Month of November – LET’S TALK EMOJI – PAUSE

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I sound like a spoilt sport to write on this at this time of the year where Christmas shopping needs to be done, office parties need to be attended, year -end holidays need to be planned.  Why would anyone want to PAUSE now?  This is the season to have reasons to be busy.  I think all the more reason to PAUSE – the busier you are, the more you need to catch your breath.

What’s the perfect getaway?  It’s as simple and reachable as the chair in your study room or the garden and the bench in your neighbourhood park.   It’s a time of recharging yourself and increasing your margin of freshness for the next task and activity.

Give these three great getaways a try:

CONTEMPLATION

Contemplation is a time to ponder and to calm our souls.  It is to reflect on what has been most life-giving to you, both small and grand things.  Being appreciative gives you the greatest satisfaction in life.  You enjoy your present moments better and it makes you hopeful of the future.

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Something wonderful happens inside our brain when we are appreciative of things and people around us.  The amygdala which is the emotional region of the brain does not need to sound any alarm as no stress is experienced.  Stress hormones are not activated as they are not needed.  The body is at rest. The recalling of good memories and the experience of gratitude trigger the body to produce a feeling of well-being.

I took out my journal this morning and started to record the many blessings that 2018 handed out to me.

  • I am thankful for the 34 new friends I made in the mental health sphere. I was connected to them through a prayer network called Perth Together.
  • We had the first family wedding – my niece got married! The wedding was most touching and grand, held at the Capella Hotel in Sentosa, where President Donald Trump met President Kim Jong-un.
  • We grandparented Nudie and Jack, our daughter’s two cats

 

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I am already feeling my level of well-being rising as I penned these 3 blessings. Try it yourself. PAUSE and contemplate on the things you are grateful for this year. C S Lewis expressed it so well, “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”

Give yourself this sheer enjoyment of contemplation and the complete delight of giving thanks. The endorphins released in your contemplation will be a great energy booster for all that you need to do between now and Christmas J

SILENCE

Our souls need a quiet, secure place to rest from a noisy world.  A woman I knew recently said it so well, ‘I need a lily pad to rest quietly on.’  It is essential for the soul to have pockets of silence in our busy lives to rechart and recharge.  Scientists are discovering that the practice of silence actually developed new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain that is associated with memory (elephant memory?), emotion and learning new things. 

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The Temple of Solomon, a magnificent ancient architecture,  is said to be built quietly. All the stones were prepared at the quarry.  No hammer, chisel or any other tool were used at the temple site.  This is a metaphor of the soul – quietness needs to be built into our psyche. The finest work is happening even though, judged by the level of noise, nothing seems to be happening.

As an exercise to be silent, I spent 20 minutes yesterday in my study room being quiet.  I heard the roar of the traffic because my window was open.  I also tuned in to the chirping of a bird.  It was a juxtaposition of 2 very distinct sounds, which I must confess I don’t hear much of because I don’t pay attention to them.  I drew a lesson from my 20 minutes of observing this silence – amidst the hurry and flurry of activities and the loudness of my active life, like the solitary bird, I need to find that space to sing and stay in touch with my voice.

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Are voices overcrowding your mind?  Is the noise around making you irritable and unhappy? Cultivate the good habit of practising silence daily.  Deliberately turn your radio in the car off and the TV off to allow for some quiet time.  Allocate a seat in your garden or your house where you could go and sit quietly and do nothing for a few minutes.  Plan silent retreats regularly to give your system a break from being overloaded by demands, expectations, agendas and programmes.

MUSIC

Dr Mike Miller, a research cardiologist at the University of Maryland Medical Centre in Baltimore, studied the effects of things that make people happy.  He found that music, both playing music and listening to music, is a destressor.  The inner lining of blood vessels are relaxed, they opened up and produced chemicals that are protective to the heart.  Music counters stress and brings joy and a sense of well-being.

Image result for animation musicMusic is a gift to humanity.  In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Andy a prisoner and the prison librarian was donated a record.  In wanting to share with every other inmates a song from the record, he went to great lengths to get hold of the microphone, activated the PA system and played the song on air.  For a few minutes, the prisoners were rooted to the ground, their faces shone as they were mesmerised by the song.  They didn’t understand a word of it as it was sung in a foreign language.  But their hearts were touched!

