Money, happiness, and your mental wellbeing

Riches help us stay healthy, but apparently, money doesn’t make us happier.

As far back as 2004, researchers already concluded that life experiences are more likely to make us feel happy than material possessions. Despite that, like the participants of a 2014 study, we still feel that our money is better spent on material purchases than on life experiences.

In fact, some of us may not benefit from spending on a life experience at all. According to another study, if we’re buying an iPhone, a Balenciaga clutch and a Bulova watch to fit in with our peers, we’re not likely to feel happier after spending our hard-earned savings on a safari in Botswana or a nice dinner out with friends at a new gastropub like Timbre+. In fact, happiness won’t be the outcome for as many as a third of us, whether the purchase is something material or a life experience.

So, since getting the latest GoPro, admiring your newest acquisition at the Affordable Art Fair, eating your heart out at the current food fest Gourmet Japan, and taking your little ones to KidZania on Sentosa Island, may not improve your wellbeing, what could you be doing instead?

1. Know the value of your time
Happiness is linked to how much we value our time. A 2016 study found that happiness ratings were higher for people who chose to prioritise their time (e.g., a shorter commute or shorter working hours) over salary. It pays dividends to pursue work-life balance, it seems. But not necessarily in dollars and cents.

2. Practise gratitude
Results of a recent study show that those who express gratitude tend to place less emphasis on the contribution of material gains to their sense of satisfaction in life. To a smaller extent, people who experience positive emotions are also less likely to view material possessions as the ticket to happiness. So, even if shiny new things make you happy, you can elevate your wellbeing by being grateful. (And gratitude not only improves mood and sleep quality, but it’s associated with less inflammation and lowered risk for cardiac events).

3. Develop your sense of compassion
current study based at the Malaysia campus of The University of Nottingham is investigating the impact of loving-kindness meditation on individuals’ wellbeing and happiness. But earlier work has actually already established a number of benefits of practising mindfulness which focuses our attention on being kind and showing empathy to others. This sort of mindfulness practice encourages positive emotions and helps with anxiety and chronic pain.

4. Plan your travel and social events in advance
It seems that our experience of happiness — in the form of pleasantness and excitement — endures while we anticipate the enjoyment of a life experience. But this wellbeing doesn’t apply as well to material purchases, says a recent study in Psychological Science. In short, lengthening that anticipatory period might heighten our excitement and ultimately bring us more joy. Might we be even happier if our life experience was free (e.g., a picnic at Marina Barrage or a free concert).

5. Get involved with your community
Another way which raises our “psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing” involves voluntary work, while being employed on a full-time or part-time job. A 2015 study reports that voluntary work leads to greater satisfaction with work-life balance and lower stress levels.

6. Consider life’s adversities
It’s possible, it seems, to have too much of a good thing. Having an abundance of experience and being well-travelled, we can be underwhelmed by a visit to a “pleasant but ordinary” destination. But contemplating past adversities and considering life’s uncertainties, according to this 2015 study, can help us enjoy the small things in life.

Advertisements

Not happy at work? Try some different solutions

IMG_7268.jpg

A 2015 study finds that working long hours (specifically, 55 hours or more a week) is related to a higher risk of stroke and coronary heart disease (more details here). Another 2015 study with data from over 138,000 employees reveals a link between high stress jobs and an elevated risk of stroke. But the more worrying finding is that high job demands lead to poor mental wellbeing, according to a 2015 study of 12,000 workers in Sweden.

And the irony is that working long hours doesn’t increase productivity. So what does?Here are some other things to try:

1. Vote for a water fountain
It’s not a new age suggestion for improving fengshui at the office. Sounds which mask speech in open-plan offices can make conversations by colleagues less distracting, creating a conductive working environment. Rather than white noise, a new study indicates an advantage in using natural sounds such as flowing water. Specifically, the study finds mountain stream sounds to be most effective at masking speech sounds. When your workplace budgets for a coffee machine, why not lobby for a water fountain instead?

2. Grow these plants at the office
A 2015 study finds that taking a mini break from your computer — glancing at a rooftop flower meadow for as little as 40 seconds — boosts concentration. Other studies find that plants in the office can effect as much as a 15% productivity boost. There’s also evidence that our cognitive skills are better preserved in “green working environments” — offices with good ventilation and low levels of indoor pollutants (e.g., formaldehyde fumes from varnishes, plastics, and particleboard in office furniture). In fact, our ability to make strategic decisions and to respond to a crisis situation is enhanced in such a green office. It could be hard to make structural changes to your office building, but you could get a pot or two of Spathiphyllum (aka Peace lily) and Philodendron, both of which have been shown to absorb pollutants by NASA (yes, NASA). And a mini mid-morning break (e.g., spent watering and checking on your plants) has been shown to improve employees’ energy, boosting their productivity (here‘s the science explained)!

