Four ways to cope with stress

From positive thinking to showing kindness, three wellness experts share what helps

Schedule time to nourish your body and mind. Your calendar should look like a balanced overview of your life, rather than an overwhelming list of to-dos, says clinical psychologist Joanne Chua.
Schedule time to nourish your body and mind. Your calendar should look like a balanced overview of your life, rather than an overwhelming list of to-dos, says clinical psychologist Joanne Chua. PHOTO: ISTOCKPHOTO

Stress is not necessarily a bad thing - it is crucial in helping us to become more efficient, productive and effective. But what happens when stress threatens to overwhelm your life?

You do not have to move mountains to administer a dose of self-love and self-care, especially in these trying times. There are many ways to manage your mood and direct your focus onto what is most important - yourself.

Three wellness experts share the best ways to cope with stress before you hit breaking point.


The first step to practising self-care? Being kinder to yourself.

"Stop feeling guilty for taking care of yourself," says clinical psychologist Joanne Chua of Mind What Matters Psychological Consultancy, who adds that you cannot pour from an empty cup.

"Schedule time in your calendar to nourish your body and mind. It should look like a balanced overview of your life, rather than an overwhelming list of to-dos every time you open your calendar."

And give the T.I.E. method a go.

"Adjust the way you perceive failures and challenges, based on the science of positive psychology. Train yourself to view setbacks as Temporary (rather than permanent fixtures), Isolated to that particular incident (not pervasive), and that they can be overcome with Effort," she adds.


Undoubtedly, our physical wellness impacts our mental well-being in a big way, and that includes regular physical activities, proper nutrition and healthcare.

But for the busy urbanite, it is easy to relegate things like exercise or healthy eating to the back burner.

Certified personal trainer Mitch Hyde, who is also co-owner and gym manager of Spartans Boxing Club (Serangoon Gardens), says: "Strong, positive habits will have a long-lasting effect, not just on self-care, but also on your entire lifestyle. It usually takes 21 days to form new habits, and the side effects can add years to your life."

Good habits to adopt, he adds, include drinking water regularly, doing breathing exercises, getting outside regularly and stretching.

For psychotherapist Stephen Lew, who is also a coach and founder of The School of Positive Psychology, one daily habit to include is to focus on your breathing.

"Start breathing in and out slowly, in through your nose and out from your mouth, letting your breath flow effortlessly in and out of your body. One cycle should last approximately six seconds.

"Let go of your thoughts, all the things you have on your plate, and the stress that you may have unconsciously collected in your neck and shoulder. Notice how your breath expands and contracts your chest and stomach, and how it enters and leaves your body."


Positive emotions like joy help improve the immune system, as well as help an individual become more creative, sociable, trusting, compassionate and resilient, notes Mr Lew.

But stress, frustration and negativity are part and parcel of being human. And it is next to impossible to remain cheerful all the time.

"Negative thoughts are normal and okay," Mr Hyde says. "But instead of getting down on yourself, a positive mindset could be, 'Okay, this happened. How can I grow from this?' or 'What is the next best-case scenario in my situation?'"

Ms Chua shares the same sentiment. "Savour the positive, no matter how small; our brain has an inherent negativity bias, and we over-learn from painful events and don't learn enough from positive ones.

"Bring more mindfulness to your daily activities, especially the ones that feel good. Start journaling all the pleasant events that happen throughout the day."

She adds that this could be slowly savouring a warm cup of tea, being grateful for a seat on the MRT, or relishing a shared smile with your spouse or little ones before you start work.

She says: "Neuroscience research demonstrates that consistently doing this for 21 days in a row can tip your brain into a positive bias."

Always jotting down appointments and tasks? Start intentionally planning for joy instead.

Mr Lew says when a person plans for joy, he or she commits to engage positive emotions or create meaningful connections with others.

"A 'joy activity' could be anything, like strolling in the park, sharing a joke or trying out new food stores with a loved one, sharing a gratitude note, spending time amid nature, or caring for a pet or a plant," he adds.

"When people plan for joy, they also nurture an interest and curiosity to try new things, and are more likely to put aside time for personal well-being."


It never hurts to spread a little kindness, and engaging in acts of cooperation and altruism can increase your sense of well-being too.

Mr Lew suggests choosing one day a week to perform five acts of kindness.

He says: "They should be behaviours that can benefit other people or make others happy; it could be donating blood, helping a friend with a chore, visiting an elderly relative or a friend who needs encouragement, or writing a thank you note to a former employer or teacher. This impacts our satisfaction with life, happiness and wellbeing."

This article first appeared in The Singapore Women's Weekly. For more articles, visit

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 06, 2021, with the headline Four ways to cope with stress. Subscribe