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Recognise these pandemic stress signals in your home? Tips to alleviate stress

The Covid-19 pandemic is causing a lot of stress and strain, especially in the home.

There is a lot that every member of the family needs to cope with physically, emotionally, and mentally in order to function.

There are worries over money, job security, adapting to constantly changing work, study, and exam conditions.

It feels like before one can calm down and settle into a routine, everything is in an upheaval again.

Phase 2 heightened alerts in Singapore, MCOs in Malaysia, families in foreign lands under risky situations are some aspects that threaten to overwhelm us.

  • Are you having a racing heartbeat?
  • Problem falling asleep?
  • Have you been short-tempered and snapping at your family at the least provocations?
  • Have you been binging on food, watching TV, or even playing video games?
  • Do you find yourself losing focus and forgetful recently?

IF your answer to some of the above questions is a Yes! You could be experiencing stress.

Learning to cope with stress in a healthy way will make you, the people you care about, and those around you become more resilient.

What is stress?

Stress is any change that causes physical, emotional or mental strain when our body needs to respond or take action.

Stress can be positive when it benefits our health, motivation and energizes us to perform better.

Stress can cause the following negatives:

Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration

Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests

Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

Difficulty sleeping or nightmares

Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes

Worsening of chronic health problems

Worsening of mental health conditions

Increased use of tobacco, alcohol, and other substances

Acute vs Chronic stress

Acute stress occurs due to a recent stressor and lasts for only a short period of time.

Chronic stress is stress that is constantly present over long periods of time can have harmful effects on our body.

Signs of Stress

These signs fall into several categories

1. Physical

Trouble sleeping

Headaches

Heartburn

Stomach aches

Tight neck & shoulder muscles

Racing heartbeat

Grinding teeth

Getting sick often

Eczema flare-ups

2. Emotional

Regular outbursts of anger

Nervousness

Anxiety & worry

Feelings of sadness

Boredom & loneliness

Feeling pressure

3. Behavioral

Excessive eating

Excessive drinking & smoking

Excessive TV or video gaming

Trouble getting things done

Critical of others

4. Cognitive

Forgetfulness

Brain fog

Inability to focus

Difficulty learning

Lost of sense of humor

Trouble making decisions

 

Stress on parent(s) working from home

With work from home (WFH) arrangements, there have been added stressors on couples or dual-income families with young, school-going children.

Couples have to juggle their video conferencing calls as well as that of their children within the same four walls.

The younger the child, the greater supervision and guidance are necessary.

During a lockdown or where movements are restricted for heightened safeguards against COVID-19, getting groceries, cooking at home, and dispensing the pent-up energies of the young children are not trivial undertakings!

All these piles on the stress that parents experienced even before the pandemic.

With the looming June month-long school holidays, parents are scratching their heads to come up with ideas to meaningfully engage their children instead of letting them have endless time on mobile devices. This alone can be a stressor!

This might be a good time to revisit this article again to help you during this June school holiday.

 

Stress caused by the division of labor within the home

The burden of childcare and maintaining a household can be physically challenging when you have to juggle work from home as well. Have you experienced tight neck muscles and shoulder pains recently?

You can do these simple exercises to relieve stressed neck and shoulder muscles.

More than physical stress, household, and work responsibilities may lead to tensions between couples and adversely affect the mental health of parents.

In a poll of 1,000 mothers, those who indicated their spouse as their main source of support reported much lower stress.

The following article cited several studies on how family responsibilities for childcare, housework, and homeschooling have been affected by lockdowns.

 

https://www.economicsobservatory.com/how-has-coronavirus-affected-division-domestic-labour

 

The salient points of the studies in the Sevilla and Smith (2020) survey are:

http://www.bristol.ac.uk/efm/media/workingpapers/working_papers/pdffiles/dp20723.pdf

  • The mean additional childcare in a 7-day week is 49 hours per household. The median is 40 across families with young children aged 12 and under.
  • Women are doing more than 60% of the additional
  • Men have substantially increased their share of responsibilities compared with before the crisis.
  • Men specialize in certain types of childcare activities such as homeschooling and play, and housework like grocery shopping.
  • Women were more likely to lose their job than men, based on evidence collected in the early stages of the crisis.
  • Mothers who stopped work during lockdown while their spouse continues to work end up bearing twice as many household responsibilities.
  • In families where the father has stopped working, the parents share childcare and housework equally.

 

Work Life Balance

Generally, many people all over the world who find it beneficial working from home want to continue.

The pandemic has certainly changed the face of work as we know it for good and it is unlikely to return to what it was before.

These changes have wide-ranging repercussions from real estate, retail, business, work, school to changes within the home.

 

According to a survey of 9,000 respondents from almost 90 companies in the following study,

https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/publications/report/2017/working-anytime-anywhere-the-effects-on-the-world-of-work

  1. Only 15 percent said they wanted to continue WFH arrangements all the time, while the rest preferred varying amounts of time working from home.
  2. 62% of workers with a bachelor’s degree or more education say their work can be done from home.
  3. Only 23% of those without a four-year college degree can work from home.
  4. A majority of upper-income workers can do their work from home, while most lower (and some middle) income workers cannot.

We definitely expect less time in the office to be a permanent feature of business life in the future,” said Philip Jeyaretnam, the Global Vice-Chairman and Asean chief executive of Law firm Dentons Rodyk & Davidson.

WFH does have a host of benefits. So if we were to focus on the positives, it gives us good reasons to be thankful in the midst of our present adversity.