And if you lack green fingers, a multi-tasking bouquet of Chrysanthemums can decorate your desk and brighten your day while it cleans the air!

3. Reduce your commute time
It turns out that longer commutes to work contribute to poorer life satisfaction, according to a 2014 study. But the negative effect traffic has on our mental well-being can be mitigated by a familiar factor: Physical activity improves our life satisfaction. A 2015 study links stressful commutes (e.g., heavy traffic, road safety for cyclists, commutes above 35 minutes) to a higher risk of burnout. Opting for a shorter route (e.g., taking a direct bus rather than driving in heavy traffic to work) could be a holistic strategy for managing work stress. Other options include having access to flexible commuting arrangements, although it’s worth noting that research indicates that telecommuting is most beneficial when used in moderation.

4. Widen your social circle
Pay cuts and fewer promotion opportunities during an economic downturn apparently doesn’t automatically result in less motivated employees. It turns out that apart from having purpose at work, social connections at the workplace are a key factor which helps employees manage such challenges. It may be time to organize a group Safari Run at the Zoo and check out the cute newborn giraffe or for the Yolo Run… or try skating at the Christmas Wonderland ice rink at Gardens by the Bay in December (Admission is free!)… or plan for some chill out time at the Laneway Festival in the new year…

5. It ain’t what you do, it’s the way that you do it
A 2015 study shows that rudeness is contagious: individuals at the receiving end of rudeness are more likely to show rudeness to other people. In contrast, the practice of avoiding offensive language encourages creativity among teams made up of both male and female employees, according to this study about “political correct” speech. Research indicates that positive outcomes are brought about by encouraging employees to suggest ideas for improvement, rather than articulating mistakes or problems at the workplace. Yet other research shows that words of encouragement have been shown to raise productivity by as much as 20% while reducing employees’ mistakes by 40%. As the saying goes, money ain’t everything.

6. Don’t open email after work
A new study shows that we get angry when we read an email that’s negatively worded or which requires a lot of our time outside office hours. And the people who desire work-life balance are most likely to be adversely affected by such emails. Solutions to the problem include equipping employees with strategies for effective electronic communication. But training endeavours take time and require management support. In the meantime…there’s an easy way to avoid the problem — don’t read your emails!

7. Find fulfilment in your work
Employees who feel that their work is meaningful are more likely to have better mental health. Research published in 2015 supports earlier findings that emotional attachment to work is important for reducing absenteeism and enhancing productivity. Questions to ask yourself include, “Am I making good use of my strengths in my job?”, “Am I learning at my job?”, “How am I contributing at work?”…  Not getting any answers? Work through these steps from www.fastcompany.com to find enlightenment.

8. Charity begins at the workplace
Working for a good cause improves productivity as much as 30%. Not everyone wants to share their pay with proceeds to a charity. But a 2015 study finds that when individuals choose to make a lumpsum or performance-based donation to a social cause of their choosing, they’re much more conscientious at the task at hand. So providing your team with the option to donate to a good cause can help motivate and energise them.

9. Provide mental health resources
Tight deadlines and difficult working relationships aren’t the only contributing factors to burnout. A 2014 study finds that difficulties at the home front also affect employees’ mental well-being. Because “mental health in the workplace doesn’t exist in a vacuum“, it’s important that employees have access to training and counselling resources to cope with work-family conflict and parenting/relationship concerns.

 

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.

All work and no play makes June very dull

Don't distress. De-stress!

Long-term exposure to work-related stress impacts our mental health. According to a recent report, more young professionals are experiencing burnout (Straits Times, 14 April 2015), while a recent local study reports that as many as 1 in 13 or 14 have depression, if they’re professionals or senior managers, or if they’re from the sales and service industry.

Not exactly a pretty picture. For most of us, it’s a blurry line between work and personal life. But before we roll down the slippery slope of workaholism, there’s a few things we can do to help ourselves. We don’t need to take huge leaps. But we can start instead with small steps:

1. Get inspired to exercise
Exercise is an effective strategy for managing stress. Even a 10-min walk can do wonders for your mood and mental well-being.

