Do you feel exhausted all the time? Do little annoyances anger you easily? Do you no longer find joy in the work that you once loved? If you answered "yes" to these questions then you may be suffering from burnout. Learn about how you can prevent burnout with the self-care activities shared by Dian Handayani, Art Therapist from SGH's Department of Psychology.

Beating Burnout

For the first time ever, burnout has been recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon. According to WHO, burnout is defined as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- Reduced professional efficacy

Research has shown that setting aside time for self-care has proven to be effective in countering the stresses that could otherwise lead to burnout (Alkema, et al., 2008 & Ayala, et al., 2018). So what exactly is self-care and how can we go about it?

Dian shares that there are six pillars of self-care activities, each with a range of things you could do. This reference is a useful tool to help you find suitable solutions based on your needs. She likened these pillars to a six-legged table - when we are less active in one area, the table will become wobbly, highlighting the importance of each area of self-care.

While some of the activities may seem self-indulgent, it isn't in any way selfish. In fact, we need to take proper care of ourselves before we can care for the needs of others. Being able to self-care allows our bodies and minds to self-regulate, re-adapt, and build resilience and stress tolerance.

How does art help?

A study by Drexel University found that 45 minutes of art-making can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in one's body (Kaimal et al., 2016). It engages and develops the neural pathways in the brain that foster the skills needed for focusing, changing the brain patterns to a more calm yet focused state.

Driven by a passion for the arts and a desire to help fellow colleagues better deal with stress, Dian began conducting art therapy sessions for staff so that more can benefit from the calming effects of creating art. In a recent session organised by SingHealth Worklife, Dian guided participants in the creation of their own self-care box using muffin boxes and different art materials (e.g. little toys, plastic flowers, origami paper, washi tape, stickers). I had the opportunity to join in the session and was curious to find out if making art could work as a form of self-care for me.

Creating self-care boxes

Dian first led us through a mindfulness exercise. This helped us relax and focus on what our image of self-care should look like. We then shifted our thoughts to how we could translate that image onto the self-care box. Dian even encouraged us to include elements of the activities we wished to do as part of self-care, so that this box could also serve as a reminder to do them regularly.

Here are some works of art created by our colleagues and their thoughts on how the art session benefitted them:

"I created stick people using pipe cleaners, and added stars and toys into my self-care box. It represents my family and I want to remind myself to always find joy in the simplest things in life."

- Grace Lim, Group Education - Residency

"I love gardening, flowers and nature in general as it calms me. I also love whimsical, fantasy books and movies. I've added elements that I love into my self-care box to remind myself to stay calm and keep cool."

- Megan Si, Institute for Patient Safety and Quality

"I loved the process of creating the self-care box. There are messages on mine, reminding me to love and care for myself. The green delicate lace is a reflection of how I should make peace with myself and the people around me. The stone inside the box represents a foundation for my soul, keeping myself grounded. Looking at my box makes me think that I'm relaxing at a spa because of the soothing colours. It reminds me that I'm the star in my own life and it's important to care for myself."

- Gina Law, Office of Strategic Management

As for me, I enjoyed the mindfulness exercise and the process of using my hands to create the self-care box. I found myself absorbed by the art-making process, and noticed that my mind quieten down naturally as a result. It was a very calming process for me and I look forward to spend more time on my long-forgotten hobby of painting.

Materials used to create self-care boxes can easily be found in any art store or $2 shop.

Dian Handayani, Art Therapist from SGH Department of Psychology, conducted "The Art of Self-Care" workshop organised by SingHealth Worklife.

Besides creating self-care boxes, here are some other art therapy activities you can try at home to destress:

  1. Visual collaging
    Let your imagination run wild by creating collages using images and words (from magazines, newspapers, flyers, etc) that make you feel positive.
  2. Word collaging
    Cut out words that inspire or interest you. Collage those words like how you would a visual collage. You may or may not have a topic or story in mind when you first start but just go with the flow. For all you know, you may just awake the poet inside you.
  3. Draw in total darkness
    If you are your own worst critic when making art, then try drawing in total darkness. Draw as you wish in the darkness and you might be surprised by what you have drawn when you switch on the lights.
  4. Draw while moving to the rhythm of music
    Switch on some instrumental music and move your pen or pencil with the groove. The more soothing rhythms may encourage you to draw soft waves while the more energetic ones may guide you to create bold lines. Let the mind relax to instrumental music without lyrics and allow for art creation without restraint.

How do you destress? Tell us all about it at!

References: Compassion Satisfaction Compassion Fatigue and Burnout Among Hospice Professionals