De-stressing on the daily

Singaporean students have earned a global reputation for being academic high achievers. According to findings from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2017, Singaporean students are global toppers in subjects such as Science and Mathematics.

GRAPHIC: BRENDAN TAN

However, Singaporean students have also been found to experience high levels of stress, according to a global study conducted by the OECD last year. Based on the findings, 86 per cent of Singaporean students were worried about poor grades at school, compared to an average of 66 per cent of students across the 72 countries surveyed.

Students face significant amounts of stress to perform academically, as good grades are paramount to getting a place in reputable institutions and securing employment upon graduation.

And more students are seeking professional help to cope with their school-related stress.

Psychologist Daniel Koh of Insight Mind Centre, a local private practice that offers psychological services, used to see just one or two students with school-related anxiety five years ago. But the numbers have increased to about eight a year, he said.

The Sunday Times also reported last year that three out of five psychiatrists and psychologists in private practice say they have seen the number of such cases double (double from when to when? Which periods are they comparing?).

When left unmanaged, stress, particularly in the long term, can lead to a slew of other problems that affect both the mind and the body.

Consequences of stress

In fact, stress has been called the “health epidemic of the 21st century” by the World Health Organisation. Long term stress can result in greater irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia, all of which affect an individual’s overall well-being, according to the American Psychological Association. Additionally, stress also weakens the immune system and increases the body’s susceptibility to illnesses.

Prolonged stress also affects one psychologically. It wears one down emotionally, leading to depression, anxiety and mood swings, according to research conducted by the University of California, Berkeley.

It is important that one knows how to manage stress or seek professional help if needed.

Managing stress

  1. Identify the cause

According to the American Psychological Association, when one has identified the reason for their stress, a plan can be conceived to address it.

While stress may overwhelm an individual, finding out the root of the problem is key in managing it.  

“I found that taking some time off, even if it is just an hour to realign myself and distinguish the cause of my emotional turmoil, is a helpful starting point to address my issues,” said Carissa Ng, 23, a third-year student from Nanyang Business School.

Once students have identified the cause of their stress, they can subsequently re-evaluate their responsibilities and prioritise their tasks. From ranking their tasks in order of priority, to creating a timetable, there are many ways in which students can organise their time and to-dos.

“I have adopted a method that seems to keep me calm and reassure myself that I am getting my work done and pacing myself in doing so. Every morning, I create a to-do list for the day and start from there,” said Ng.

  1. Get enough sleep

Psychologically, resting the mind by clocking in the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep is also key in coping with stress.

“If you sleep better, you can certainly live better. Sleep can definitely reduce levels of stress. Sleep can definitely reduce levels of stress,” said Dr Raymonde Jean, director of sleep medicine at St Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City.

Sleep helps control one’s blood pressure, she said. It is also believed to have effects on cholesterol levels, in turn reducing an individual’s risk of heart disease.

“Sleep is my form of escape from stress. I usually turn to sleep when I have reached my capacity for the day and my mind shuts down,” said Joshua Seah, 24, a third-year Sport Science and Management student.

  1. Exercise

Introducing exercise into the daily routine has also been proven as a method of managing stress, according to the American Heart Association. Even 20 minutes of exercise a day improves blood circulation, releases endorphins and gives one more energy, according to the Oxford Handbook of Exercise Psychology by the University of Oxford. Activities like yoga also help the mind relax.

Additionally, taking breaks throughout the day to do stretching exercises can help to improve blood circulation and ease tension, while doubling as a short respite from work.

  1. Decluttering

The work environment also has a profound effect on an individual’s stress level. According to a study conducted by the University of California, Los Angeles’ Center on Everyday Lives of Families, the amount of stress one experiences at home is directly proportional to the amount of items they have accumulated in the house. Hence, the less cluttered the home, the better.  

Aromatherapy has also been found to help in reducing stress. According to research released by the US National Library of Medicine under the National Institutes of Mental Health, calming scents relax the mind and ease emotional stress as the brain reacts chemically to the smell. Candles, incense or diffusers may be used to enhance the scent in the house.

“It might be unlikely for a guy to buy candles but I was once gifted a candle during Christmas and I noticed how the scent could lighten my mood almost immediately. Since then, I have enjoyed having candles in my room,” said Marcus Sim, 24, a third-year student from the School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences.

Sim, who has been keeping candles in his bedroom for over a year, added: “Since then, I have enjoyed having candles in my room.”

  1. Form a strong social support network

Strong friendships and close relationships with family members can also serve as stress buffers, according to Northwestern Medical Breakthroughs, an online healthcare site managed by American healthcare system Northwestern Medical. In times of stress, they can provide a source of comfort. Having someone to turn to allows one to talk about their feelings and share their burden.

“I mostly speak to friends when I’m stressed because it helps to get the pent-up negative emotions out. It also helps when they offer me advice, or even just comforting me makes me feel better,” said Jacinta Chuah, 20, a second-year Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information student.