Health and wellness: The unbearable sian-ness of being, Singapore

You have well-adjusted kids, a caring husband, and are financially stable. But why do you still feel restless and empty inside? If you are feeling restless, unfulfilled, or that you’re stuck in a rut and need more in life, you’re not alone, says consultant psychiatrist Dr Adrian Wang.

64% of the Singapore women we polled feel that there’s something missing in their lives. When asked to rate their lives on a scale from 1 to 5, 5 being very fulfilled, 46% rated their lives a 3 or lower.

Yet feeling empty isn’t clinical depression, which is a medical condition with symptoms like crying all day, severe changes in your mood or a loss in appetite. Still, it might be wise to seek professional help if the feelings persist for an extended period – for example, over a month – or begin to affect other aspects of life, like your ability to work, as it could lead to depression.

We ask Singapore experts on why these feelings of emptiness occur and what can you do to fill the void.

WHY YOU FEEL THE WAY YOU DO

  • Feeling empty may be a sign of modern times, and a natural evolution of our needs. Singapore consultant psychiatrist Dr Chua Tze-Ern says that “after our basic needs are fulfilled, we naturally feel a need to sort out issues of belonging and self-actualisation.” Indeed, the psychiatrists we spoke to noticed that more people are seeking help for feeling lost, although not everyone immediately identifies what they’re feeling as emptiness.
  • Sometimes, it can come in the wider context of feeling frustrated at where they are in their lives. The triggers for each person are unique – it could be a combination of factors or just one, but the feelings that result are the same.
  • It can lead to changes in behaviour: Having feelings of emptiness doesn’t necessarily translate to a change in your behaviour. But if they’re unresolved, you may begin reacting in ways to banish them.
  • Why it’s important to deal with this situation: You might suddenly feel like taking up more extreme activities to give you an adrenaline rush, or have one too many impulse buys to get that jolt of excitement. Such tactics tend to be “distractions”; they do not solve the problem at hand. It can become even more problematic when your pursuit for distractions create unhealthy addictions like alcoholism. Your reckless behaviour could harm both yourself and the people around you.


EIGHT STEPS TO BANISH THESE FEELINGS OF EMPTINESS:

  1. UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU’RE PASSIONATE ABOUT
    Ask yourself if your work is fulfilling – can you see yourself doing it for the rest of your life? If not, what fulfills you? It’s a discovery process, but finding this out is a step forward, and an indication to explore other options in life.
  2. CREATE YOUR MISSION STATEMENT
    Just as companies have a mission statement, create one for yourself. It can be simple, eg “I want to live to my highest potential”, but should resonate deeply with you and guide you in your daily life.
  3. IDENTIFY YOUR CORE VALUES
    Imagine a five-pointed star, with yourself as the centre. These points represent the most important qualities to you, and realising them will help you live the life you truly want.
  4. IDENTIFY YOUR GOALS
    These can be yearly goals or life goals – for example, you may want to spend three dinners a week at home with the kids, or climb Mount Everest before you die. Keep them realistic and take small steps towards them.
  5. CREATE AN ACTION PLAN
    There’s no point setting goals if you’re not going to do anything about them. Create a step-by-step plan to achieve them, and review them every week to keep yourself accountable.
  6. LOOK FOR HAPPINESS
    “Consciously focus on the positive instead of the negative,” says Dr Wang. “You’ll feel more refreshed by just meeting up with friends, for example, because that social interaction alone can give you a different perspective on things.”
  7. COLLECT SOUVENIRS OF GOOD TIMES
    “Some women who’ve felt empty have learnt to counter a recurrence by collecting souvenirs of their relationships, achievements and the good times to remind them of the brighter side of life and of their own value,” says Dr Chua.
  8. STAY ACTIVE
    “Engage in rewarding activities, such as volunteer work or learning a new skill,” says Dr Chua. Fill your spiritual vacuum Prof Lim suggests that tending to your spiritual side may also help with your discontent.

Dr Adrian Wang is a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre; his practice is located at Dr. Adrian Wang Psychiatric & Counselling Care, Gleneagles Medical Centre, 6 Napier Road #06-16, Singapore 258499; tel: 6474 3836; opening hours: 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays, 9am to 1pm on Saturdays. Email adrian@wangpsych.com or visit www.wangpsych.com for further enquiries.

Dr Chua Tze-Ern is an associate consultant psychiatrist from KKH Mental Wellness service, located at 100 Bukit Timah Road, Singapore 229899. Call 6294 4050 to book an appointment at the centre or visit the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital for more information on the mental wellness services offered.

*Names have been changed.

The article was originally published in Simply Her March 2011.