We all experience some forms of stress. Even with the great opportunities that come with living as expats here in Singapore, the lifestyle still comes with everyday anxieties; for example, worrying about finances and job security, paying school fees or fretting about a family member’s health back home. Add in work deadlines, fussy-eating kids, tantrumming toddlers, and a frequently travelling partner, and you’ve got yourself a plentiful pile-up of stress-inducing issues.
DR REBECCA DALY, a UK-trained GP at International Medical Clinic (IMC) Katong, sees patients dealing with all kinds of worries. But, the threshold to become overwhelmed by stress is different for us all, as are the triggers, she explains.
“Culture shock, a sense of loneliness and losing your personal support network may affect how you cope with stress as an expat,” says Dr Daly. “Often, people portray a happy image to new friends and loved ones back home, despite feeling overwhelmed on the inside.”
How does stress feel?
“You may find your thoughts are racing and you worry about lots of different things at once. You might feel on edge or anxious and have a sense of being overwhelmed. Your concentration could be affected and you may have problems making decisions, however trivial. You also may not enjoy things as much as you did before,” says Dr Daly.
Physical effects, she says, can include shallow breathing or hyperventilating, muscle tension, blurred eyesight or sore eyes, problems getting to sleep or staying asleep, or having nightmares, sexual problems such as losing interest in sex or being unable to enjoy sex, feeling tired all the time, grinding your teeth or clenching your jaw, headaches, high blood pressure, indigestion or heartburn, and feeling sick or dizzy.
Stress can manifest in other ways, too. Some people become more irritable or angry, while others become withdrawn. There are those who will go out of their way to avoid meeting friends; others distract themselves by going out and drinking in excess.
Stress management tips
In order to appropriately deal with your stress, Dr Daly suggests making certain changes to your everyday life.
• Start by identifying all the causes of your stress (writing them down can help). You might be surprised to see just how much you are coping with!
• Make a list of things you need to do. Set a realistic plan of how you might complete these tasks, and break it down into smaller, more manageable jobs.
• Take a break and time out; realise what can be done later.
• Ask for help, whether at home or work, to lighten the load.
• Accept what you cannot change.
• Give yourself a break. Reward yourself for your achievements, even the small ones. Accept your failures and look forward to new challenges. And perhaps take a holiday!
• Make time for friends and family, enhancing your support network.
• Take up a new hobby or an old interest. This can also be a great way to meet like-minded people.
• Exercise to burn off the extra adrenaline and cortisol that’s produced when stressed. Even a fast walk in the park can help!
• Eat a healthy and varied diet.
• Get a good night’s sleep.
• Reduce alcohol intake and smoking.
• Try relaxation techniques such as meditation. There are many apps available to guide you, and just five minutes a day can help. Yoga and mindfulness are also great techniques for helping to calm the worries.
• Take breaks to do activities that will distract you, such as knitting or puzzles, for instance.
“If you try making these changes but your stress is still impacting your mood and wellbeing, then it is time to see your doctor to evaluate your symptoms,” says Dr Daly. “Your doctor may recommend further treatment options such as counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy and medication.”
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