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Why you need to take a moment to smell the coffee

Catch yourself before you get swept away by responsibilities and find rewards in rest.

TEXT: MORGAN AWYONG
IMAGES: SHUTTERSTOCK

In fast-paced cities like Singapore, there’s no letting up. It’s all too easy to get swept away by one’s perceived duties or by getting caught up in the rat race, leaving one little room to have a true breather. And if you’ve been working from home, you know those lines are blurring more than ever before.

And have you noticed how those around you are dropping the word “busy” like a verbal badge of pride in conversations? Giving yourself time to decompress can come across as indulgent, but the truth is that it is essential to maintain healthy productivity and a much happier and motivated self.

The experts call it: The power of the pause.

THE MIDNIGHT OIL BURNT

We frequently talk about burnout, but what is it really? Some people think it occurs unexpectedly, but more often than not, it creeps in insidiously. One minute you’re restless and always finding it difficult to concentrate; the next you’re incapable of performing the smallest task even if it’s something you used to enjoy.

Unlike stress which makes one anxious, burnout saps motivation and energy. Psychologists Herbert Freudenberger and Gail North outlined 12 phases, which starts with excessive drive and sustained workaholism, but transforms later into depersonalisation, depression, and eventually, full mental or body exhaustion. And in Singapore, it’s a very real problem. Microsoft’s 2020 Work Trend Report shows our country coming up top in the Asia Pacific with 37 per cent of respondents feeling burnt-out.

Some of the best ways to combat impending burnout are regular exercise, maintaining a healthy sleep schedule, and reframing work as one’s priority and validation.

REFUELLING THE TANK

Having those coffee breaks matter. If you still find them indulgent, know that these brief periods of rest have been proven to increase productivity through better focus, improved mental health, and boosted creativity.

For example, stepping away from work can help with decision fatigue, as researchers Danziger, Levav and Avnaim-Pesso discovered. They saw how judges were less likely to give criminals a chance for parole later in the day by making increasingly simplistic calls as time wore on without breaks.

On the flip side, sipping on that cuppa has been found to improve memory, and resting led to inspiration, as explained by essayist Tim Kreider. He wrote, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration – it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

Start with microbreaks – anything from a few seconds to indulge in a game on the phone or a few minutes staring out of the window – they work just as well.

IT’S TIME TO SIT BACK

With hybrid working now the norm, boundaries are blurring as work routines become increasingly mixed with home tasks. While invites from colleagues used to have you joining them for a coffee run, your reminders for a break may not be as obvious now.

But how do you determine your body and mind need a break? Physical symptoms are your best bet. If your neck is hurting or your eyes are tired, use that as a sign to stretch and move a little, even if it’s just to the living room. Always have regular mealtimes, then just let yourself sit back and enjoy the scenery. Better yet, go outside for a walk.

Scheduling in short breaks after a block of set time for work is a healthy habit to adopt. There’s even a name for it – the Pomodoro Technique.

NO CHEATING

Recall how you often postponed picking up a hobby, or putting off a task for far too long? The effects of burning out means you won’t even touch those during your down time, so it’s best to prioritise them into your breaks to jumpstart that engagement.

Apart from micro breaks mentioned earlier, take deep breaks that remove you from your work scope. For example, if you’re an accountant, you could practise drawing in your sketchbook for 30 minutes. Departing from your routine is a real mind spa.

Active breaks also rejuvenate. For instance, simply walking about can fire off powerful creative inspiration. And if you’re feeling up for it, a light 30-minute workout can have uplifting effects that last through the day.

Scene-changing breaks suggest that taking in a different visual setting – like going to a park instead of staying in your apartment – can make for a stimulating break. Thankfully, there are always pockets of green even in the concrete jungle that is Singapore’s business district.

Social breaks involve contacting your friends and loved ones just to catch up. It’s a great way to maintain mental health and feel connected to the bigger things in life. Instead of working from home, you could also try a coworking space. The alternate setting and organic community may be just what you need from falling into a rut.

Take a breather and keep up these good work habits to let yourself decompress and stay refreshed and motivated. After all the lifestyle and professional changes of the past one-and-half-years, you’ve definitely earned it.

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Getting physical

Keeping fit is all in a day’s work for SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham.

