Photo: RWS Singapore
We’re so guilty of this too. We worry about things that we don’t need to stress about. We do it even though we know self-imposed stress is not helpful – it’s harmful.
And unless it’s the good kind of stress that you can harness to get adrenaline pumping through your veins and feel the pressure to succeed, stress is bad. That kind of stress makes us worry non-stop, and we end up wasting our time, disrupting our lives, and not being able to do the things we should be capable of.
And here’s the real scary thing. Sometimes we don’t even realise we’re putting ourselves under stress. It might be so natural to us, that we’ve never really thought about it. Because if we’ve lived all our lives relentlessly worrying about things in the back of our minds, we accept it as part and parcel of life, not seeing it as a problem.
If your stress levels are very severe, you may want to seek professional help. However, if you’re looking for friendly pointers that can help you in your day-to-day life, you’ve come to the right place.
So read on for the warning signs that help identify self-imposed stress, and some tips that help mitigate it.
1. You let superficial negative events affect your workflow
Maybe you got into a fight with your partner over text during work. Maybe you were looking forward to your morning coffee, but the barista messed up your order. Or maybe you accidentally broke a plate in the morning when making breakfast.
And then it snowballed from there. The accident with the broken dish got you late for your meeting, putting you in a frantic and bad state of mind, the quarrel with your partner got you fuming, stressed and not able to concentrate at work. Or maybe the slip up at the coffee shop put you in a foul mood, so your day started crappy and stayed that way.
The debilitating thing about this kind of stress is that it stops us from thinking straight. And the worst part is, many of us get trapped in that stress because we think we’re entitled to feel that stress.
“I broke a bowl and I’m late for my meeting. Of course I’m stressed!”
Sometimes we try to shift the blame.
“That barista was so rude and didn’t even give me the right order. Of course I’m annoyed.”
“My boyfriend had no right to pick a fight when I’m at work. What the hell was he thinking? Now I can’t do my work properly.”
But should negative events like these affect your work?
Really, think about it. The truth is, a cup of coffee, a badly timed argument, or an accidental slip of your hand, should not have the power to ruin your day at work. And even if those events cause other bad things to happen, should you really add to the stress by feeling bitter or negative?
Trust us, you’re stronger than that. You’ve got the ability to overcome this kind of stress, and it begins with you making a conscious decision not to let small things dictate how you feel or how productive you are.
2. You’re fixating on the past
Do you catch yourself daydreaming about the past sometimes? Like, you’re working, but your mind keeps drifting back to old mistakes you made. Or maybe you get flashbacks – you’re chilling when a cringey memory from years ago hits you out of nowhere, completely uncalled for.
It is normal to have thoughts of the past every now and then, whether it’s about something dumb you said in a conversation a few days ago, or whether it’s a huge blunder you made in front of your boss years ago. The thing is, it gets unhealthy when (i) we dwell in the past longer than is needed, and (ii) we use those fleeting thoughts to beat ourselves up. Doing that leads to a lot of stress and unhappiness, and it’s really like digging a pit of despair.
In theory, the solution is to focus on the present. And in practice, the solution is not so straightforward. Because there are usually deeper reasons for dwelling in the past, depending on your personal history and so the solutions can differ.
That being said, one universal tactic that helps us is the concept of mindfulness. By committing to be mindful of our thoughts, we are more likely to catch ourselves as our minds slip into the past. That makes it easier to snap out of it and focus on the present.
It might seem like an impossible or never-ending fight at first. There are so many thoughts to discipline and they pour in like rain! We think that it’s better to be a little mindful and catch yourself when you can, rather than to be distressed helplessly by the flood of thoughts.
Counter-tactic: Be mindful to catch yourself and focus on the present.
3. You worry about the future a lot
If you’ve ever gotten stuck in this thought trap, you know how agonising it can be, and how weary it can make you.
The root of this stress usually comes from a fear of the unknown and the need for control. If you go through this, your mind turns around endless future scenarios in your head, none of which are probably going to happen, and yet they keep replaying in your mind and cluttering it till you’re driven crazy.
For example, let’s say there’s a huge meeting that you’ve been preparing for. Your brain might keep conjuring many different situations, regarding what colleagues might say, how your work is received, how you might fail, etc.
This is a tough stress to overcome as it is second-nature for many people. On the positive side, that default way of thinking can be overridden with practice. Here are three things you could do.
1) Catch yourself when you realise you’re worrying and hit the pause button. (Mindfulness again!)
2) Use that momentary clarity to figure out what you can do to help the situation. What do you really need to plan for? Because there are billions of possibilities with regards to what could happen, and it is not possible or practical to prepare for all of them. So try to understand where you can improve yourself. In the example of the meeting, you might need to practice projecting your voice, or preparing more materials, etc.
3) Lastly, understand that this is not a one-time solution. It’s a process. The more you practice planning productively, the more your mindset shifts from worrying to being calm and prepared.
Counter-thought: “If I’m worrying again, it’s better to worry more productively by planning for things I can improve on.”
