A challenging workplace can be fun. It can help you grow and learn new things, and keep you from getting bored, stagnant, or complacent. At the same time, challenges can also be stressful. While the occasional work stress is normal, too much stress can take a toll on your mental and physical health. In Singapore, 92% of the workforce is stressed, a number that is 8% higher than the global average. Take precautions if you start to experience various symptoms of stress such as headaches, mood swings, low energy levels, an upset stomach, and more. Below are five common causes of workplace stress and what can be done to mitigate them.
1. Impostor syndrome Have you ever felt like you didn’t deserve the good things happening to you at work? Or maybe that people have very high views and expectations of you, and they will only be disappointed when they find out the truth? If so, you may be experiencing impostor syndrome. Impostor syndrome is often defined as a persisting feeling of inadequacy. As with all syndromes, the feeling is incongruous with what you have achieved and how others perceive you. Once again, this may sound familiar to you. A 2020 study concluded that up to 82% of people have experienced it at some point in their lives. There are a few steps you can take to mitigate this. Chief among them involve mindfulness. Acknowledging the thoughts and separating them from facts is the key. That way, you will be able to keep yourself from getting lost in those thoughts and mistaking them as the truth. Reframing them will also help you gain a better perspective. Perhaps you are being too strict on yourself. Maybe it’s an added pressure due to belonging to a minority group. It is also likely that you are putting a lot more emphasis on your mistakes while being blind to the positive contributions that you have made. Lastly, try talking about these feelings. As it is a very common thing, sharing with trusted friends and colleagues may be a good way of dealing with this kind of social anxiety. 2. Pandemic-related anxieties It’s no secret that COVID-19 has taken a toll on our mental health. As many as seven out of 10 Singaporean employees feel unhealthy levels of stress while working from home. That is a very high number. So high, in fact, that it surpasses the stress levels of COVID-19 frontline workers, especially for those younger than 45. This highlights the toll of COVID-19 on the workforce. In Singapore, whose workforce is among the most unhappy, it is not exactly a surprise. What is worse is that women usually bear the brunt of this stress. The causes for this range from economic disruptions to increased demand for unpaid care work. In other words, working women are the most vulnerable to pandemic-related stress and anxieties. This is a tough time for everyone, so it’s important to not be too hard on yourself. Once again, mindfulness is crucial to managing anxieties. During stressful times, it’s easy to get caught up in the terrible feeling that you are doing much worse than what you may be used to. But it’s important to take a step back and realise that these are highly abnormal conditions outside of your control. Indeed, acknowledging what you can and cannot control will help put things in perspective. If you need to take a break, do not hesitate to take them. Even if you think you are taking too many breaks, consider that the amount of stress you are dealing with is likely more than a reasonable cause. These are not normal circumstances. 3. Unclear boundaries between work and rest There is stress due to the disruptions and uncertainties from the pandemic. And then there is stress due to working from home. This idea may at first seem counterintuitive: Why would working from home be the cause of stress? Doesn’t it come with increased flexibility, thus greater opportunity for work-life balance? While this is true, working from home comes with its own challenge of work management. Chief of these problems is the blurred boundary between work and rest. Since there is no clear boundary between the home and the office, many people find themselves working 12-15 hours a day. It is quite common for employees to work past midnight. Many develop unhealthy habits, such as skipping meals and other important self-care activities. The need to be always on and the anxieties that entail can make it really difficult to draw a line as to where work ends and rest begins. As such, it is important to create and maintain clear boundaries between work and rest for yourself. This includes setting hard and fast ground rules for your workday. Set alarms for your break times and end-of-work cut-off time. Try to not involve yourself with work during those times, however tempting it might be. Of course, you will need to communicate them clearly to your workplace. There will be times where your colleagues and bosses may try to negotiate these boundaries, but sticking by them will earn you more respect for your time. Lastly, setting physical boundaries can work wonders. This includes setting up a dedicated workspace in your home. Whether this is a spare room or a corner of the bed, try to focus your work activities in this space. This will allow you to be more strict in your resting space disciplines, such as not checking emails after 5 pm and not bringing phones to the bed.
4. Toxic online culture and communities
Toxic online culture, sometimes lumped together under the term “cancel culture”, can be somewhat of a culture shock. To some, the fear of being cancelled can lead to social anxiety. Others would say that if you need to fear, it must mean that you have done something wrong.
While many have lauded cancel culture as promoting accountability, the practise can sometimes feel cruel and unjust. But with bad faith arguments being the norm rather than the exception, accountability can quickly turn into witch hunts. What is worse is that it often has no lasting impact. Cancel culture does not exist in the way most people understand it.
Dealing with this can be tricky If you are on the receiving end of online harassment and bullying, it can feel horrible. However, when you can, it’s always a good idea to self-reflect and open space for dialogue. Lead by example of good faith. Offer a sincere apology if you are in the wrong, but do not expect forgiveness as it may be unlikely.
If you are the one taking part in piling on to people online because you think they have done a bad thing, it might be good to pause. While your pain is valid, practising forgiveness and compassion may be a healthier way to deal with your pain. Of course, there are times where those feel impossible, which is also very normal.
At the end of the day, it’s important that we realise how social media can often be overwhelming. Once in a while, it’s a good idea to unplug. Unplugging will save you from experiencing online drama and toxicity, which can be a very good thing for your mental well-being.
5. Toxic work environment
Just as how we deal with work and rest times, setting clear boundaries at the workplace is key. In the former, the boundaries involve work times. With a toxic environment, the boundaries will involve the kinds of behaviour and treatment you are willing to tolerate.
Finding your tribe at work can do wonders. If your employers can’t give you the push and enthusiasm you need, perhaps a few trusted colleagues will be able to do so. Destressing after work is also very important by exploring a hobby or two.
However, nothing beats mindfulness and self-reflection. Ask yourself whether your boundaries work for you or whether your values have been disrespected. If the toxicity persists and you find yourself gaining little to no learning and experience, are grossly under-compensated, or experiencing other negative emotions, know that it might be time to leave your job.
Know your environment and start your conversations
Singapore has among the highest rates of employee burnout in the world. While challenges at the workplace can help you learn and grow in your career, it does little good if those challenges lead to burnout. Fortunately, there are many ways to mitigate this problem.
Reframing your thoughts, contextualising your situation, and realising what you can and cannot do will help you navigate various challenges. Practising mindfulness and setting clear boundaries will help you distance yourself from toxicity.
It’s important to be aware of your actions and resist taking part in toxic communities and activities. But it’s even more important to realise when you may be the target of toxicity, both online or in the workplace. Setting clear boundaries does little good if you do not enforce them. Sometimes, this means leaving.
Most of these problems are very common among Singaporeans. Finding your tribe and talking to trusted peers can do wonders in managing these issues. But there will be times where you need more professional consultation.
At NTUC, we care deeply about your mental well-being as you start your journey in the workplace. Get in touch with us to learn how we can help you avoid burnout in your career. Learn about our programmes and initiatives for young workers by following us:on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn.
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