TEXT: KEENAN PEREIRA
PHOTOS: SSSGT (NS) HEIRYL ILHAM

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham values fitness so much that for a period of time, he was downing 20 egg whites every day, just to up his daily protein intake (protein benefits the body in several ways, like helping to build lean muscle and speeding up post-exercise recovery). And without the soy sauce or pepper that many of us would add, mind you. “Just straight-up whites — 10 in the morning and 10 at night,” the 29-year-old says matter-of-factly.

His commitment to a healthy lifestyle started during his teenage years, when he would consistently fail his National Physical Fitness Award (NAPFA) test at school. “I did well for every station except my 2.4 km, which I was completing in about 15 minutes,” SSSGT (NS) Heiryl recalls.

Keen to turn this aspect of his life around, he turned to YouTube to learn more about fitness — and the rest is history. These days, he clocks in at under 10 minutes for his 2.4km runs — a result of training on the treadmill, which he finds highly effective in learning to run faster. This, combined with interval training, has helped SSSGT (NS) Heiryl shed around 27kg (he currently weighs in at a lean 62kg).

FITNESS TOGETHER

Between December 2016 and May 2017, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl Ilham set out to transform himself, losing about 27kg and going from 28 per cent body fat to 8 per cent body fat.

“Be the best that you can be”: This is a tip SSSGT (NS) Heiryl readily shares with his clients at Sport Singapore, where he is a fitness instructor. He also supports his fellow Home Team NSmen through the Virtual Fitness Training (VFT) initiative, which was launched last December.

Every Saturday, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl leads about 40 NSmen in a vigorous High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout that he designed, which comprises an energetic mix of core training, as well as upper and lower body workouts. This complements his NSman role as Officer-in-Charge (OC) Fitness at Clementi Division, where he supervises Remedial Trainings (RT) and oversees the division’s Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) training sessions. In addition, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl serves as a Police Contact Tactical Trainer and IPPT Trainer, training fellow NSmen in a modified self-defence form that combines elements from Wing Chun and judo.

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl is passionate about helping NSmen up their fitness game, especially since many of them support crucial operational work during their reservist cycles — and it’s an experience he knows well.

While on patrol during his first reservist cycle, he and his partner were alerted to an incident of public nuisance. A drunken man was causing a scene outside VivoCity and when the pair approached him, the person refused to cooperate and even tried to attack them. SSSGT (NS) Heiryl acted swiftly to pin him down and arrest him. “Anything can happen in situations like this. That is why we need to be on our best form, even as NSmen,” he shares.

FITTER TOGETHER

Fitness isn’t just an occupation for SSSGT (NS) Heiryl; it’s also a means of bonding with his wife, whom he had met when he was a trainer at a private gym. “She is just as passionate as I am about fitness. We love working out as a couple,” he says.

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl and his wife tied the knot last December. “We had a COVID-19 wedding,” he explains, referring to the smaller and more intimate nuptials that are now the norm because of the pandemic. This meant that the ceremony cost less than one-third what it normally would — money that is going towards their first home in the upcoming Tengah Forest Town development which will be ready in 2024.

For now, the couple is living at home with SSSGT (NS) Heiryl’s family, where they enjoy his mother’s  scrumptious cooking. He admits that he does not really watch what he eats and he is more concerned about when he eats. “That’s because I am very disciplined with my workouts. I may start the day with a packet of nasi lemak but I know for a fact that I will work out hard enough to burn off those calories.”

For most of us who don’t have that kind of determination, he suggests using a simple calorie tracking app to avoid eating excessively. “But there’s no need to go overboard with calculating everything that you eat. That may be too tedious and is not sustainable in the long run,” he adds.

From failing his NAPFA test as a teen to training fellow NSmen to pass their physical fitness tests and helping his fitness clients lead healthier lives, SSSGT (NS) Heiryl has come a long way on his fitness journey. Not only has he come to embody physical fitness, he’s doing his best to help others transform their lifestyles, one rep at a time.

INTERVAL MATTERS

SSSGT (NS) Heiryl is a big proponent of interval training as he has seen its benefits for many clients and himself. Here’s how to start:

  1. Warm up thoroughly
  2. Sprint for 30 seconds at 100 per cent effort
  3. Rest for 1 to 2 minutes
  4. Repeat (2) and (3) at least eight times, at least once a week

IMPORTANT: You should always consult your physician or other healthcare professional before starting this or any other fitness programme to determine if it is right for your needs.