YOUR STORY is a segment with stories by everyday Malaysians like you. Nikita's story (not her real name) was shared to us via email at [email protected] and reproduced with her permission. We hope this story helps you as you navigate your own stresses at work.

I never imagined myself as a person that would aspire to climb up the corporate ladder. However, fast forward three years into my working life –– I found myself even working on weekends and answering Whatsapp messages at all odd hours as part of my corporate job at a leading Asian multinational company. I also sometimes had sleepless nights as I agonised over how to solve a work issue.

These toxic patterns slowly grew into anxiety, and I even feared that I would miss out on calls from my boss even when I was taking showers. I was dedicated to my job –– but I wasn’t happy and was emotionally distressed. Several months into the job, I strangely found that I was tired one hour after waking up and I even had vision problems that caused my eyesight to blur.

Being a motivated worker, this didn’t stop me from soldering on in my tasks and I kept putting off going to the doctor because I was busy with a major event that in my mind was somehow more important than my health.

One of the major wake-up calls that I had was when I nearly crashed my car while driving to see my boss. I went to the hospital the next day and was immediately diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis, a chronic autoimmune disease in which my antibodies would destroy the communication between nerves and muscle, resulting in weakness of the skeletal muscles.

If I had continued to be undiagnosed, it could have led to death in the long run. Ironically enough, I learnt that emotional stress and feelings of aggravation could aggravate my disease and make me land in the hospital for very expensive and painful rounds of treatment. This caused me to take a serious look at my life and rethink my work and lifestyle habits.

People with chronic autoimmune diseases often have depression and anxiety too. According to Malaysia’s National Health and Morbidity Survey 2019, about half a million adults suffer from depression.

A 2019 survey also showed that 51% of Malaysians suffering from at least one dimension of work-related stress and are generally overworked and sleep-deprived. Here’s how I have learned to cope with the trauma and stress:

It’s Okay Not to Be Okay

At the onset of my disease, I was bedridden for several months and I didn’t want to burden my family with my worries as they already had a lot on their plate. But my mother kept pressing me to share my feelings as I found that keeping it bottled up inside only made me more miserable and it was okay to even cry.

If it’s a matter at work, you may feel conscious about opening up about your problems but talk to someone who can help. This doesn’t mean slacking off your boss as that will only cause further discontent but genuinely sharing your struggles with a supportive colleague, friend, or family member. If talking to them doesn’t seem to work, then you may want to seek help from a psychologist.

Take a Walk in Nature

This may sound like a cliché but doing this really helps. I struggled to walk for a few months but when I was well enough, I would start by just sitting on a bench outside my house to stare at the clouds and bask in the glory of nature. Even spending 15 minutes will make a difference to your overall day as the change of environment from your home or office will be a much-needed breather. As I live on an island, I head to the beach to stare at the waves whenever I can, but if you are in a landlocked state, just head to your nearest lake or waterfall for a breather!

Establish boundaries

While you may be tempted to check your email and messages from your friends just to chat, take time off for yourself and your family especially during meals together. That text can wait.

France has a law that gives employees the legal right to avoid emails outside of working hours but till it is introduced in Malaysia, learn how to set limits on your own and turn off your phone if you must. At least once a year, I take a week or two to completely shut off from Facebook and Instagram. I also let my friends know in advance so that they won’t be worried about me.

Take Time to Relax

Besides staying away from social media, turning off the TV and laptop occasionally can be relaxing. Instead, I found that new hobbies like colouring books, building LEGO sets, scrapbooking, and even doing some spring cleaning at home can help to relieve stress.

While you’re rushing for a deadline at your job, taking out five minutes to relax may seem like an impossible thing to do, but very necessary. Get up and stretch by walking to the water cooler or do some deep breathing at your desk. If you have a noisy co-worker that just can’t seem to leave you alone, just head to the washroom for some peace (although this doesn’t mean using your smartphone in there)!

Look at the positive side of things

As Greek storyteller, Aesop said, “There is always someone worse off than yourself.” Whenever I was in the hospital during one of my many admissions, I would often feel completely downcast, only to realise that there was a patient in the next bed who was on life support.

I would then thank God for simple things like my loved ones, still having my limbs intact, and having a home-cooked meal once I got home. It may seem like such a trivial thing to do, but I also wrote down things to be grateful for and looking at this from time to time really changes your mindset. If you’re stressed about your job, why not be grateful that you are still employed as many people lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Even though I am not as healthy physically as I used to be, my mental health has improved by leaps and bounds two years later. Life may be hard sometimes but stay strong everyone!

However, if you need professional help, here’s how to seek inexpensive treatment and mental health services from government hospitals in Malaysia.