Live & Learn
Steps to Coping with Anxieties and Stress at the Workplace



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In today’s hectic world, the workplace can be an emotional roller coaster. Long hours, tight deadlines, and ever-increasing demands can leave you feeling worried, drained and overwhelmed. Sometimes, it can become so overwhelming that the thought of work fills you with dread upon waking up. As you step into the office or log into your team’s online platform, a chill washes over you—you’re exhausted before the day has even begun.

Sounds familiar? You are not alone. A 2019 well-being survey conducted by Cigna 260 found that 92% of Singapore workers stressed out, higher than the global average of 84%. Stress is a highly common factor in Singapore’s workplace, and it can lead to depression, burnout, and anxiety when not managed correctly. Today, we’ll share a few tips to help you manage your responsibilities and the added stress they cause in a healthy way.


What is anxiety?

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as an emotion with feelings of tension and worrying thoughts. It is often coupled with physical characteristics such as increased blood pressure. In more severe cases, physical symptoms can include sweating, trembling, dizziness, or even a heightened heart rate.

Anxiety is seldom developed out of the blue or caused by a single trigger. Instead, it is a combination of multiple factors. You might be more likely to have anxiety based on personality factors, family history, and external environments. Those with certain personality traits such as perfectionism are more prone to anxiety, and some people already have a genetic predisposition towards anxiety.

More often than not, anxiety is triggered by ongoing stressful events that take centre stage in your lives. For example, as young adults embarking on your new career, work will start to play a significant role in your everyday life. If the workload is not appropriately managed, it will lead to stress, which results in anxiety in the long term.


What causes anxiety in the workplace?
 

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Unrealistic workloads

Burnout can occur when you have too many priorities at hand or too little time to manage them all, resulting in exhaustion. For instance, Miss Wee Sihui, a 22-year-old former retail assistant, suffered from burnout when she constantly felt exhausted at her work.

She was asked to stand 13 hours a day at a popular confectionery store, managing the workload of two or more employees.

On top of her physically demanding routine, she was not well-supported at work. Despite being sick, her medical leave request was not granted. Her manager insisted that she still had to attend work due to the lack of staffing.

Miss Wee could not manage the levels of physical and mental stress at her work, and she also felt guilty for feeling tired when there was no additional staff to help out. Eventually, the nagging feelings of negativity, dread, and pessimism towards her work led to chronic anxiety attacks.


Change in work arrangement

Work-from-home (WFH) arrangements can be a source of stress. A recent workplace resilience survey by National University Health System (NUHS) Mind Science Centre found 61% of respondents experiencing stress under their WFH arrangement. In comparison, only 53% of frontline employees experience stress in their job.

Bullying can take place even when working from home. A person might be intentionally left out of communication or even shamed in private work groups or on the Internet. They might also be bombarded with messages or demands from their colleagues and managers.


Constantly connected to work

Another contributing factor resulting in burnout is due to employees being connected to their work all hours of the day. In a survey by Cigna 360, 80% of Asian respondents are virtually always in their workspace. It is challenging to rest and tune out work-related tasks when work is easily accessible anywhere and anytime for you.

One example would be from Claire Ng, a 29-year-old communications executive. Though her work hours end at 6 pm, her bosses expect her to respond to work tasks round the clock. She would receive emails at 9 pm that made her feel obligated to respond immediately. The current WFH arrangement also caused many of her meetings to be scheduled during lunch breaks.

The inability to “switch off” work might lead to exhaustion and, ultimately, burnout.


How do I manage my anxiety at work?

It is essential to learn how to cope with anxiety and stress if you ever find yourself or someone you know experiencing it. Here are a few ways to manage your anxiety at work:

Be physically active

The first step to managing stress is to adjust your lifestyle. Start by engaging in various physical activities such as jogging, dancing, or any form of exercise to keep yourself active. Studies have shown that regular physical activity reduces anxiety. This is because your body’s stress hormone, such as cortisol, gets lower when you exercise in the long term. Your mood also gets lifted by endorphins when you get physically active.

Stress and anxiety can disturb sleep and result in a lack of proper rest. Exercising negates the effect of stress, such as insomnia, allowing you to fall asleep easier.

Have adequate sleep

Adequate sleep is also essential in combating workplace anxiety. Your brain cannot function at its optimal level if you are not well-rested. As a result, you will have difficulties focusing, thinking clearly, or remembering things. Consider turning on airplane mode after a certain time, or charging your phone in another room rather than in bed.

A good night’s sleep ensures you are more resilient to daily pressures. Overall, you can better deal with negative emotions and are less likely to develop anxiety as a result.

Practice mindfulness

 
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Practising mindfulness is a powerful way to take care of your mental health. Mindfulness is the ability to be fully aware of your present moment, thoughts, emotions and not be fazed by what is happening around you.

While anxiety swamps you with worrying thoughts about the past and future that you cannot change, mindfulness compels you to be fully present at the moment, serving as a reminder to process only your current thoughts and emotions.

You can practice mindfulness through meditation and yoga.

Take frequent breaks  

Taking frequent breaks can help ease the stress of heavy workloads at work. A study from the Journal of Physical Activity and Health shows that breaks throughout the day help employees keep up with work efficiency. Short and frequent breaks also prevent you from feeling burnout when the day ends, thus reducing your stress levels.

A refreshing break has the benefits of resetting your outlook, which encourages a more positive mood and reduces your stress. In addition, micro-breaks serve as a bite-sized energy boost to deal with a heavy workload.

As mentioned earlier, boundaries between work and rest have blurred, especially with the current WFH arrangement. As a result, you might often have to give up your work breaks to squeeze in more work to do. However, it is vital to set aside small breaks to detach yourself from work. For example, take a break every hour if you have to. Even five minutes away from work helps increase productivity and reduce exhaustion at work.

Seek professional help when necessary

Over the course of our lives, we learn how to manage our physical health in classrooms and from our friends and family. But we may not always get the same education on mental health, anxiety, and depression. A professional therapist or psychologist can teach you specific skills and coping methods for you to use during times of stress.


Here is a list of support and resources that you can refer download HERE.

In addition, the National Council of Social Service maintains a Mental Health Resource Directory (updated as at February 2021), which the public can refer to via this link.

Lean on others for support

As youths and fresh graduates, you will have to deal with the uncertainty of the future without a blueprint while navigating through the volatile world and work life. It can be daunting and distressing as you will be facing lots of stress and anxiety.

However, as much as work takes priority in our lives, we should not sacrifice our mental health for it. Lean on your family, friends, support groups, colleagues, and managers—and choose people who encourage you to take time for yourself. As Diane von Furstenberg once put it, “the most important relationship you have in life is the one you have with yourself.”