When the going gets tough, put on your favourite songs and let the tune wafts its magic into your soul.  When I first came to Perth and was incredibly homesick, music played a big part in unearthing my emotions and soothing my heart.  I would tear up at the sound of the song and after a good cry, I found new strength to prepare tea and dinner for my two school going daughters and husband. Now music for me is for pleasure. Music makes me happy.

PAUSE with Shakespeare and say with him , “If music be the food of love, play on.” (Twelfth Night)

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Month of OCTOBER STRONGER TOGETHER #2

October is a very special month for me as a mental health practitioner. The city of Perth set aside a week in October to create awareness of good mental health and organisations have linked arms with wholesome activities to be STRONGER TOGETHER.  

Image result for stronger togetherPerth Together Mental Health Sphere, of which I am a member, has gathered 35 mental health practitioners to pray for the well-being of one another and of the city for the whole of October.  Today being the last day of this initiative, I have indeed felt STRONGER TOGETHER, stronger enough to contribute my second article in this month.

It is no coincidence that the words ‘REACH OUT’ were so frequently mentioned in this month –  “Thank you for reaching out to me”; “I reached out to her”…  And they came from the lips of millennials!  That would make them cool words to use!

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Life in the fast lane needs good lungs. In jest, my young friend, when asked how she is, said, ‘Breathe.’  How apt was her reply! We all need to take  long and deep breaths to keep up with the momentum of the day. It is to live the Latin quote of ‘ardet nec consumitur’ which means burn and burn but not destroyed.  In modern terms, it is to work and work and not be burnt out.

How does one do that when you live in cities that do not sleep?

You need to REACH OUT and find the MARGIN, the amount by which you can win in life.  Who can help you build your margin? What margin do you need to live a winning life?  How much do you need to have to sustain that winning life?

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If you are experiencing isolation and loneliness, don’t shrink back and continue to live life in the corner.  Reach out to someone, a friend or a professional helper, to talk about your deep thoughts and feelings and to find a way out of that isolation and loneliness. You are living on a very narrow margin of support or even a deficit if you constantly think you don’t belong and you don’t matter. Things may happen in your past that cause you to think like that.  It’s time to reach out and uproot the past that has been occupying good space in the soil of your heart.

A MARGIN OF HOPE

Your heart needs to build a new margin of hope to enable you to look at the future with anticipation of good things happening.  This doesn’t come automatically.  The first step is to REACH OUT to someone trustworthy and skillful to help you start the process of healing and restoring.

Living a winning life doesn’t mean fame and popularity.  It simply means you have enough resources to live an enjoyable and satisfying life. When life throws you lemons, you have the skills to make lemonade.  Lemons are too good to waste.  In Perth, a lemon can cost $1 🙂 

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A test in life comes to give you a testimony! Chuck Swindoll says, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”  Every struggle has a meaning to life and a story to tell.  If that’s not your orientation in life, if you believe that tests are to destroy you and you have fallen into a dark hole,   REACH OUT to someone so that you can be STRONGER TOGETHER in testing times. A margin can be created in that supportive relationship to help you discover that life is still worth the living.

A MARGIN OF JOY

Find a margin of joy to help you enjoy life better.  Too many people don’t find life enjoyable because they don’t have enjoyable things to do – ‘I don’t like sports, it’s too expensive to eat out, I don’t enjoy watching movies, I don’t socialise.’  Rediscover what you like rather than dwell on what you don’t like. 

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Reach out to a more enjoyable lifestyle.  What energises you?  What replenishes your energy? I refer to these activities as the green zones – they grow you to win in life.  

For some of you, food may be a green zone.  Cooking good food for your friends and family or inviting them out for meals could be pleasurable and invigorating.  For others of you, watching a good movie may be a green zone.  Carve out time to watch a movie with friends regularly to recharge your strength.

Let’s heed the words of Winston Churchill, “Continuous effort — not strength nor intelligence — is the key to unlocking our potential.” Continue to make efforts to REACH OUT to build your margin of hope and joy, the two vital elements of your potential.

