Survival Guide: The Holiday SeasonAs with the trains of the Deutsche Bahn, like clockwork, the holidays are upon us (again) this time of year. Many will be looking forward to the Christmas and New Year breaks; some will be bracing for the impending deluge of parties and festive foods, and yet others may take the opportunity to escape from the madness of it all (check out this handy guide on nearby destinations). But some associate the holiday season with misery, stress or disappointment. And with good reason. Holidays are like a giant (salty) mirror that amplifies our daily struggles with loneliness, existential thoughts, or coming to terms with finances (yes, the holiday season can be expensive). Here are some techniques to help us enjoy the holiday season. 1. Manage your expectations. Accept that there is no perfect way to enjoy a holiday. Nor does it have to be “as good as last year’s”. As circumstances change and evolve, and so too must our traditions and rituals. Cherish the important ones, but never at the expense of your mental well-being or your wallet. Be flexible about which traditions to change or hold on to. For example, Christmas or reunion dinners do not have to always be at the swankiest restaurant every year. 2. Schedule “Worry” Time. Especially in a group or larger setting, it may be hard to not worry about what may go wrong during the get-together. Common refrains include: “What if nobody likes the food I prepared?”; “Aunt May is going to talk about her son’s PSLE score and ask me how my daughter did…”; or “Grandma is going to nag about my weight.” To control the frequency of worry, try this. First, identify all the tasks or items that are within your “sphere of influence”; essentially, matters that you can do something about. Identify what needs to be done and complete those tasks. You’ll start to feel a whole lot better once you make a checklist and tick them off. Then tell yourself this: “there are always going to be things that are not within my influence. I am going to allow myself to worry about it, for no more than 10 minutes. But after these 10 minutes, I shall leave my worries for my tomorrow self to grapple with” (or similar words… but you get the idea). The intent of this Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) tool is to compartmentalise and contain worries that are not within your control to a designated period during the day, thereby freeing up your “head space” for important, relaxing or fun activities. This tool has been found to be clinically effective in managing worries. 3. Social Support. Social support is a powerful tool for stress relief. Interpersonal communication among family members allow us to take each other’s stands and think of how we can help each other. At the same time, it also prevents misunderstanding from arising. For example, gift exchange may be a tradition, but it could be a stressor for one who is going through a financial difficulty. If getting a present for everyone in the household is going to cost a hefty amount, talking to your family member ahead of time about your situation is going to help. This is to seek their understandings and maybe adjust the tradition according to needs. Gift exchange can be changed to “secret santa” such that everyone has to only buy one present. 4. Coping with Unexpected Situations. Things do not always go in our favour (or similar sounding words to that effect), said Murphy. Plans often go awry. However, it may be (mathematically) easier to adjust the way you handle emotions than to change the way others react. For example, you can’t control the people who make you angry, but you can control your anger and what you do with it. Here are some ways to cope with anger or stressful situations: Ψ Emotion-focused coping: Reduce negative emotions (i.e. anger, fear, anxiety, aggression, depression, humiliation) by practicing meditation or by writing them in a journal. Another way could be to picture said others as cartoons while they are spewing offensive things: it takes some of the hurt away. Ψ Problem-focused strategies: Remove or reduce the cause of the stressor through problem-solving. In time of stressful situations, think calmly of how to change the situation. 5. Reframe your thinking. As with any social setting involving more than one person, there will be many situations, interactions, and verbal and non-verbal cues that make us susceptible to distorted patterns of thinking (eloquently described in Mandarin as 胡思乱想). The first step in identifying maladaptive thoughts is to develop an awareness when you start to recognise the patterns of thinking induced negative or stress-inducing patterns of thinking. For example, “They must be gossiping about me”, “Why are they looking at me like this? Is it because I am fat?”, “She is boasting about her son again, I must not lose” and so on. The second step is to challenge those thoughts. Are the things you're telling yourself even true? Also, what are some other ways to interpret the same set of events? Which ways of seeing things serve you better? Instead of seeing things the way you always have, challenge every negative thought, and see if you can adopt thoughts that fit your situation but reflect a more positive outlook. 6. Avoid conflicts. Sometimes, what is needed is just to walk away. Walk away from your triggers by excusing yourself: “after hearing what you said, I need to defecate” or call a trusted friend to rant. If an argument is occurring between two persons (and one of them is not you), avoid taking sides. During this season especially, monitor your alcohol intake and keep a clear head about you. Listen if you are called upon to do so but do not share confidential or private titbits with another. Keep conversations light and optimistic. If you know the person you are talking to is a fervent Trump supporter, don’t provoke that person by invoking the good name of the 44th President of the United States. 7. Just say no. The easiest the express but the hardest to do. If large gatherings cause you great amounts of stress, it is okay to say no. Just say no. Offer to catch up with those you wish to individually or in smaller groups. Or spread or defer your engagements over a longer period of time. There is no stipulation that says you must visit ALL of your family and friends during the actual holiday period. 8. Absent family members. Keep in mind that some family members may not be able to attend because of various reasons such as illness, service in the military, studying abroad, financial burden or other reasons. Acknowledge their absence by including them. If a beloved family member has died, do not ignore or minimise the loss. Be truthful about your feelings and share stories about your loved one. It can be cathartic and healing for family members to mourn together in this way. 9. Make decisions based on goals, relationships or values. Establish a set of values that you strongly believe in. Then rank your priorities and relationships and make decisions based on them. For example, if controlling your spending has been an issue, make a budget plan and stick to it. If you are a family-oriented person, make more time for your family instead of packing your holiday schedule with colleagues or friends. If you believe that the way you have organising your time is not going to work, change it. Practising mindfulness and interpersonal effectiveness skills will improve your ability to cope in social situations. Developing an honest understanding of yourself and your emotions, and focus on living in the present. *Content is republished with permission from Annabelle Psychology.
