21st Century Stress & How To Handle It

From work and money worries to relationship woes, we all suffer stress in our daily lives. Here, we look at your real-life concerns and suggest ways to manage them.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

From work and money worries to relationship woes, we all suffer stress in our daily lives. Here, we look at your real-life concerns and suggest ways to manage them.

My Reading Room

Stress: For most of us, it’s become part and parcel of daily life. We’ve got too much to do, not enough time and too many responsibilities. About one in four of us admit to being stressed, with many of us feeling it’s taking a toll on our mental and physical health. We asked the experts for their advice on how to manage some of the stressful situations that life can throw at you.

“I love my husband, kids and my job. But I feel pulled in too many directions and that I never do anything well enough.”

You initially think, “l can do this: I’m capable”; and over time you get worn down and your self-talk becomes critical – “I should be able to do this... I should be able to cope.” Recognise your personal signs of stress – perhaps you eat more, forget things or yell at the kids, suggests Dr Mandy Deeks, a psychologist at Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. 

“Remind yourself: ‘I’m doing okay, I’ve taken on a bit much and need to go back to basics’. Make time each day to do something for yourself – go for a walk, meet friends for coffee or soak in the bath. Take care of yourself so you have the physical and emotional energy to take care of the people you love.” 

“I’m swamped by debt, and monthly bills are making me sick with worry.” 

Know that you’re not alone: Financial pressures are one of the most common causes of stress. See a financial adviser who can help you put a budget together – many community centres offer free debt counselling. Or find a financial planner who you feel understands your money worries. 

“Don’t avoid debts, but try not to let life go by because debt consumes your every thought,” says Dr Deeks. “Set aside a few hours a week to manage your finances – that’s the time to face your money worries and do whatever you can to manage the problems. Then tell yourself you’ve done everything you can until the next week.” 

“My husband undermines me, and it’s getting me down.” 

If your husband makes you feel silly or belittles you, it makes you feel that you’re not respected and valued, and this can cause stress, says Fiona Bennett, a senior counsellor at Relationships Australia.

“When you’re both calm, talk to him about how you feel. Don’t say ‘You do this or you do that’ – your spouse may become defensive. Instead use ‘I’ statements, and say how hurt you feel when you are undermined. Perhaps seeing a counsellor, someone objective outside of your marriage, could help your husband to understand your feelings more, and the stress this is causing you.” 

“My son is being bullied, and his pain is causing a lot of stress in the family.”

You are naturally upset when a loved one is made to suffer, but stay calm. “Ask your son what has happened and reassure him that you will help to resolve the situation,” says Professor Helen McGrath from the National Centre Against Bullying. “Talk to his teacher, and get support for your family by contacting an anti-bullying organisation that can advise you on how to cope as parents.” Try looking up organisations like Bullyfree and the Singapore Coalition Against Bullying. 

“Feeling that you are educating yourself about how to help your son, and that you’re doing something about it, can help ease the stress that’s caused by feeling powerless. Counselling can also be arranged for him if you feel like you can’t manage the situation alone,” says Professor McGrath.

Don’t underestimate the power of touch – it releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces anxiety.

“My friends are married and have children, and I’m worried that I’ll never meet the right man.”

If all your friends are married, you can feel left out and that you’re doing everything on your own. The loneliness can be overwhelming. “Try to appreciate what you have got – such as time to yourself and the freedom not to have to compromise. If you ask your married friends, they’ll probably give you a list of things they envy about your lifestyle as a single person. But if you are keen to meet someone, join associations where people share your interests, and ask close friends to introduce you to people they think would be a possible match,” says Fiona. 

“My husband and I have been together for 10 years, but I feel we’re drifting apart.”

At the start of a relationship your focus is on each other, but everyday pressures like work and children make it hard to give each other the same attention. If you’ve both got a lot going on, it could be your circumstances that are leading to a feeling of distance. 

“Talk about what you can do to feel more connected, and work harder to find time together – even a cup of tea in the morning can make a huge difference,” says Fiona. “Make time to do things together that you used to enjoy doing. And don’t underestimate the power of touch – it releases oxytocin, a hormone that reduces anxiety. So hold hands or give each other a hug.”

“I have noisy neighbours and don’t know how to talk to them about the problem.”

First, it’s important for your own peace of mind to get perspective and to be tolerant. Think about whether your neighbours really are that noisy, or is it just that their lifestyle is a bit different to yours? Putting things in perspective can ease stress, and so can remembering that your neighbour may not realise how much noise they are making, and how they are affecting you.

“When you speak with them, keep discussions friendly by starting with ‘I’m sure you don’t realise...’ This can get you a lot further than saying, ‘I’m so fed up with your noise!’ But if the personal approach doesn’t work, contact your local town council for support,” advises Fiona.

“Life is passing me by, and I don’t feel like I’ve done enough yet...”

Don’t put an age limit on your best years. We live in a society where people in their 60s and 70s are just starting to do things they never had the time or money to do before, like travelling. So go over your list of goals, and start tackling them one by one.

“Think about who you have been and who you want to be,” says Dr Deeks. “Is the past so good that you worry that the future won’t be as good? Or do you feel you have 10 or 20 years left before retiring, and you’re frightened by that? Spend time with uplifting people and when you start talking as if your life is over, remind yourself of how much you’ve achieved and what you want to do next.”

“I’m worried about my kids going down the wrong path, because they just won’t listen to me.”

You want to feel you have some influence over your children to help them make the right choices. But, particularly with teens, their habits can be quite antisocial as they look for independence. Don’t react when an issue comes up–talk to your child later and understand how you can work together to help your child move in the right direction.

“Get support from friends with children, or from an adult your child feels close to,” suggests Fiona. “It can be a comfort to know you’ve put everything you can in place to support your child, but ultimately they then have to make their own choices.”

My Reading Room
My Reading Room