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Month of OCTOBER STRONGER TOGETHER #1

There is power in numbers.  The strength of one penguin is small but with many penguins, they can protect themselves against the shark.  One ant is defenceless but an army of ants is a strong fortress.  The pincers of many crabs dismantle the power of a predator. The takeaway from this video is obvious: It’s smarter to be in a group.  STRONGER TOGETHER!  This was the theme of the WA Mental Health Week 2018 that just passed!

 

The sense of togetherness creates a flourishing environment so essential for strong mental health. Just knowing that others are present with you makes you feel upbeat and courageous. When there is a lack of social support it increases the tendency for depression and vulnerability to stress and loneliness.

We are wired to connect; we connect with people innately.  From birth, we are already predisposed to connect.  Babies were shown photographs of many objects including the human face.  When their attention time was measured, the  results showed that the attention given to inanimate objects was significantly shorter than the time given to look at the photograph of a human face.

Our brains are wired with mirror neurons that would imitate another human person to increase the likelihood of being liked and forming a good relationship. We form bridges all the time and with many people even more so if we have not been prevented by bad experiences or hangups or bitter role models in our lives.   That’s why we use these words like ging gang, clan,  party of friends and  team.

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Recently, 11 of us most of whom knew one another from our teenage years travelled together.  We casually call ourselves the Golden Gang. All in our mid life, with adult children who have found their own pursuits in life and therefore not around us as much, we found one another great company.  And with SKI (Spending Kids’ Inheritance) tendencies, we plan holidays abroad and have lobsters and scallops for dinner.  Mental health when we are together is definitely optimal J

The 2 optimal benefits of being together is ENJOYMENT AND SATISFACTION  (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25, The Bible). When you are in good and fun company, you belly laugh, enjoy better and are more satisfied. Endorphins are released in the brain to cause a high or euphoria. This elevates your mood and reduces your pain. Endorphin which is made up of two words   “endogenous”  and “morphine”  means it’s  ‘a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.’

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What are some activities that can bring about enjoyment and satisfaction as a group?  Enjoyment and satisfaction make you STRONGER TOGETHER.

Celebration

Recently I went to Singapore for my niece’s wedding.  The entire day was enjoyable and satisfying because it was filled with  laughter and anticipation. The hardware of the wedding was competently organised by my sister and brother-in-law – the house was cleaned, the food was set, the programme for the day was ready to go, 27 tables in the hotel were booked. The software was the guests, the people the family honoured and loved, who came to celebrate the very special day with the to-be married couple. 

I overheard that the family didn’t sleep well for a few nights because of the wedding preparation but no one looked fatigued on the wedding day.  Everyone was busy happy and the energy level was high.  The energy was palpable and contagious.

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Weddings are but one channel of celebration. A friend of mine made it his job to organise Christmas Eve Dinner every year to keep the family Christian faith alive; a family member threw a surprise birthday party for her husband.  Spread the joy!

Charity

While in Singapore, I went with two friends and my sister-in-law on a day visit to an orphanage in Batam, Indonesia. The orphanage houses 24 children of deprived family backgrounds.  The youngest orphan is 5 month-old and she was given up by a single mother; the oldest is an 18 year-old who was abandoned by her father in a hotel. The despair did not drown us into helplessness.

STRONGER TOGETHER, we worked out our roles and went about tutoring and playing with the children.

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We witnessed the passion of the Singaporean missionary who invested her heart, time and money into the orphanage. She is simply inspiring!  She mingled amongst the local Indonesians and the children were drawn to her like magnet.

“It’s not easy,” I overheard the helpers talking about the sacrifice of this Singaporean missionary.  But being involved in a group makes a difficult mission a little easier. 

Try it!  Get a group to do charity work where you are or overseas. The satisfaction of seeing the needs of others being met is energising.  It’s great for mental health!

Chowtime

“Let’s have coffee” and “Come and share a meal” are invitations for grounding.  Chowtimes are opportunities to listen and to be listened to, to express anxieties and to have others offer alternatives.  The informal atmosphere makes it easier to open up and to go away from the meal feeling more relaxed and socially connected. 

J R R Tolkien believes that chowtime can bring happiness.  He said, “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” In this day and age where food is so readily available and affordable, it can be used as a means of bonding and social interaction.  Great values are transmitted at tables; friendships are deepened when people share their lives over food.  Initiate chowtimes with friends; respond to the invitations of others for a catchup.

