Working from home has become the new normal for many office workers, but not all are holding up well with this novel work routine: the blurring of getting on and off work, the even heavier workload, the switching to virtual communications with colleagues are just some of the stressors. If left undealt with, the snowballing stress can bog down work performance and even put your health in jeopardy.
The AXA Study of Mind Health and Wellbeing 2022 finds that in terms of pressure and happiness, Hong Kong ranks lower than most countries and regions across Europe and Asia surveyed. For stress, the city tops the rest of the world.
Mental health has become a very serious issue in life. That said, as the survey showed, only 41% of Hong Kongers think they handle their mental health well. More often, they are not aware they are burdened by the negative energy from the workplace and body signals warning of health problems. All these could be ramifications of stress.
Emily Li, AXA Chief Employee Benefits and Wellness Officer, said: "For many Hong Kongers, career comes first, and they often leave their health, especially mental health, behind. They are used to sucking up the emotions in the office rather than dealing with their own feelings; those unrelieved unpleasant emotions, however, are there to stay. The bodily alarm goes off, but the root cause is overlooked, as the survey finds. Watch out, though, if you experience prolonged short-temper, palpitation, or sweaty hands!"
Whether or not you have the above symptoms, are under stress or suffer from mental issues, it's worth considering the following three tips which help you live more happily and with less worry.
Tip 1: Exercise is ever more important during pandemic. Walk and stretch to kick out stress hormones.
During the epidemic, the body needs more exercise, walking and stretching to reduce stress hormones.
"We may not know it, but simple exercises like walking and running can recharge lift your mood," Emily says. "70% of the surveyed say they become happier with simple workouts. As the pandemic sticks around, many people are placed in extended home officing and even forget to clock out sometimes. Situation permitting, do go out for a walk for quick stress relief; even if you have to stay indoors, jogging in place or stretching can recharge your mind as well as body."
During exercise, the brain releases endorphins which bring pleasure and help reduce stress. But for the white-collar, especially those lacking a habit to move, walking is the handiest exercise to pick up as it is not limited by time and venue, nor are there equipment or skills required. The American Heart Association recommends that walking 10,000 steps a day helps maintain heart health.
Published in the journal Psychology Frontiers, a University of Michigan research shows that a 20-minute walk can reduce the level of cortisol, a stress hormone, by an average of 10%1. Being in touch with nature gives even better results. Unfortunately, we tend to go out less and walk even less thanks to the pandemic – so don't forget to spend time exercising at home as much as possible. Running and steeping on the spot and even stretching can relieve the pressure of extended home officing.
Tip 2: De-stress as a team: How to reduce miscommunication over the screen
Are you sure about team de-stressing? I already spend more time with colleagues than family. Why should I stay with them to work out the stress?
Studies by the Yale University's Medical School and the American Orthopaedic Association show that exercising as a team is more effective in reducing stress than working out solo2, and it can be as much as 26% more efficient3.
"With many COVID-19 surges, working from home has become the new normal in the past couple of years, and we are deprived of face-to-face, more solid communication with colleagues," Emily added.
"In the virtual world, words and emojis can easily create misunderstandings, and with which stress can gradually grow in time. Precisely because of this we should get rid of stress with colleagues together."
Taking her own team as an example, Emily arranges online team activities during the pandemic to bring her colleagues closer. In "virtual team sports challenges," they will do sports such as running in place or yoga together in front of the camera.
Intending to develop a proactive culture, some enterprises organise sports competitions through their human resources departments. Every department would pick an "ambassador."
Colleagues can be mutual motivation if they work together and offer encouragement to each other, which adds fun to the workout and makes it easier to improve physical and mental health.
What's more, establishing effective interaction with colleagues will not only have a positive impact on the workplace but also inject positive energy into life. That helps relieve stress and align you and your colleagues to work towards the same goal.
In the time of the pandemic, it is important to learn colleagues' expressions and tone so as to communicate effectively, establish relationships, and cultivate cohesion and team spirit.
Some colleagues may feel they are not good at sports and are reluctant to participate. Emily suggests that they can also be part of the team by cheering up colleagues and taking photos. These responsibilities are very helpful for reducing stress or promoting team spirit.
Tip 3: Digital Detox! New stress reduction trend on mobile
The last tip to de-stress, for sure, is about your smart phone! Those suggesting Digital Detox hold that excessive screen time is a source of stress; on the flip side, many mobile apps can help reduce stress, including guided meditation, breathing exercises, music therapy and colouring games. Even insurance companies are adding these elements to their mobile apps. After all, mental health is a top priority for everyone.
Take the Emma by AXA app as an example, its AXA BetterMe "Mind Charger" offers a variety of content, including guided meditation sessions to steer you to calmness and positivity, learn to revolve problems and sail through adversity.
The one-stop psychological consultation platform “Mind Healer” is also available on Emma by AXA. You can carry deep conversations with professional counsellors who are able to lead you through stress and negative emotions. With online tools such as these, you can open your heart when needing help in emotional relief while not needing to be wary of talking to strangers.
"Don't think stress relief is a time-consuming process. It only takes a few minutes to achieve that with these apps, and you can do it at any time of the day. Stress and negative emotions accumulate over time. The results can be significant when you get proper relief from time to time.” Emily stresses.
1Hunter MR, Gillespie BW and Chen SY-P (2019) Urban Nature Experiences Reduce Stress in the Context of Daily Life Based on Salivary Biomarkers. Front. Psychol. 10:722. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00722
2Ozbay, Fatih et al. “Social support and resilience to stress: from neurobiology to clinical practice.” Psychiatry (Edgmont (Pa. : Township)) vol. 4,5 (2007): 35-40.
3American Osteopathic Association. "Group exercise improves quality of life, reduces stress far more than individual work outs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 30 October 2017. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/10/171030092917.htm>.
The above content is reviewed by Ms Emily Li - Chief Employee Benefits and Wellness Officer of AXA Hong Kong and Macau
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