Wind down like an engineer

By Engine Room Posted 7mth(s) ago Reading Time: About 5 minutes


Has this year felt like one long, indistinguishable blur? Whether you’re working or studying, the days, weeks and months can seem like they’re melding into a repetitive, endless drone.

As engineers, we know you’re no strangers to hard work, and the instinct can be to persevere through any difficult situation. However, in these extraordinary times, it’s never been more important than to be mindful and protect our mental health. This means knowing when to rest and recharge effectively – think of it like a new skill you can pick up to upgrade your wellbeing.

In honour of World Mental Health Day on October 10th, we speak to an engineer, an engineering student and an engineering lecturer to find out how the pandemic has impacted their work and study routines, and the different ways they de-stress. 

Be one with nature

The life of a university student is a hectic, high pressure one. For Esther Lee, an Engineering Science undergraduate at National University of Singapore (NUS), online learning has made an already difficult course all the more trying.

“Online lessons make it a lot harder to approach lecturers to clarify any doubts. Not being in school has also made studying less efficient, especially when you can’t meet friends to study together or to help assess whether you’re learning on the right track.”

The 21-year-old, who credits her father, a mechanical engineer and successful businessman, as her inspiration for studying engineering since her days at Singapore Polytechnic (SP), finds that being in nature is an effective way to calm down.

She likes to go for a run at Lakeside Garden (that’s in the West, for all you Easties) to take her mind off her studies. Also a photography enthusiast, she captures these precious outdoor moments on her phone.

They say that looking at images of nature for just five minutes can help calm the mind – check Esther’s portfolio out below! 

Images of nature taken by Esther Lee, Engineering Science undergraduate at NUS 

Get the endorphins flowing

How does working from home look like when you’re required to be in a lab? Due to a split shift schedule with his colleagues, Sean Lam, an electrical engineer at Dyson Singapore, now shuttles between office and home on staggered weeks. He notes that the arrangement has made it more challenging to complete his tasks as efficiently as before.

“My day-to-day largely revolves around performing verifications of circuit design, running tests and analysing results in a lab. Having to work from home means the tasks you concentrate on are more desk-based work, like designing and processes.

Having to reorganise tasks into different weeks has made work life a little more complicated, as you're trying to prioritise the work to make the most of your time.”

Sean believes that knowing how to pace yourself and set strict boundaries on not working OT is key to maintaining a healthy mindset as it prevents burnout. He also likes to hit the gym before or after work every day to “keep the body fresh and get the endorphins flowing”. 

While you don’t have to be as intense as Sean to feel the effects of a good workout, making time for some movement in your day makes all the difference. It could be committing to 5,000 steps, or taking a walk to your nearest hawker stall for lunch instead of delivering in. Take it slow and go easy – every bit helps.

Slow down and re-focus

Dr Tan Lay Theng, a Senior Lecturer from the Diploma in Electrical & Electronic Engineering at Republic Polytechnic (RP), has worn many hats in her past and present life. Not only was she an engineer in the semiconductor industry before becoming a teacher, she specialises in microelectronics and nanoscience, and holds a PhD in Physics.

As a lecturer, Dr Tan works with students all day, every day. COVID-19 has found her trying to come up with creative ways to keep them engaged during home-based learning.

“The most stressful thing about teaching online is not being able to pick up on timely non-verbal cues, like facial expressions, eye contact and posture, from my students. These cues are underrated but yet very important in understanding their level of comprehension. Some students also do not have the most conducive learning environment at home. There’s only so much we can do if there is distraction, or if they undergo technical issues and miss portions of the class.”

To cope with the additional stress that comes with home-based learning, Dr Tan finds it crucial that we carve out “self-care time” for ourselves. For her, time like this is dedicated to oil painting once a week. Painting has “therapeutic and stress-relieving benefits” as it forces the mind to focus on one activity, and improves her patience and observational skills.

In summary from our three engineering contributors, the key to finding balance amidst the chaos is carving out moments for yourself to mentally disconnect from work or studies. Find an activity to fully immerse yourself in, whether it’s working out, painting, or even gaming (!).

Most importantly, remember that it’s ok not to be ok. Take time to be kind to yourself this weekend. You deserve it! 

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