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Effects of circuit breaker on Singaporeans: Sleep deprivation, mental health awareness, increased financial stress, and more

Effects of circuit breaker on Singaporeans: Sleep deprivation, mental health awareness, increased financial stress, and more

Deep breaths

Text: Cheryl Lai-Lim


Image: Instagram | @werenotreallystrangers

Going through a global pandemic can take a toll on Singaporeans due to social distancing and quarantine measures. When the circuit breaker began last March, life as many Singaporeans knew came to a screeching halt.

A recent study by the PURE Group found that as a whole, there was a decline in health and wellness in Singapore during the circuit breaker period. The research, which surveyed over 1,000 Singaporeans between the ages of 18-60, examined the biggest stress factors and mental health effects brought about by COVID-19. The lockdown period seems to have brought about a shift in the perception and habits surrounding both mental and physical health. Below, we highlight other interesting points to note that can be found in the report.

Sleep deprivation impacted overall mental health

In general, Singaporeans are not getting enough rest, with only 17% of the respondents clocking a full 8 or 9 hours of rest. On average, most Singaporeans are reporting 6.4 hours of sleep per night, which is below the average recommendation of 7-9 hours by the National Sleep Foundation. Sleep deprivation and burnouts are inherently linked, and out of the 24% Singaporeans surveyed who experienced work-related burnout, 73% acknowledged that they were suffering from poor quality sleep.

"Sleep deprivation causes more activity in areas of the brain that generate emotion. Conversely, we see less activity in areas which help to regulate our emotion, and overall we see a heightened response to negative emotion," Kate Bridle, sleep physiologist and founder of Sleep HQ says in a statement. "The importance of sleep should be prioritised from a young age, and protecting sleep during formative years is an effective, preventative tool to reduce the risk of developing mental health problems in the future."

Image of bed and pillows

Financial stress is now at an all-time high

With the global economy in crisis and increasing job instability, it's no surprise that financial stress has shot up over the quarantine period. Before lockdown, 45% indicated they felt stress in relation to their finances. During circuit breaker, it was reported that 70% felt their financial stress has turned into "somewhat" or "very" severe. Other types of stress Singaporeans experienced during circuit breaker include work-related stress, followed by relationship, health-related and confinement-related stress.

Work-life balance is lost

Circuit breaker has seen personal and professional lines being increasingly blurred, especially due to the de facto WFH system. Prior to COVID-19, around 64% of respondents find regular breaks during a normal workday unwarranted, and not much has changed in that aspect during the stay-home period. Due to the home being the new office, fewer people are taking lunch breaks as well, preferring to opt for a mid-afternoon break instead. 46% try to finish their work as soon as possible, with a decrease in those feeling pressured to get work done — possibly due to not being in an office environment.

A planner and macbook

Nutritional habits are fluctuating

During the lockdown period, Singaporeans found themselves increasingly discontented with their nutritional intake. Reasons indicated include a need to save money, a habit of getting takeout, and that healthy eating was seen as too expensive, especially when many were suffering from financial stress. Circuit breaker also saw a drop from 31% to 26% regarding weight issues, which could possibly be attributed to concerns over other pressing matters.

Although 95% intended to improve their diet during circuit breaker, 81% of respondents found themselves partaking in the convenience of food delivery services whilst in lockdown. A plausible reason for Singaporeans not achieving their nutritional goals could be due to a knowledge barrier when it comes to making healthy choices. "Focus on what you're trying to achieve — set small goals, keep track of what you eat, and always plan ahead. Speak to a professional if you need guidance regarding your diet. Food should be seen as a source of nourishment to nurture and protect our bodies, not an additional source of stress," says Bridie Tuite-Sterling, Manager of Pure Nutrition and a registered and accredited dietitian in a statement.

A switch in exercise routine

Most gyms were required to shut their doors temporarily during circuit breaker, which forced Singaporeans to switch up their usual exercise routines. With easy access to outdoor areas and public and private pools, outdoor exercise was more common prior to COVID-19. However, circuit breaker saw a change in that, with 63% of respondents preferring to work out indoors. Exercise routines that had a surge of popularity include yoga, high intensity interval training (HIIT) and personal training classes. Meanwhile, those that were dropped by Singaporeans include walking/hiking, running/jogging, swimming and cycling. 52% prioritised regular exercises in the three months following circuit breaker. Amidst reasons for exercising during circuit breaker, most cite the desire to prevent weight gain, relieving stress and anxiety, having increased free time, and the wish to build a stronger immune system.

Woman doing sit-ups

More Singaporeans are now aware of their mental health

With so much grief and loneliness surrounding the pandemic, it comes as no surprise that 1 in 5 respondents reported mental health issues during circuit breaker, especially among the 25-34 age group. The stay-home order has increased awareness when it comes to mental health, with 65% intending to immerse themselves in nature and engage in mindfulness and meditation activities. Whilst during circuit breaker there was a drop in the amount of people who took part in yoga and meditation — possibly due to the temporary closure of gyms and studios — more than double the number marked their intentions for yoga in the future, with triple the number intending to take up meditation and mindfulness practices.

Lack of funds have been cited as a reason for Singaporeans not seeking mental health support. Workplace support from employers have been requested to help employees tackle burnout and sedentary lifestyle issues. Whilst corporate wellness efforts have been proven to strengthen overall staff engagement, improve corporate culture and optimise productivity and talent, only 14% of companies in Singapore offer yoga and meditation classes. Workplaces can help tackle mental health issues by offering programmes of value and interest to employees.

Pure Group, which operates Pure Yoga and Pure Fitness across Asia, commissioned this survey conducted by 2CV.

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