  • With the SEA games starting today, it’s a great time to get inspired. Watch the swimming and cycling to get into the mood for a dip in the pool and ride around the park connectors.
  • Get a free workout with HPB’s physical activity programme Sunrise in the City at different locations across the island. Gym classes available include yoga, kickboxing, Zumba, functional and circuit training, and body combat.
  • Take a guided intertidal walk with the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum to Pulau Hantu on 5 August 2015 (6.30am to noon).
  • Round up your colleagues for a friendly game of badminton at an Singapore Sports Council court ($3.50/hour on weekdays before 6pm).

2. Culture-up for SG50
Research suggests that creative pursuits are another way to beat stress, even if it only involves appreciating cultural activities as part of the audience. It’s a great excuse for some alone (or not-so-alone) time with your loved ones.

  • The Peranakan Musuem features an exhibition on the lives of 50 influential Babas and Nonyas until March 2016.
  • A huge collection of oil paintings telling the story of Singapore and her late leader Mr Lee Kuan Yew are on show at The Crescent (Level 2) at the Suntec Convention and Exhibition Centre until the end of June 2015.
  • Cultural and musical performances, along with kacang putih and ice ball stalls, celebrate the 50th anniversary of the nation at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on the National Day weekend, 7-8 August 2015.
  • Visit the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at Kent Ridge which features Southeast Asian plants and animals. The Phylogenetic Garden is among the gardens surrounding the museum which is open to the public without an entry ticket to the museum which is open 10am to 7pm.

3. Socialising without food
Spending time with your friends and family without it involving food in Singapore is a tall order. But there are a few things which can bring you and your friends and/or family together:

  • Kranji Countryside Farmers Market just had its quarterly farm festival on 30 and 31 May 2015. But if you missed it, there’s the fortnightly farmer’s market at The Pantry at Loewen Gardens on the first and third Saturday of the month.
  • Original craft and designs are part of the showcase at the Maker Faire which is held in Tampines on the weekend of 11-12 July 2015.
  • Enjoy the music over a beer with friends and family at the Beer Festival from 25 to 28 June 2015.
  • Visit the four new arrivals from Australia at the Zoo and get a 50% discount on a River Safari ticket when you pay for your entry ticket to see the koalas at the Singapore Zoo.

7 Ways to Manage Your Stress

Burnout in the city

  • Do you get to work, but not feel like working (or doing anything)?
  • Have lots to do, but feel way too tired to tackle any of it?
  • Having difficulty concentrating or focusing on the task at hand?
  • Feeling disillusioned or being cynical at work?
  • Find yourself being more critical or irritable with others at work?

Did you answer yes to the questions?

There are inevitably days when we’re not motivated at all to be productive. We get to work but leave the tasks that need doing for “later”. Or we get started but take ages doing the stuff that needs to be done.

There are definitely work days when we’re too tired to be our efficient and productive model selves. Possibly from staying up late or waking too early. Or both. And we dose ourselves with (more) caffeine to keep going.

But having a feeling of being fatigued and unmotivated about work more than just occasionally is something to sit up and pay attention to. Feeling overwhelmeddisillusioned, and/or cynical at work are also warning signs of job burnout. Being less able to see things from the perspective of others at work (when you usually do) should also set off an alarm bell or two.

For those feeling the effects of burnout, it may be time to speak to HR or a professional counsellor. Doing a self-assessment may also be a step in the right direction:

  • Test yourself here.
  • Find out if you’re experiencing job burnout here.
  • Analyze why you may be experiencing stress at your workplace here.

For those of us who think our insipid days at the office occur as frequently as solar eclipses, we might still want to pay attention to how we deal with stress at work and home. Here’s how we can improve our ranking as a happy nation:

1. Carve out undisturbed time for work
A substantial number among the 292 local senior managers and business owners polled in an international 2015 workplace survey, said that they were most productive before 9am. It’s not that we need to shift our work hours. Rather, we need to carve out a block of time for work that’s not disturbed by emails and distracting conversations.

2. Put an embargo on emails
Checking your email later in the day allows you to take advantage of chunking. It’s more efficient to reply to a batch of urgent emails than to reply to every email as it comes in. It also has improves your mental wellbeing. A 2014 study found that those who checked their inbox only 3 times a day felt less stressed than their peers who had no limit on the number of times they could check their inbox a day.

