There are lots of things about Singapore that are open to debate—whether our hawker food is really that good, whether there’s a thriving arts scene, whether you should be sent to jail for a blog post.
But there are two things that are pretty much unquestionable: #1, Mediacorp dramas are awful and, #2 Singapore is a stressful place to live.
A 2014 report shed some light on the phenomenon of young professionals burning out in spectacular fashion after working punishing hours. A survey in 2015 found 70% of workers declaring they were extremely stressed out by overtime work, with 55% saying their stress levels had risen from five years ago.
These folks end up suffering from psychological and psychosomatic conditions like depression, insomnia, weight gain and hypertension. What’s worse, the number of young professionals being afflicted by these conditions due to work stress is rising.
Everybody complains about their work, but guess what, burnout is a legit problem that people land in psychiatrists’ offices for.
Are you suffering from burnout?
Now, you should know better than us that trying to diagnose yourself on the internet is a recipe for paranoia. So don’t go skipping work just because you’ve noticed a few of the following burnout symptoms:
- chronic fatigue
- debilitating anxiety
- disillusionment and cynicism at work
- lack of motivation at work
- irritability and impatience at work
- slide in productivity
- no energy or desire to do the things you used to love outside of work
Okay fine, fine, that sounds like the majority of Singaporean employees, you say. After all, isn’t the Singapore labour force one of the world’s unhappiest and most disengaged, according to a bunch of random surveys?
Well, when you’re waking up in the middle of the night thanks to nightmares about work, and you deliberately try to be reckless on the way to work so you can get into an accident and won’t have to turn up, you just might be in real trouble.
Here are some steps you can take to get better.
Get help from a mental health professional
The quickest and cheapest option for those who need help is to head to a polyclinic and get them to refer you to a therapist (probably at IMH) whom you can see at a subsidised rate and without queuing forever.
As much as you might cringe at the thought of going to IMH, it is a more affordable option than a private psychologist/psychiatrist, so don’t write it off. If you go there without a polyclinic referral a first consultation costs $38 for Singapore citizens, while subsequent consultations are $35. That’s still even less than what you’d pay a private doctor for your MC. (And no, you can’t use Medisave unless you get warded.)
Unfortunately, if you’re not Singaporean, you pay much higher rates, between $92 and $140 for a first session and $62 to $92 for a subsequent session, depending on the seniority of your therapist.
Many hospitals also offer psychiatric services, and there are numerous private clinics and centres for psychological and psychiatric patients. However, the latter are a more expensive option and you might end up paying close to $200 each time.
If you’re an employee whose company provides medical insurance and/or paid medical care, check with HR if you can make a claim for your psychiatrists’ visits.
Make changes to your career if necessary
After attending therapy and following the advice of your therapist, you’ll be better able to determine what you can do at work to help yourself cope.
There are some measures you can take to make your work stress levels manageable, such as maintaining clear boundaries (eg. saying “no” if you are being tasked with an unreasonable workload or going home immediately after finishing your work rather than hanging around the office), paying attention to diet and exercise, and speaking up against work-related abuse.
But oftentimes burning out is a huge indicator that you need to scale back and pick a post or company that is less psychologically taxing. Ignore those people who tell you they thrive on the adrenaline of their stressful jobs—getting heart attacks at an early age is more common than you might think amongst people in highly stressful jobs.
Determining the source of your stress is the first thing you should do, so you don’t end up quitting and entering another job that makes you feel the same way. Long working hours seem to be a big source of stress for many; for others, it could be a lack of autonomy, an inflexible schedule or a boss who makes Satan look like Santa Claus.
Now, before you think we’re asking you to quit and become a yoga teacher or something, be aware that even amongst specific professions and industries, the kinds of hours worked and stress levels faced can vary greatly between companies. For instance, at large law firms it is common for lawyers to be stuck at the office till 2am every single day during crunch time. Conversely, I have lawyer friends at small firms who leave at 5:30pm on the dot every day.
For those who have other interests or skills, it might be prudent to simply switch to a less stressful or less time-consuming job. Those working in large companies can ask for an internal transfer—for instance, front office bank employees can switch to middle or back office for a change of pace. Or you might opt to do something else altogether. There are stories galore of investment bankers, lawyers and engineers who quit to do all sorts of things.
Work out a financial plan to tide you through any career changes
There’s a good chance you were willing to slog it out in a stressful job simply because it paid well… and look where that’s gotten you.
If you’ve decided a career change is necessary for the sake of your mental health, make sure you plan for it financially—financial woes will only raise your stress levels further.
Before switching to a lower paying post, make sure you’ve tracked your monthly expenses to ensure you can afford it. Ideally, you want to get rid of financial commitments you can no longer afford—such as gym memberships or season parking at the office—before you make the switch.
Have you ever suffered from professional burnout? Share your stories in the comments.