Positives of working from home

  • Save time commuting to and from work
  • More flexibility with their time
  • Greater control over work-life balance
  • More time and connections with family
  • Most say it’s easier for them to meet deadlines and complete projects
  • Feel more motivated working from home
  • Save money on office wear, eating out
  • Save money on transport eg. train fares, fuel and parking

Negatives of working from home

  • Employees spend more on electricity bills, Wi-Fi boosters, and printers
  • Miss socializing with colleagues face to face
  • Not having the right tools, space, or environment to work productively
  • Younger teleworkers are more likely to be less motivated to do their work from home
  • Parents experience difficulties getting their work done without interruptions
  • Struggle with unplugging and ending a workday
  • The survey showed that businesses have experienced reduced productivity
  • Employees experienced higher levels of stress

41% of WFH employees considered themselves highly stressed, compared to 25% of those who worked only on-site

42% of WFH employees report frequent night waking, compared to only 29% of office workers

WFH employees have difficulties drawing work-personal life boundaries, especially with the use of smart devices.

 

Are you personally experiencing the physical symptoms of chronic stress we listed at the start of this article?

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Obey the 10 Rules of Working From Home

Print this picture as a reminder or use it as your smart device screen saver.

Check out simple ways to tackle the stress of working from home here.

Stress in College Students

College-aged students, undergraduates, and adult students do have a lot to grapple with during these times.

They feel stressed launching out to the workforce soon in this economic climate or hope to score that coveted internship for their portfolio.

They have to battle many concerns on many fronts and it is no wonder that oftentimes they are silent, sullen, and have been falling sick frequently.

There is a lot of help available online, including Youtube videos to help one to keep healthy through exercise. It can range from HIIT training, natural weight loss methods to stretching exercises for the neck and shoulders.

Quite a few of the stressors are attributed to their concerns on the family front, like concerns for their own and family members’ health, financial difficulties, eating patterns, and living environment.

Which also means that the family can provide some form of stability in this adversity to help the young adult be more resilient.

 

The following study was conducted by a large university in Texas, the United States, 1 month after a stay-home order in April 2020.

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7473764

195 Participants were recruited from the student population and interviewed via Zoom and audio recording.

What concerns most college students ranked highest at the top to least at the bottom

  1. Concerns for One’s Own Health and the Health of Loved Ones (91%)
  2. Difficulty With Concentration (89%)
  3. Disruption to Sleep Patterns (86%)
  4. Increased Social Isolation (86%)
  5. Concerns About Academic Performance (82%)
  6. Disruptions to Eating Patterns (70%)
  7. Changes in the Living Environment (67%)
  8. Financial Difficulties (59%)
  9. Increased Class Workload (54%)
  10. Depressive Thoughts (44%)
  11. Suicidal Thoughts (8%)

Severe Disruptions ranked from highest at the top to least at the bottom.

  1. Disruption to sleeping patterns
  2. Difficulty concentrating
  3. Increased social isolation
  4. Changes to living conditions
  5. Concerns on academic performance
  6. Disruptions to eating patterns
  7. Concerns on health
  8. Financial difficulties
  9. Increased class workload
  10. Depressive thoughts
  11. Suicidal thoughts

How COVID-19 is affecting children from 0-12yrs

COVID-19 is distressing for parents, working adults, and students.

The little ones are not spared.

Babies and toddlers have also been affected by parental stress and anxiety.

Signs in babies and children in a report by a group called First 1001 Days Movement showed that babies are less active because of reduced playing time and interactions with primary caregivers.

Effects of COVID-19 and circuit breaker on parents indicated that parents

  • resorted to more caning, spanking, yelling, and harsher words
  • felt that they were not as close to their children during this period
  • have fewer resources and less support from schools, churches, neighborhoods, and other family members.

Extracted from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/parenting-education/covid-19-childhood-how-has-the-pandemic-affected-the-little-ones

Stress on Husband & Wife Relationships

Healthcare work is among the hardest jobs during this global health crisis.

The pressure of working with a lot of unknown risks at the workplace, juggling childcare, and disruptions to family routines can put a tremendous strain on any relationship.

Learn how 2 couples in the medical frontline took steps to tackle relationship stresses.

Senior Staff Nurses Joel and Faith

Problems faced:

Impatience

Worst arguments in 6yrs

Less communication leading to misunderstanding and more arguments

Pressure, exhaustion, and fatigue from working in NCID and surgical ICU

Rotating shifts means not seeing each other or speaking for more than 24hrs

Loneliness from isolation with loved ones for fear of transmission

Pent up frustrations without an outlet like engaging in their leisure activities

Positive Steps They Took:

Delighting partner with small (romantic) gestures

Help each other with chores

Communicate, encourage and support each other with words and actions

Find ways and time to continue their hobbies

Pick up new interests

Recounting and renewing their commitment to love each other

Reframing mindset to focus on the good

Doctors Lionel and Pearl (Both working in NUH)

Married for 11years, 2 daughters aged 10 & 8 yrs

Positive Steps to Healthy Couple Relationship

Do not take each other for granted

Being grateful and thankful for little things in life

Being patient with each other

Adapt to changing work schedule, time with each other and children

Step up in helping out with household chores

Continue to do things together where possible eg. walks, grocery shopping

Being sensitive and considerate to each other’s need for rest

Protect couple time and date night

Communicating and connecting with each other

Speak and accommodate each other’s ‘love language’

Agreeing on child upbringing

Apologies and honest words resolve conflict

Be quick to correct self and slow to blame others

Extracted from https://www.todayonline.com/singapore/covid-19-stresses-can-be-relationship-killer-heres-what-doctors-and-nurses-do-stay-strong