3. Get the optimal amount of sleep
Employees in sleep-deprived Singapore usually say they need more sleep. So it might come as a surprise that there’s actually an optimal amount of sleep we should get, if we’re to maintain our mental and physical well-being.

The US National Sleep Foundation’s 2015 report recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep for working adults. A 2014 study which followed 3,760 adults in Finland for an average of 7 years, found that the optimal amount of sleep was 7 to 8 hours a night. Those who slept over 10 hours a night were just as likely to be absent from work due to sickness as those who slept less than 5 hours a night.

If you’re not getting the right amount of sleep, it may be time to review your sleep habits: “Do you have a regular sleep schedule? Do you have a bedtime routine? Do you make sleep a priority?” Get more tips here.

But it may be that your sleepless nights relate to work-life balance. A 2015 study found that employees increased their sleep by one hour a week and were more efficient in getting to sleep after participating in a 3-month programme designed to train managers and employees how to better manage work-family conflicts. You might not have access to such a training programme, but work-family concerns are issues worth reviewing. If only just to get more sleep and improve your mood. Small things like that.

4. Get happy by napping 
So okay, it’s not realistic to expect that everyone will get their much needed 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. Once every other week, you’ll mess up your routine with too much caffeine, partying too hard, overworking, getting tired and cranky infants to bed, looking after sick pets, and many other reasons too innumerable to list.

That’s when you should plan to invest in a good quality nap. A 2015 study showed that 2 half-hour naps reversed the adverse effects of having only 2 hours of sleep on our stress response and immune system. Here’s a cheat sheet to help you get started.

5. Walk around the problem
It’s easier to sleep when you exercise. That’s not new. Neither is the news that people with depression in their 20s tend not to engage in physical activities. What’s new is the finding that those who exercise more as they age are less likely to be depressed. That’s what was found by a 2014 study which followed 11,135 adults until the age of 50.

Similarly, another 2014 study finds that those who go for group nature walks report better mental well-being and less stress. This may be explained by a 2014 finding: Recent research suggests that exercise plays a protective role in shielding our brain from the adverse effects of chronic stress — depression (read this article to understand the science behind this mechanism). So, it may be time you explored a nature park near you. Try something new: Springleaf Nature Park or Kranji Wetlands.

6. Go nuts on fruits and veggies
You’ll have better mental health if you eat more fruits and veggies. That’s what a 2014 study on 14,000 respondents in England found. The majority of those who reported high levels of “optimism, happiness, self-esteem, resilience, and good relationships” said that they ate 3 or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily, with over half of them eating 5 or more servings daily.

It may be that those with high mental well-being tend to have healthy lifestyle habits. But if you’re mental well-being scores are low (find out here), you might want to ask yourself, how many portions of fruits and veggies am I eating every day?

7. Comfort yourself but not with high-fat foods
Research suggests that a high-fat diet can adversely affect our mental health. Animal studies link gut bacteria from a high-fat diet to an increase in anxiety behaviours, while studies on humans find that taking prebiotics and probiotics improves our stress response to threatening stimuli. What this means is that having good gut bacteria could potentially help alleviate anxiety symptoms. And eating less saturated fat and more fruits and veggies will encourage good bacteria to make a home in our gut.

We may not know if we’re the ones who suffer the most from stress (we do actually — those with a more variable heart rate will suffer more from stress, says a 2014 study — but it’s not easy for the average consumer to measure their heart rate variability). But at least we know a few things we can do to change it.

Chew the fact (s)

Back View of Man Running on Stairs
“Chew the fat” is an eatery in the newly hip district, Everton Park. It’s only a 20-min bus ride or 15-min walk from the office. In spite of the lure of a much needed espresso or latte, waffles with maple syrup, traditional ang ku kueh, delectable polish dumplings, and food court prawn mee, it’s much too far in this heat and 84% humidity to walk to for a CBD lunch.

Although these are certainly things which would keep us happy. Social conversation over coffee and cake. A sugar high from ice cream to get us through our post-prandial afternoon lull. A nice walk through the restful Pinnacle courtyard en route to Neil Road. But these aren’t always quite enough to get us through a stressful week at the office. Even though we know the psychological (and physical) benefits of exercise.