Track Your Wins And Celebrate SuccessesIt may take a bit of discipline, but keeping track of and recognising tiny achievements will go a long way towards staying on top of your goals So you signed up for a gym package because you promised yourself to work out more this year, and so far, you’ve been making good progress, going for gym sessions two or three times a week. Image Source: Envato Elements, leungchopan But as work and other commitments begin to pile up, you may find yourself cancelling classes, and starting to feel guilty about it. Many of us start the year with tons of motivation. However, sticking to your New Year's resolutions past January can take considerable mental and emotional stamina. When you find yourself unable to stick to your promises to yourself, you may end up guilt-tripping or beating yourself up. So how do you avoid falling into that trap? It starts with planning, tracking and recognising even the smallest wins. Whether you’ve set goals that are health-related, career-oriented or a change in your general lifestyle, the first step is to set goals that are achievable and realistic. A good tip is to write them out — this makes them easier to remember. You can also break a goal down into smaller steps, so it is easier to achieve it. For instance, instead of giving up desserts completely, allow yourself one cheat day a week or switch to a healthier alternative. If your goal is to run 10km, start with 5km and slowly work your way up. We often see huge successes in the media, like fitness influencers with six-packs or young entrepreneurs whose revolutionary products earned them millions. That leads us to expect those types of results for ourselves, which can demotivate us if we don't see the same measure of success. According to Vancouver-based educator Mehrnaz Bassiri, the problem doesn’t lie in the humble size of our accomplishments, but the outsized nature of our expectations. Adopt a more realistic measure of success — for instance, recognising that you’ve made it to the gym twice this week and reducing your sugar intake instead of checking the weighing scale — note your daily achievements, and give yourself a pat on the back for doing so! References: https://www.inliv.com/small-steps-to-your-wellness-goals/ https://blog.ed.ted.com/2020/10/26/how-to-make-your-small-wins-work-for-you/
Can The Type of Food We Consume Affect Our Mood?A bad mood can easily ruin your day. Improved general health usually means a better mood but how can the type of food we eat affect our mood? Shutterstock: WAYHOME Studio Have you ever woken up on the wrong side of the bed, and instantly felt your day was ruined before it even began? Your mood and emotions can affect almost every aspect of your life, including your productivity. The great feeling of seizing the day and living life to the fullest can sometimes be held hostage by your mood and mental health state. Your mood can be affected by a myriad of factors, but did you know that nutrition plays a crucial role in affecting your mood? In recent years, there has been increasing evidence that nutrition can actually affect mental health. Here are some ways the food we eat can actually affect our mood. Always trust your gutEver had that gut feeling about someone or something? Science might not be able to explain that, but studies have shown that a two-way communication channel exists between your gut and brain. And that channel plays a crucial role in regulating your mood! A fun fact, 90% of serotonin, the chemical that stabilizes your mood and happiness, also coined as "the happiness hormone" is produced in the digestive tract. A happy meal may have some scientific backing after all! Is that burger affecting your mood?Gut bacteria have also been found to produce neurotransmitters such as dopamine and many others related to anxiety, concentration and even motivation. It would only make sense if we ate foods that help these gut bacteria flourish! Foods containing probiotics can improve your mood and brain function by encouraging a healthy gut environment. While whole foods, fermented foods and vegetables can boost your gut health, eating large amounts of processed foods that contain additives, sugar and lack of fibre may disturb your gut bacteria. Can food help with menstrual cycle mood swings?We can all agree that your menstrual cycle can easily claim the title of the biggest mood breaker. Before your period begins, it's perfectly normal to have mood swings, feel sad, angry or simply irritated. Next thing you know, the cramps come knocking and all of a sudden, you're too overwhelmed. But how can food help in this dire situation? One study suggests that calcium supplements can actually reduce PMS-related (premenstrual syndrome) mood changes and negative feelings. Another reason for mood swings that can be treated is iron-deficiency anemia which can be caused by heavy periods. Fish oils, egg yolks and exposure to sunlight can reduce irregular periods associated with low vitamin D levels. You are what you eatAfter all, we really are what we eat. Eating foods that promote brain and gut health can help keep chemical balances in check and improve your overall mood. Sugary foods can take you on a mood rollercoaster. You get a momentary mood spike but before you get to appreciate that milkshake, you're hit with a sugar crash which can easily bring you down. However, when it comes to using food to treat mood changes, you have to realize that as much as nutrition is a key factor to your mood, it isn't the only one. Other mood drivers include your external environment and mental state. These factors are all important and must not be neglected. If you feel depressed or have any suicidal thoughts then make sure you get help. Finding your happy diet can really go a long way! You'd be surprised how eating the right food can boost your mood. References: https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/gut-feelings-how-food-affects-your-mood-2018120715548 https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/food-and-mood/about-food-and-mood/
