How does one cope with burnout? Google might suggest “recalibrating in nature” while friends might tell you to just “leave Singapore”.
Under the restraints of a budget and travel limitations, I did the next best thing — camping overnight on Pulau Ubin.
It’s about 8AM on a Wednesday. While most Singaporeans are dragging their zombied selves to work, we’re gathered at Changi Point Ferry Terminal, each scrambling for S$4 worth of cash to pay the boatman for our one-way trip out of Singapore.
It’s no plane ride but like every trip, the journey over the seas helped loosen the grip of reality’s shackles on us. I text everyone goodbye and put my phone on Do Not Disturb mode, determined to keep my retreat undisrupted.
And here we are at Pulau Ubin.
The last time I was at Ubin, it was 2016 and the intricacies of adulthood hadn’t caught up yet. Now, I’m 23 and everyday’s filled with new revelations and resolutions — new clothes, new mindset, new me.
Yet, Ubin has withstood the test of time. It’s an island where juxtaposition comes into play beautifully, where nature meets urbanisation. The result? A rustic charm that captivates just about anyone.
Stepping foot on this island felt a lot like reuniting with a long lost friend. It is every bit nostalgic and breathtaking and transports you back to a time where things were much simpler.
I regret not coming back sooner.
We made our way to the east of Pulau Ubin — Jelutong Campsite, our home for the night.
We pitched our tent right by the beach and were rewarded with an unhindered sea view and breeze.
That said, it’s fascinating to know that Pulau Ubin was once home to a beach resort, complete with a private restaurant and air-conditioned suites. It closed down in 2013, perhaps due to a lack of customers — why pay ~S$200 for a room when you can pitch your own here?
Plus, since we’re here to escape from the city, that means no air-conditioner, no television, and if you’re up for it, phones on Airplane mode for that full digital detox experience.
After “checking-in”, we went off to discover the island.
And by that, I mean me just immersing myself in undisturbed nature.
Fun fact: Trees can actually help promote health and happiness. In Japan, it’s called ‘shinrin-yoku’ or forest bathing, where you bathe (figuratively, although you can do it literally too) in the forest atmosphere and connect with nature just by being in it.
And that’s what I did — I took in the fresh clean air, felt the warmth of sunlight penetrating through the trees and listened to the sounds of birds chirping. Google was right. Recalibrating in nature is the way to go about de-stressing indeed.
My stomach started rumbling, which could only mean one thing: It’s time for food.
Since we’re not in the city, if we want food, we’ve got to work for it — starting with a campfire.
“It’s not that hard”, I thought.
All you need is to light some fire starters (I’m thinking of the kind we use for BBQ) and throw in a handful of sticks — voila, a campfire!
Turns out you need to collect bags full of twigs and branches — thin ones for starting the fire and thick ones for sustaining it. Oh, and they all have to be dry or it won’t work — we learned that the hard way.
After what felt like hours, we finally got our campfire started. Would I do it again? Honestly, no. But do I now know how to start a fire in case I get trapped on a deserted island? Yes.
And that’s just half of it. With the campfire all set up, it was time for us to slave over the hot stove — or in our case, fire.
No, we didn’t have to catch our own food (thank god) but the shops here close at 6PM so dinner had to be settled ourselves. This meant chopping ingredients in the dark and cooking over a campfire.
On tonight’s menu: Thai green curry with rice.
Not the most relaxing thing to do on a getaway.
But you know what they say, food tastes better when you work for it. And that was a heck of a meal.
Soon enough, it was nightfall. We retreated back to our campsite to wind down.
Back home, sleep does not find me easily. I’d stay up till 3AM in the morning just bingeing on Netflix (totally my fault) and I’d be awakened by every single alert tone.
Out here, I was out cold before the clock even struck twelve, something I hadn’t done in ages. But I also woke up with a sore neck, an aching back and a sunburn, something that I wasn’t keen on.
Granted, I did feel better, but it had less to do with me being away on Pulau Ubin and more to do with me being away from my phone and laptop.
Learning to cope with burnout
Truth is, I didn’t necessarily yearn to leave Singapore.
What I wanted was to have some time to myself, devoid of any expectations.
It’s a mentality that’s heavily ingrained in us — that one can only take a break if they’re on vacation, physically away from Singapore.
We’re so warranted by the idea of meritocracy that we now normalise overworking and stress, whether intentional or not. Even burnout is seen as an achievement to some — a signifier that you’ve been “working really hard”.
And that shouldn’t be the case.
We need to realise that we’re human beings entitled to rest, even if that rest comes in the form of us sleeping in or catching up on our favourite TV shows. It’s simply ludicrous for us to fly off somewhere or book another S$200 staycation each time we wish to take some time off.
With Covid-19 further blurring the lines between our beds and our work-from-home office, it’s now more integral than ever to set better boundaries when it comes to our work-life balance.
Even something as simple as muting your work chat on the weekends or leaving your laptop behind when you’re on leave can change the quality of your rest tremendously.
At the end of the day, the “rat race” will always be here, waiting for you for the rest of your life. You might as well take a break while you’re at it.
Who knows when we’ll reach the finish line?
What are some ways you cope with burnout? Let us know in the comments below!