We might not be ready for a 50km run for 50 days: But if you’re in the pret-a-ultrathon mode, look here for how to join this SG50 celebration. But for the rest of us trying to get into a fitness regime, here are some new ideas to chew on:

1. Believe in yourself
It’s one thing to know that you should exercise (or start exercising). And it’s another to get started. Especially if you’re self-conscious about your shape or size (read this article). Getting professional help in order to work on issues such as self-esteem, rumination habits, having negative and/or irrational thoughts can do much to help those in such a quandary.

2. Enhance your workout with music
A recent study found that those who listened to music of their choice exercised much harder during a high-intensity work-out than those who had no music to listen to while working out. Put on your exercise shoes and load up your favourite playlist. Music, maestro!

3. Start with small steps
It’s easier when you start with small goals. Instead of aiming to do the whole 5 floors up to your office, you can take the lift up to your office but walk down from your office every day. Or you can get an app (or two) which helps you squeeze in a brief exercise session every day — 5 minutes only. Another prospective study published recently found that those who ran for just 5 to 10 minutes a day were likely to live as long as those who fulfilled the usual 150-min-a-week physical activity requirements. So, exercising for just 5 minutes a day can have huge benefits to your health.

4. Professional counselling
Consider coaching or counselling to help you deal with the stress of trying to get fitter. Weight loss isn’t a walk in the park. It’s often an uphill battle that just gets harder the more we try. And trying to exercise can increase your stress hormones, leaving you feeling stressed about getting fit, says a 2014 study. Ways to manage the stress more effectively can be brought about with one-to-one coaching and through professional counselling sessions.

5. When did you last have fun?
Thinking about a positive exercise experience can be just the thing you need to help you keep at it. A 2014 study found that those who were asked to recall a positive exercise experience were more likely to exercise in the subsequent week than those asked to recall a negative one. Think of a time when you had fun to set yourself up for success (instead of failure).

6. Try paying yourself to exercise
Ever wanted to reward yourself for exercising? Well, there’s an app that does that. This new app PACT pays you to stick to your fitness regime. It’s because we’re motivated by concrete incentives. Try it out!

7. Four wheels good. Two wheels better.
A 2014 study found that those who cycled to work were happier than other commuters. It’s no wonder given the commuting traffic we confront every day. It might be that cyclists have the opportunity to focus on things which provide a therapeutic break from stressful thoughts about work. And being in a green environment makes us feel better. Whatever it is, try cycling to reduce your stress.

8. Hitting the sweet spot
Once you’re having fun, you can always have more fun! Although squeezing in 5 minutes of exercise a day is a great start, you’ll want to do more once you enjoy it. Recent research involving an overwhelming large number of participants through national databases indicates that going beyond the minimum requirement (150 minutes a week of physical activity) has long-term benefits to our physical health. Here’s that research explained.

And think about what that does for your mood and mental well-being! Chew on that (not just the fat)…

Procrastinating and stressed out?

It’s usually something that we’d rather not do. Something that we dread getting started on. Because it’s difficult. And because we have no ready answer or solution. We probably don’t really know how to get started on it. And we can’t visualize what steps we need to take in order to getting the job done.

Overcoming procrastination

Procrastination is an art form that we’ve been trying to perfect over the years. According to a 2009 study in Psychological Science, we tend to procrastinate when we view the task in abstract terms. In contrast, we’ll get started on the task earlier when we can articulate “the how, when and where of doing the task”.

Strategies from Real Simple — the lifestyle guru for getting organized – include doing the more difficult thing first and breaking the task down into smaller chunks. Once you’re done that, you can get down to business:

1. Stay focused on your task
Self-control and Freedom are desktop applications which block your ability to surf the internet for the number of hours which you’ve set aside for work. But we often need to access the internet while we work. And for that, we have Anti-Social, an app stops you checking Facebook incessantly while you work on the important stuff.

2. Unplug from your mobile device
We can manage our smartphone addiction with Focus Lock and Pause which locks specific apps on your phone for 25 minutes at a time (or for a customized amount of time). Offtime is another Android app which allows important calls get through and essential apps to function while you work uninterrupted on that all important assignment.

3. Save your willpower for the task
Research suggests that our willpower is a limited resource. Using our willpower on one thing means that we have less of it for another thing. For example, resisting dessert at lunch could mean that we would subsequently have less willpower to get started on our dreaded task in the afternoon. That means you’ll procrastinate less if you’re not also trying to will yourself to the treadmill or trying not to eat the last piece of cake in the fridge.