Be Kind to Yourself, Especially Amid COVID-19As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, be sure to take care of not just your physical health but your mental well-being too. The COVID-19 outbreak may have reminded us to revisit our hygiene habits and take better care of our bodies, but we often neglect our mental health in this crisis. Singapore has done a great job of managing the pandemic— immunisation is already in progress. The daily case count is in the single-digit range — but even so, the disease continues to wreak havoc on many other aspects of our lives. For many of us, our ‘new normal’ involves telecommuting, home-schooling our children, limited socialisation with our friends, family and colleagues, and perhaps even unemployment and income loss. Image Source: Envato Elements, Leszekglasner Unsurprisingly, depression is a related outcome of the global health crisis. Beyond merely feeling down, depression is characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness and/or hopelessness. It often disrupts the sufferer’s daily life, causing them to be unable to enjoy other activities, including those that were previously rewarding. There is no single cause of depression. The condition is complex, and has several causes, from physiological changes in our brain and/or hormonal levels to environmental factors like stress, trauma and the like. But what we do know is that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression. Depression can strike anyone, and at any age, so it is more important than ever for us to take care of ourselves and our loved ones. Although depression can be triggered by significant upheavals such as grief due to the loss of someone close or financial difficulties due to job loss, we must remember that even if we are fortunate enough not to be affected by the above, we may still be vulnerable to heightened stress, anxiety, interpersonal tension and other conflicts. If you suspect you or a loved one is suffering from depression, the Ministry of Health recommends checking your symptoms against this list (‘SAD CAGES’): S – Sleep disturbancesA – Appetite changeD – Depressed mood of feelings of sadness over a sustained periodC – Concentration problemsA – Anhedonia: Loss of interest in enjoyable activitiesG – Guilt or shameE – Energy and enthusiasm lowS – Suicidal thoughts due to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness If you have at least five symptoms that persist daily for two weeks or more, you may want to visit your doctor. You can also call HealthLine (Health Promotion Board’s toll-free health information service line) at 1800 223 1313. It operates from 8.30am to 5pm on weekdays, and 8.30am to 1pm on Saturday and is available in 4 languages. Alternatively, visit any polyclinic, hospital or the Institute of Mental Health. References: https://www.healthhub.sg/a-z/diseases-and-conditions/101/topics_depression https://www.who.int/teams/mental-health-and-substance-use/covid-19
The Pandemic Is Not Normal, So Watch Out For Your Mental HealthAlthough compared to the world, things may seem pretty ‘normal’ here in Singapore, and we should give ourselves a huge pat on the back for dealing with the many COVID-19-induced changes in our lives. We should also take some time to step back, breathe and take a break. With the strict social distancing regulations, many of us have spent much more time at home. We’ve had to let our social lives take a back seat and adapt to taking classes and/or working from home, which has blurred the lines of work and play. For fresh grads, there is the added pressure of entering into an uncertain job market. Image Source: Envato Elements, leungchopan Although compared to the world, things may seem pretty ‘normal’ here in Singapore, and we should give ourselves a huge pat on the back for dealing with the many COVID-19-induced changes in our lives. We should also take some time to step back, breathe and take a break. With the strict social distancing regulations, many of us have spent much more time at home. We’ve had to let our social lives take a back seat and adapt to taking classes and/or working from home, which has blurred the lines of work and play. For fresh grads, there is the added pressure of entering into an uncertain job market. These situations can affect our mental well-being as they often lead to relationship issues and higher stress and anxiety levels. Being cooped up at home with many family members can cause interpersonal tension and/or feelings of isolation. Being unable to balance work and rest can lead to burnout. If you’ve noticed that you (or a loved one) is consistently feeling down, it may help check your mood against the ‘SAD CAGES’ list of depression symptoms. If you match five or more symptoms daily for two weeks or more, you may be struggling with depression and should seek medical advice before these feelings get the better of you. You can call HealthLine (by the Health Promotion Board) at 1800 223 1313 or visit your doctor, any polyclinic or hospital, or the Institute of Mental Health.
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