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7 Best Practices to Protect Your Mental Wellness During the New Normal

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Social distancing guidelines and work-from-home protocols are straining the mental wellness of Singaporeans. While a third of the country’s employees feel more productive working from home during the pandemic, others report feeling more stressed due to a lack of boundaries between their home and work life.

But even before COVID-19, Singaporeans have long struggled with workplace stress and poor work-life balance.

A 2019 report by tech firm Kiwi found that Singapore came in at 32nd place out of 40 cities ranked for work-life balance. Singapore was also second to Tokyo in the list of most overworked cities. Meanwhile, a 2019 survey by Cigna showed that of the 92% of Singaporeans who report being stressed at work—well above the global average of 84%—almost one in eighth (13%) consider their stress unmanageable.

This problem is further compounded by the taboo nature of mental health among many Singaporeans. A survey by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) found that 60% of people believe mental health conditions stem from a lack of willpower and self-discipline. Around half said that individuals with mental health conditions shouldn’t be given responsibilities.

Managing your Mental Health in the New Normal

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Whether you’re in a traineeship programme, an intern, or someone starting a new job in Singapore, you may find yourself under a lot of pressure to put your best foot forward. Compounded by stay-at-home measures and the threat of Covid-19, your mental wellness could be at risk. Here’s what you can do to step back and put your mental health first.

1. Treat the role like a “real” job

One way to prevent the problem of your work and personal life blurring into each other is to treat your work-from-home role like a “real” job—one with structure and strict boundaries. Simple rules such as a real lunch hour (not sitting on your desk eating a sandwich and looking at work-related stuff) and no emails after 6 p.m, will give you the breathing room to focus on your other interests, hobbies, and relationships and recharge your mind.

2. Power down during the weekends

On a separate, but related note, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you don’t deserve downtime just because it’s a traineeship and not a job. Yes, an internship or traineeship programme could be a launchpad to a permanent role and it’s certainly a good idea to go beyond the bare minimum. But that doesn’t mean you have to burn yourself out—this will only hurt your mental health and performance.

So, remember to use your weekends as a mental health break. Consider logging off your social media accounts or better yet, ditch the phone and/or computer altogether. Note that this principle also applies if you’re looking for a job. Don’t feel guilty about taking the weekend off from looking at job portals and career fair opportunities.

3. Download a meditation app

Meditation apps are all the rage today—and for good reason. Meditation is a simple exercise with big rewards for your mental and emotional wellness. In one study of 35 unemployed men and women experiencing the stress of looking for a job, researchers found significant changes in brain activity from scans done after three days of mindfulness meditation.

Apps like Calm and Headspace offer a convenient solution to helping you get “in the zone” and meditate, whether it’s through deep breathing exercises or calming music that helps you be more mindful of your thoughts.

4. Set yourself up to reach small milestones

Setting and reaching milestones can have an inverse relationship with your mental health. In one study, patients with clinical depression saw improvement after setting and reaching positive, achievable goals.

The key is to set small and realistic milestones. Obviously, your big goal is to find a job. But getting there means accomplishing smaller milestones, which could be anything from sending out a certain number of cover letters or learning a new skill. During your traineeship, you can set goals such as networking with X number of people or getting good feedback on a task or project. Doing these things can make you feel much better about yourself and stay motivated.

However, what you don’t want to do is set overambitious goals. The idea is to set yourself up for success; failing to accomplish lofty goals will only demoralise you and cause your mental health to suffer.

5. Be social

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One of the best ways to take a mental health break from work, while reaffirming the parts of your life that have nothing to do with your career, is to spend time with family and friends. If anything, the pandemic and social distancing protocols have only emphasised the value of personal relationships.

If you’re not sure where to start, play to your interests. Online communities and hobby groups are good places where you can find like-minded individuals. You can also network with people in your traineeship and schedule trivia nights.

6. Get some exercise

The value of exercise for your mental wellness can’t be overstated enough. We all know that exercise is good for your physical health, but it can also improve your mood, energy levels, sleep quality, and mental health. There’s a psychological component to physical activity that instantly improves your mental and emotional state.

It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you pick. Go with whatever approach works for you, whether it’s yoga in the comfort of your home, a daily jog around your neighbourhood, or lifting weights at the gym (provided you can maintain social distancing).

7. Learn a new skill or hone an existing one

Being in a foreign work environment can be daunting, but take it as an opportunity to learn new skills or improve existing ones while on the job. You could, for example, leverage your training experience to pick up a new computing language, learn to use graphic design software, or build “soft” skills like communication, teamworking, and leadership.

Whatever the case, learning something new and bolstering existing skill sets can give you a sense of accomplishment, keeping you mentally motivated.

Your mind is a temple—take care of it

Learning the coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety, stress, and burnout will be useful in these trying times we’re currently living in. Having a healthy mind and body allows you to put your best foot forward during your traineeship or job search. Learn more about these opportunities at Young NTUC’s Facebook Group and Telegram channel.