4. Do something useful
Rather than helplessly agonizing over why you haven’t started on the dreaded task, you can get on with something else that needs your immediate attention. You can start with something easy. At least you’ll feel accomplished and productive when you finally shift your attention to the not-so-easy stuff. And while doing the easy task, you may have had time to think about how you can tackle the difficult task.

5. Gain some self-awareness
We often get carried away with checking off things on our to-do list, and forget to examine why we keep postponing some tasks until they can no longer be postponed. It may be helpful to list the tasks you procrastinate on, as well as why and how you procrastinate on these tasks. Recognizing that you are unsure how to complete the task could lead you to brainstorm for solutions and then make a plan of action.

6. Reward yourself
There are other occasions when you have the solution, and know exactly the steps involved. But you procrastinate all the same. Maybe because it’s a thankless, tedious, and time-consuming task; in which case, visualizing a reward that you’ll give yourself when the job gets done, could be all the motivation you need. You may benefit from installing the Procraster app, which combines block functions (you can’t play Candy Crush or check Facebook) with a reward system (you get a timely reminder to get coffee and cake).

7. Seek expert assistance
Perhaps you tend to procrastinate about everything. Find out if you’re a chronic procrastinator by taking this test. And if you are, seeking guidance through a counselling session can help you kick the habit.

Don’t take the express train to Burnout!

Workaholics are being made to take their vacation leave.

Young children in Singapore are not getting adequate sleep. Less than half get the 9 hours of sleep they require for their growing brains and bodies. Employees in Singapore get on average 6 and a half hours of sleep, making them the third most sleep deprived city.

And workers in Singapore are “under happy”. In other words, they aren’t unhappy. But they’re also not happy. They’re not particularly optimistic about their future at their workplace and about being treated fairly at their workplace. At least that’s what a 2014 poll comprising 5,000 local respondents on national workplace happiness concludes.

It’s the usual work-life struggle. Too much work. Not enough life?

Apart from addressing the sources of stress at the workplace and home through assertive communication and stress management strategies, it’s important to reassess your priorities at work and home. After the Chinese New Year festivities (especially all that feasting), this might be a good time to re-start your year!

Research suggests that we’re more productive when we prioritize what’s really important to us (read this article from the Harvard Review Blog). It’s important to make time for your support network, family, friends, and personal interests.

Here are some ideas to help you recharge:

Decorate a cookie
1. Decorate cookies and make a kite!

National Parks hosts a picnic for families every last Saturday of the month at a different park each month. Bring your kids for kite-making and cookie-decorating in March at HortPark (online registration required at the beginning of the month).

Marina Bay Sands
2. Singapore International Jazz Festival 2015  

Ramsey Lewis, Blue Note, Bobby McFerrin, and Chris Botti are among the performers at this Marina Bay Sands jazz weekend, 6 to 8 March 2015. Get more details here.

3. A taste of Cole Porter
Pink Martini
is also performing at the Esplanade Theatre for one night, 31 March 2015: Tickets from Sistic.

Symphony Lake - Singapore Botanic Gardens
4. Free Jazz at Symphony Lake

The Thomson Jazz Band performs favourite tunes from the traditional jazz era at the Singapore Botanic Gardens on Sunday, 22 March 2015. Keep up with their events on their Facebook page.

Beautiful Sunday - The Esplanade
5. Free Classical Concerts at the Esplanade

Beautiful Sunday is a free concert of music at the Esplanade Concert Hall. The Carnival! 嘉年华!Concert by Kids Philharmonic in March features Saint-Saëns, Bizet, and the Symphonic Dances from Fiddler on the Roof.

River Safari
6. See capybaras at the River Safari
The Amazon River Quest Ride at the River Safari launched mid-year last year (July 2014). Singapore Zoo visitors get to see capybaras, Amazon monkeys, the Giant Anteater, the Brazillian tapir, and jaguars on this boat ride.

Visit the bird park!
7. See rare tropical birds up close 

Jurong Bird Park has a newly opened exhibit Wings of Asia with local birds which are hard to spot (without expert guiding) and endangered species in a walk-in aviary. Look out for the beautiful Victoria-crowned pigeon. Well worth a visit with your young ones.

Cat cafe
8. Cat Museum

There’s a new Cat Museum at 8 Purvis Street (open Friday 4.30-7pm; Sat-Sun 12noon-3.30pm; 4.30pm-7.30pm) where you can visit for some play time. Or you can have tea at the cat cafes in Boat Quay, Mosque Street, Victoria Street, or North Bridge Road.