4. You let drama take over (thinking you’re in the worst case scenario)
This type of self-imposed stress makes things appear worse than they are. When something stressful happens, your mind will amplify it and it’ll feel like the world is going to collapse around you.
For example, you might have had a really difficult task given to you at work, and it might seem like it’s the end of the world because you’ve never had to handle this much work before.
Or someone might have made a small joke at your expense. And while everyone laughs, you’re stewing in your emotions, thinking about how your colleagues see you as a joke now.
Or maybe your partner calls in during lunch and mentions he doesn’t like that you have to keep working late, and that he’s a little upset about it. Your reaction is to think that you’re a failure at managing your relationship.
If you have this problem of letting drama take over, you often don’t see the problem. You don’t realise you’re going down a slippery slope of stress. And if you keep sliding down, you’ll eventually reach the breaking point because there’s only so much a human can handle.
And it’s tough to resolve this if you can’t think clearly enough to stop it every time your mind starts panicking.
So what is the solution? It’s to figure a way to think more clearly when bad things happen. We have three objective things we like to do to stop ourselves from letting drama take over.
Ask friends for honest feedback. Get them to be your sounding board, and try to figure things out with them, instead of only venting.
Observe your colleagues (the ones who don’t break down under stress) – how do they handle stress when they’re given similar tasks? Is there anything they do that you could emulate yourself?
Reflect over questions designed to make you think objectively, which we’ve mentioned below.
Counter-questions: “Am I taking my worrying too far? Am I panicking now or am I calm? What are the facts of this situation? How would others deal with this? How can I move forward, so that I get closer to solving the problem?”
5. You’re worried about others perceptions of you
This type of stress usually stems out of low self-esteem, meaning you inaccurately think that people see you negatively.
You might be worried about how they perceive your personality, efficacy, or maybe even how you look. And it can get tiring to constantly worry about such things.
Instead of worrying, take on a problem-solving mentality. If it makes sense to tackle your problem head on, then dedicate as much time as you can to working on it.
Here’s an example. If you’re worried you’ll be perceived as ineffective or unproductive, stressing out about it only serves to make you more unproductive. And the only solution is to jump into your work, get it done, and figure out how to be more productive as you go along. Also, fix your efforts on something actually worth worrying over. Sometimes tackling the problem head-on might make it backfire.
Say you’re worried about what your colleagues think of your fashion choices. (Some worry is healthy, but not so much to the point of stress.) If you resolve to fix this issue by spending a lot of your precious time trying to choose the best clothes, you’re really just thinking and worrying more about this issue, which will end up adding, and not removing stress.
Or maybe you’re worried your colleagues think of you as stuck-up because you’re a little socially awkward when you’re stressed. Trying to take on the problem by forcing yourself to join conversations and go for more lunches with colleagues, might worsen your stress and make you look like a try-hard. On the other hand, simply focusing on your work might make your colleagues perceive you as hard-working and respectable.
It really depends. The key is to focus on goals that reduce stress, not add to it. So take each problem case by case and figure out the most productive way to go about it.
Suffering from stress and burnout? Treat yourself well.
Photo: RWS Singapore
Going to the spa can be a great way to escape from the routine hustle and bustle of life.
Singaporeans have one of the longest working hours in the world, and it is easy to be constantly pulled in different directions when it comes to work, relationships and other personal matters. It is no surprise then, that burnout is on the rise.
ESPA at RWS, with 10,000sqm of lush greenery and facilities that include heat experiences, refreshing dip pools and a one-of-its kind Sleep Zone is the perfect getaway for busy individuals to reset and rejuvenate themselves, preventing the onset of a burnout. Its beauty and seclusion offers guests a peaceful respite away from the outside world, as interior spaces open onto and meld with the landscape.
Photo: RWS Singapore
For a holistic experience, try the Stress Reliever Ritual ($350). This 120-minute treatment combines a body wrap and a massage using soothing oils to restore equilibrium, peace of mind and brings about deep relaxation of the body and spirit. The ritual begins with a relaxing full body exfoliation to calm frazzled nerves. An Algae and Oshadi wrap is applied to the body, while a therapist gently massages the head. A full body massage with soothing oils follows after a refreshing shower. This is the holy grail of all treatments that will renew your body and your mind.
Also highly recommended for stress-relieving is the ESPA Sleep Ritual ($280). This 90-minute spa treatment helps to promote restful and rejuvenating sleep through several ways: breathing and visualisation exercises, a relaxing body massage using hot stones and warm oils, a therapeutic scalp massage, and rest time at a designated sleep zone with sleep pods that come with built-in music and soothing lights. For sleep-deprived individuals who suffer from insomnia, this is the ideal treatment for you.
ESPA is open daily from 9am to 10pm (last appointment at 8pm).
For more info, visit www.rwsentosa.com/espa. To make an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call +65 6577 8880.
Don’t lose heart. Ultimately, stress is a mind battle. And even if it seems to consume you, you need to know that it’s a matter of practice and disciplining your mind to think the right way. Stress is not inherently bad, it’s just a matter of how it’s handled. Because it can either put the brakes on your momentum, or it could get you pumped up to crush your goals.