Everyday Habits in Singapore That May Harm Your Mental Health
Published on 10th January, 2018 by Muhammad Haikal Bin Jamil
Stressful life events and mental health issues
Depression is often triggered by stressful life events- relationship troubles, the death of a loved one, or losing one’s job. On the other hand, the onset of a panic attack may be precipitated by an anxiety-provoking event, such preparing for a major examination. In therapy sessions, psychologists and therapists may spend a significant amount of time focusing on the cognitive and emotional processes of clients with regard to these events, as well as on equipping clients with the skills to effectively cope with these stressors.
However, these stressful life events are not the only factors that may trigger depression or other mental illnesses. Our everyday habits have a larger impact on our mental health than we realize. As a psychologist, I realize that individuals who engage in unhealthy lifestyle habits are at higher risk of developing depression than those who don’t. Individuals who are in the recovery journey to overcome mental health issues may also find it tougher to combat depression or an anxiety disorder as these habits may impede treatment effects.
In this article, I will discuss the sneaky habits that are detrimental to your mental health, which you may be aware of.
Everyday habits that may contribute to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues
1. Going to bed late or lack of sleep
Insufficient sleep (defined as getting less than 8 hours of sleep) and late nights (sleeping after 11pm) are risk factors for depression, suicidality, substance use, and generalized anxiety disorder. Sleep helps to regulate mood, and we process our emotional experiences into memory. These important processes occur in a phase of sleep called REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, which first occurs 70 to 90 minutes after you fall asleep. The sleep cycle repeats, and sufficient sleep ensures that you experience sufficient REM sleep, protecting you from depression and other negative emotions.
A study published in 2016 in the journal, Medicine, found that 44% of Singaporeans had less than 7 hours of sleep on weekday nights (Tan et al., 2016). A separate study by researchers in the University of Michigan comparing sleeping patterns across countries even found that Singapore share the top spot with Japan in not getting enough sleep.
Thus, the next time you want to sacrifice some sleep to surf on your mobile device or have a late night, you may want to prioritize sleep to protect your mental health.
2. You can’t put your phone down
Raise your hand those of you whose insufficient sleep is partly attributable to your phones! My hand is up too. Be it surfing on social media or playing games, the initial plan to use your phone for just five minutes before sleeping can easily turn into over thirty minutes of phone usage before you know it. The blue light that is emitted from our mobile devices can interfere with the production of our sleep hormones, disrupting sleep, and increasing your chance of developing depression.
Apart from sleep, our phones reduce the quality of our non-virtual interpersonal communication. Here’s the irony: While your smartphones may connect you to the world, you are also getting disconnected from those around you. Poor relationship quality and lower levels of perceived social support not only increases your likelihood of experiencing depression and anxiety. It also lowers life satisfaction and increases perceived level of stress (Demirci, Akgonul , & Akpinar, 2015).
A survey in 2017 revealed that on average, individuals in Singapore spends 3hr 12 minutes a day on their mobile phones. In fact, 80% of the people in Singapore admitted to checking their mobile devices just before turning in to bed or when they wake up first thing in the morning.
3. Social media overdose
Studies have indicated that frequent use of social media is associated with low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression (e.g. Woods & Scott, 2016). Social media platforms enable users to communicate abundant information, which may provide plenty of opportunities for social comparisons. However, we tend to forget that in the process of impression management on social media, the information shared are mainlyconvey positive self-portrayals. As a result, the social media is a fertile ground for life satisfaction and envy.
The rise of the “keyboard warriors”, protected with anonymity or the lack of face-to-face interaction, also facilitates negativity through criticism and cyber-bullying on social media.
In Singapore, over 70% of its population are active on social media, double the global average of 34% in 2017. Thus, you may protect yourself from the increased risk of depression and anxiety from being exposed to the information on social media by being aware that impression management is a significant part of social media, as well as taking some time off social media if the negativity is affecting your mood.
Perfectionism is a trait that partly explains why some people may be more affected than others on social media. In Singapore, we are often motivated by a desire to be No.1 in many areas- education, income, having the best airport, and many more. In my personal experience, I have also observed an increase in referrals of mothers presenting with generalized anxiety in the build-up towards the examination period.
Trying to achieve an unattainably high standard of perfection in everything you do is detrimental for your self-esteem and mental health. Perfectionism is linked with a host of mental health issues- depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, and eating disorders (Limburg, Watson & Egan, 2017).
This is supported by a local study conducted by psychologists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) finding that maladaptive perfectionism (in simpler terms, being pushy) in parents significantly increases the risk of developing depression or anxiety symptoms in their primary school-going children.
5. Physical Inactivity
Singaporeans don’t get enough sleep, and a significant number of us in Singapore don’t have the time to exercise. A lack of time is the most cited reason (77%) for why almost 40% of us do not get the recommended activity levels in a week (3 times a week, 30 minutes each).
Our physical health is the foundation of our mental health. Exercising improves our mood, reducing the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Exercising also offers a healthy avenue for coping with stress. As a psychologist, a common recommendation that I give to clients facing depression is to increase their activity levels. It can be as simple as taking a short 20-minutes walk in the morning for a start. The increased activity helps to increase their energy levels and to break the cycle of depressive behaviours, such as staying in bed or ruminating about past events. Research psychologists from the University of London have also reported that the risk of depression decreased by 6% with every day that individuals who are experiencing low mood engage in some physical activity.
6. High coffee consumption
Coffee increases energy levels and improves physical performance. However, consuming over 400mg of caffeine in a day may be detrimental to your mental health. This is because excess coffee consumption increases anxiety levels. Caffeine may exacerbate your fight-or-flight response. This may increase your anxiety levels or even spark an anxiety attack.
In Singapore, coffee is easily accessible and drinking a cup of coffee has increasingly become part of everyday life. A survey by online analytics company, SurveyMonkey, found that almost 44% of female millennials in Singapore, aged 18-35, spend more monthly on coffee than on saving for their retirement.
So the next time you are tempted to purchase your third, or even fourth, cup of coffee, be mindful of the negative effects of its overconsumption on your mental health.
Barlow, D. H., & Craske, M. G. (2006). Mastery of your anxiety and panic. Oxford University Press.
Demirci, K., Akgönül, M., & Akpinar, A. (2015). Relationship of smartphone use severity with sleep quality, depression, and anxiety in university students. Journal of behavioral addictions, 4(2), 85-92.
Limburg, K., Watson, H. J., Hagger, M. S., & Egan, S. J. (2017). The relationship between perfectionism and psychopathology: A meta‐analysis. Journal of clinical psychology, 73(10), 1301-1326.
Samaha, M., & Hawi, N. S. (2016). Relationships among smartphone addiction, stress, academic performance, and satisfaction with life. Computers in Human Behavior, 57, 321-325.
Tan, N. C., Tan, M. S., Hwang, S. W., Teo, C. C., Lee, Z. K. N., Soh, J. Y. J., ... & How, C. H. (2016). Sleep time and pattern of adult individuals in primary care in an Asian urbanized community: A cross-sectional study. Medicine, 95(35).
Woods, H. C., & Scott, H. (2016). # Sleepyteens: social media use in adolescence is associated with poor sleep quality, anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. Journal of adolescence, 51, 41-49.