable behaviour and understanding their young children’s needs and feelings.
8. Spend time with your older kids too
Respectful communication is easier when you spend time doing day-to-day things with your teenagers. You may want to try a problem-solving approach when addressing a testy topic. Or assess the various sources of stress that your children are facing before tackling disagreeable topics.
7. Defend your ears
A study which found that elevated traffic noise produced higher blood pressure and heart rate, and higher levels of stress hormone, also showed that even low-level noise elicited a stress response, resulting in reduced motivation. Aside from sleep disturbances which in turn affect our ability to cope with stress, traffic noise is also thought to contribute to stress-related health problems such as stroke and heart disease. There are solutions being proposed in dense cities, but ear plugs are a good short-term solution in the meantime.
6. Greener is better
The participants of a large scale study reported better mental wellbeing as soon as they moved to a greener neighbourhood and this improvement was sustained for as long as 3 years after the move. In another study, residents in a neighbourhood with more trees and vegetation had fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress. Remarkable.
5. Popeye was right
Investing in a plant-based diet, as well as physical activity as part of one’s daily routine, a strong social support network, and a purpose-driven life, is one of the secrets to getting older with good mental and physical health.
4. Increase your sunshine vitamin
Nurses were more alert and experienced improved mood when they spent more time with daylight than artificial light (read about the study here). Blue light, which is more available from the morning sun than evening sun, regulates our sleep patterns, which in turn affects our ability to pay attention and solve problems during our working hours. Besides that, sunlight also provides us with vitamin D, which boosts your immune system and facilitates calcium absorption. Time to get make hay while the sun shines!
3. Get some zzz!
Whether it’s from disrupted sleep or a lack of sleep, poor quality sleep compromises our ability to remember things and impacts our mood. Studies also show that sleep deprivation puts adolescents at risk of depression and children at risk of obesity. The less we sleep, the faster we age. And here’s the really bad news: lack of sleep makes us crave junk food! Sleep is definitely a must-have.
Studies show that spending a small amount of time a day focusing on breathing helps to lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, alleviating stress and reduces burnout. Other benefits include improvements in other domains such as attention, decision-making, immune health, and emotion regulation. Mindfulness is not for everyone so similar techniques including yoga and tai chi are other alternatives. Yoga has been shown to improve brain function and psychological mood, lessen anxiety, lower inflammation, and alleviate stress. Relaxation is the cornerstone in managing stress.
1. Keep exercising!
Being physically active means having better physical wellbeing, brain function, and memory capacity. Exercise is not only effective in treating depression but prevents the onset of depression and reduces anxiety levels. Long-term physical activity has anti-aging properties, while exercise has been shown to suppress chronic inflammation. No pain, no gain.
Not long ago, a study reported that a substantial number of people were found to have lower levels of stress hormone while at the office than when at home. This finding downplays the stress at the workplace. To be more precise, men were the ones more likely to experience stress at the office than home.
But it doesn’t discount the fact that people still experience stress at the workplace. As many as 20% of those polled in a 2013 HPB survey reported high levels of job stress. That’s 2 in every 10 employees. And almost half of those polled in a separate survey (comprising at least 400 employees per country) reported a lack of job satisfaction. More disturbing is the finding that over half of those polled in a recent LinkedIn survey would consider sacrificing a workplace friendship for promotion. That spells for a happy workplace. Not.
Although job stress often surfaces from employees managing heavy workloads, there are many other factors which impact employee engagement. Things which managers and supervisors play an enormous role in shaping. Things like team dynamics, personality clashes, and leadership styles.
Here are 10 ways line managers can help:
1. Social support
A Gallup poll found that engaged employees were more likely to have friends at the workplace. Line managers play a role in cultivating a work culture which encourages friendships. Look here for tips.
2. Work-life balance
Employees are more likely to be engaged and productive when their leaders value sustainable ways of working, which includes supporting work-life balance. A HBR survey reveals that it’s important for leaders to practice what they preach. It’s a tune that’s getting more airtime these days.
3. Find ways to get active
We all know why we should invest in moderate to vigorous exercise three times a week and incorporate fruits, veggies, and whole grains in our daily diet. It does wonders for our cardiovascular health. It protects against dementia and certain types of cancer. But workplace health programmes may not always stress a key benefit (no pun intended). Exercise is the key to managing stress levels. Here’s an incentive for line managers to support the Get Fit programme at the office!
4. Find time to relax
Research supports the view that engaging in relaxation activities helps us manage our stress. A recent INSEAD study shows that spending just 15 minutes focused on breathing enabled people to make better decisions. Another recent study shows that creative pursuits are an effective way to recharge and destress. Daily practice of a relaxation method resets the threshold at which we get angry (Goleman, 1998). Findings that extroverts relax more easily than introverts suggests that we need to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all way to relax.
5. Assertive communication
Exercise is an excellent way to get back into a good mood. But we’re probably not going to be running a treadmill or smashing a ball against the wall when given extra responsibilities at work. There are no appropriate moment to go “en garde”. Or signal for us to put on the boxing gloves. We can however learn to say no. Line managers have the responsibility to encourage staff to practice assertive communication.
6. Sleep is underrated
Sleep is not just for those who party hard. It’s for those who want to learn, solve problems, remember things, and make good decisions (here’s the science). What’s more, sleep is the anti-aging treatment. But you’ve heard this many times over. But did you know that exposure to blue light which your smart devices emit in large quantities makes it more difficult to get to sleep quickly or to get good quality sleep? It’s time to tell your staff to switch off their devices and get more REM and deep sleep – essential for enhancing job performance (tips at the end of this article).