9. Pet Expo 2015
Pet-education seminars and workshops, and pet competitions will be taking place at this mega Pet Expo over the 20 to 22 March 2015 weekend at Singapore Expo Hall 8. Catch Bobo, the skateboarding dog in action!

Visit a fire station!
10. Visit a Fire Station!

It’s Open House every Sunday morning at our local fire stations! More details here. Great for the little ones with a special interest in things with four wheels…

11. Standup Comedy
Russell Peters is in town for his Almost Famous World Tour on 7 to 8 April 2015. Nuff said.

Marina Bay Sands
12. Paris Opera Ballet

If your March evenings and weekends are already full, you can keep them open for the upcoming festivals in April and May: Paris Opera Ballet is in town on 17 to 19 April 2015 to perform Balanchine, La Sylphide, and Don Quixote at the Esplanade, while the St Peterburg’s Ballet performs Swan Lake at Marina Bay Sands in the month of May.

29 ways to destress

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:

Coffee and Cookie Beneath Large Cork Noteboard

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.

 Don't disturb

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.

breakfast

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!

Facebook

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…

Have a cuppa

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.

Video Game Competition

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).

Walking the dog

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.

MP900341511

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.

Woman listening to music.

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.

oregon coast

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.

working like a dog

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.

yes - notepad & pen

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.

List of things 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.

Don't fill your diary with unimportant things to do

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!

Low angle view of a young woman playing basketball

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.

Find the silver lining

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.

BFFs

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…

Laughter is the best medicine

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.

Anticipating is just as good

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!

Education

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).

Boy Photographing Man

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.

Frustrated Mother and Daughter

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.

DJ with Gear

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.

MP900227749

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.

mid section view of a woman cutting vegetables

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.

Tall Green Tree

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!

Woman Stretching in Bed with a Man Sleeping Beside Her

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.

Head to Head

2. Mindfulness
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 attentiondecision-makingimmune 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.

Group of People Playing Volleyball on the Beach

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.

What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness?

target

There are many local news stories which implicate mental health issues. But rarely an explanation about the mental health issue involved.

We use the term “mental illness” to refer to medical conditions including schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder. Other times, we use the term “mental health” to refer to the same things.

But there are conceptual differences. WHO defines mental health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease“. That means that mental health is also about our immune system, physical health indices, life satisfaction, and psychological wellbeing, as well as our capacity to regulate mood and manage emotions, ability to manage daily stress, resilience, and coping mechanisms for dealing with stressful events.

The collaboration between mental health professionals and the police service (e.g., a UK pilot scheme) is a step in the right direction. Education is of course a reliable way to address mental health awareness issues at the workplace.

But what information is available about mental health in Singapore? A speedy search on google for local information about individual mental health issues and concerns yields at least one relevant website. Here’s a cheat sheet:

1. Stress
HPB lists the impact of stress on our physical and mental health: SAMH has useful tips for managing stress levels.

2. Depression
HPB lists symptoms to look out for: Insights into myths and misconceptions here.

3. Eating disorders
AWARE offers an FAQ on eating disorders here.

4. Anxiety
HPB offers an overview of anxiety, including symptoms and treatment options.

5. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
HPB lists the symptoms of OCD.

6. Alcohol Dependence
NAMS lists the warning signs.

7. Gambling Problems
NAMS lists the signs to watch out for and offers a tool for self-assessment.

8. An Addiction to Gaming
Among the signs is the use of gaming as a means of escaping problems and the act of concealing game playing from family and friends. Read this NAMS overview.

9. Substance Dependence
Watch out for these behaviours in your co-workers (NAMS).

10. Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is defined by IMH as “a disorder of fragmented mental processes”. Click here for more information.

11. Dementia
Working adults are increasingly faced with the challenges of juggling work and caregiving roles: Alzheimer’s Disease Association and HPB have fact sheets.

12. Learning Difficulties
Employees are also often parents who may have children with learning difficulties at school. Attention deficit (hyperactivity) disorder or ADHD information is available on Spark, while dyslexia assessments are available through the Dyslexia Association of Singapore. Autism resources are abundant at the Autism Resource Centre.

The International OCD Foundation has a useful fact sheet on hoarding. Finally, Singapore Focus on the Family offers advice for families faced with bullying at school, while the Media Literacy Council has information for individuals experiencing cyberbullying and AWARE has advice for personal protection orders and family violence.

Information is power. Don’t be afraid to use it.