7. Use your Employee Assistance Programme!
Family conflict affects relationships at the office, not just at home. A recent study shows that conflict at the home causes employees to react negatively to co-workers and to use fewer adaptive strategies (e.g., social support, assertiveness) at work. Another study shows that mood affects productivity. Those coping with a difficult life event (e.g., bereavement, illness in the family) make more mistakes when adding two numbers together than those not experiencing such an event. Those coping with life events also report lower happiness and productivity ratings than their peers. Managers in organizations with an EAP can encourage staff to use their EAP to tackle work-related and/or personal problems. Recent research indicates that “organizational support programs, which aim to improve employee well-being, are not being used by the employees who need them most”.
8. Training evaluation
A 1997 study showed that an in-house time management training programme, which enhanced employee’s capacity for impulse control and for regulating their own emotions, had a 1989% return in a 3-week period. It’s noteworthy that employees were not given generic, practical tips but instead encouraged to manage their emotions. Most importantly, the organization measured outcomes in terms of employee performance (e.g., rated by co-workers, line managers) not satisfaction with the training programme.
9. Organizational structure
It’s not hard to see how workplace harrassment can negatively impact employee well-being and physical health, in turn affecting productivity and employee engagement. But a recent review of the literature indicates that workplace harrassment does not arise from just personality clashes alone. The way an organization is structured may make it easier for bullying to take place. So it’s ever more important now than before that senior management explicitly supports respectful behaviour.
Fair bosses are the best! They produce engaged employees and productive companies. But they’re prone to burn out (evidence here). So self-care is imperative for managers and supervisors. That is, doing all the above themselves. This includes: “getting sufficient sleep, taking short mental breaks during the workday, adhering to a healthy diet and detaching from work completely when outside of the office”
Bosses, take note!
We already know about the benefits of exercise. Exercise increases life satisfaction, improves mood, and reduces feelings of depression and anxiety (read this for the full story). Blah blah blah…yes, exercise makes us feel better. And it plays an important role in helping us maintain our self-worth (here’s the evidence for that claim).
There are other things which raise self-esteem: positive self-appraisal (what’s that?) and self-awareness (how can I achieve that?). As with exercise, we see what we need to do, but the legs, arms, and mind aren’t particularly motivated to get us there. Gadgets or no gadgets.
There is however a speedier solution to boosting one’s confidence (note: it is of course easy once you know how): It’s about what you wear.
There is evidence that how we feel affects what we wear. In a 2012 study by Fletcher and Pine, women reported themselves more likely to wear baggy clothing and jeans when experiencing a low mood (e.g., feelings of depression) and more likely to wear their favourite dress when feeling happy.
And there’s evidence that what you wear affects how others perceive you. A study found that participants rated someone in a tailored suit as more successful and confident than the same person in a off-the-peg version. Findings from yet another study revealed that a subtle change in the length of the skirt — whether it was just above the knee of just below the knee — influenced how study participants viewed the person wearing the clothes. In the condition where the person was introduced as a “senior manager”, participants judged her to be more intelligent, confident, and responsible with the longer than shorter skirt. Turn these findings around, and they actually tell us that we make snap judgements about others (and ourselves) based on what they (or what we) wear.
And a 2013 poll of 100 respondents found that 2 in 5 women believed that wearing red increased their professional confidence. Clearly, we know that clothes do affect how we feel about ourselves, as demonstrated in this guide on How to dress for success by Real Simple (look here for tips on dressing well for men).
So what clothes make us feel better about ourselves? There’s really only one thing to know and that is to wear clothes that fit you! It’s important to put on clothes which fit, not clothes that are in fashion right now. Real Simple has a guide for different body shapes, while BBC programme What Not To Wear offers tips on making the most of our assets. Wearing a pencil skirt that stops exactly at the knee (not an inch above it or an inch below it) or jeans which are bootcut or skinny depending on your body shape is half the battle won.
The other half is what you do with that extra confidence you’ve gained.
Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.
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:
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.
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).
The definition of mental wellbeing proposed by the local authority on health and wellness, Health Promotion Board, comprises psychological constructs which include self-esteem, social intelligence, psychological resilience, emotional 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
The burden of planning activities to raise awareness about mental health issues, improving employees’ mental health literacy, and reducing stigma for seeking professional, confidential psychological support for personal and/or job-related problems generally falls somewhat squarely on someone’s shoulders in the human resource department.
Apart from the run-of-the-mill talks and workshops which typically aim to train up emotional resilience and emotional intelligence among employees, it’s not always easy to know what other mental wellbeing activities could be organized for the benefit of employees, as well as stakeholders. The Health Promotion Board‘s “Enrich Your Mind Learning Festival” organized for the 27th of October 2013, Sunday, at Max Atria, Singapore Expo, is an example of how mental wellbeing can be enhanced and awareness raising can be achieved at the workplace. In addition, this free-admission whole-day affair, which starts at 10am and ends at 6pm, offers expertise from professionals who will dispense advice freely about creating the power of attorney and goodie bags for the early birds.
If not to benefit personally from the mindfulness and relaxation training for coping with day-to-day stress and for guarding against dementia through engaging in mentally stimulating activities, it’s fertile ground for social engagement and for building one’s social network – another protective factor against dementia. It’s not a replacement of a good ol’ walk in the park – yet another protective factor against dementia (Fratiglioni et al., 2004) – but it’s a good place to start. Happy learning!