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I used to say that families who eat together stay together.  There’s truth in it and there’s also a window of opportunity for that to happen.  Make it a habit to eat regularly together.  With young children, make chowtime a pleasurable time.  Include them at the table and develop healthy eating  and social habits.  It’s not as easy to eat as frequently with adult children.  Still, make it a point to have regular chowtimes on a weekly or fortnightly basis.  In fact, it’s fun eating with adult children as they have broader food choices and can also afford to pay for the meals.

Enjoyment and satisfaction are so essential for our mental health. May we  carve out more time to be with others in celebration, charity work and chowtimes. Be STRONGER TOGETHER not only in October during the Mental Health Week.  Throughout the year, make efforts to be STRONGER TOGETHER.

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Month of September – LET’S TALK EMOJI – HOPE

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Hope is a life force. It sees life even in a dark place.  I have a picture of that. One wouldn’t expect any plant life to come out of the brick wall.  Yet beautiful flowers can grow out of crevices.  Hope, like the plant, defies the overwhelming darkness that surrounds it and pushes its way out of the crevice towards the light.

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In the articulate words of Shakespeare, “The tender leaves of hope; tomorrow blossoms.” Hope pops its head out in great expectation and sees huge benefit in going forward into the tomorrow.

A boy that is promised a trip to the Universal Studio could not keep still in the car. His hope is irrepressible, ‘Are we there yet?’ he will ask countless times. He is promised a fun time and that hope lifts his head and spirit high.

We all need hope to survive and thrive.  It is a necessity and luxury of life. The more desperate the need is and the more despairing the circumstance is, the more hope is needed. Without hope one dies within.  Losing hope is a terrible place to be in.

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But when we are full of hope, life has its greatest meaning. We look with anticipation to the future and we enjoy our present moments. ‘Looking forward’ is not just a common phrase in a letter; it is a state of eagerly waiting for a desire to be fulfilled.  And when dreams come true at last, there is life and joy (Proverbs 13:12). 

If hope is so essential in life, what can bring hope?

  1. GOLDEN WORDS

What golden words do you hold on to each day that gives you the energy and vitality? Do you say, ‘Good morning Lord’ or do you say, ‘Good Lord, it’s morning?’ How you greet the day will determine how that day pans out for you.  The sense of respect you hold each day as a gift of life is a skill you can cultivate. Life is truly not to be taken for granted.  Every day lived well is a day gained.

Golden words make you feel good about yourself as you start the day.  Some people start off the day reading a passage from religious writings or inspirational stories and then let a word or phrase guide them throughout the day.  This has been my practice for 40 years and I find it very useful in keeping my focus and replenishing my energy and hope when I need it. Earlier this year, our radio station 98.5 also encouraged its audience to single out a word to live out each day.

I once had a 40-day collection of MY ONE WORD.  From a passage I read, together with my co-author, we both picked one word which impacted us the most and we illustrated it so that the message got to be registered even deeper.  This word resonated with us the whole day often bringing cheer to us when we felt down.  This collection of 40 words  kept me buoyant in my spirit for those 40 days and occasionally now, I still take out the hard copy and read the uplifting messages again and again.

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How about starting your own collection of MY ONE WORD? One golden word is powerful enough to shape your day!

  1. Golden connections

How many people in a typical day do you make contact with?  What kind of connections do you experience? Do you have close relationships? My junior school autograph book recorded, “Make new friends but don’t forget the old.  One is silver; the other is gold.”  Golden connections, the relationships we have in life, can fuel our lives with hope and vitality.

When you need hope, you don’t want to be isolated from people.  Ironically that’s what is preferred during those times – for reasons like you don’t want to trouble people; you feel shameful to be feeling hopeless; you want lots of quietness to process your thoughts.  Sometimes that isolation can breed more misery and loneliness.

Do open up to encouragers in your life.  Encouragers are people who come to you with ‘their heart.’  Like cheerleaders in a game, they can enthuse you with a new heart for the future.

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Underneath the glass of my study desk twenty five years ago was a collage of a few photocopied Singapore dollar notes with the verse from Jeremiah 29:11,  For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It was in my darkest hour wondering if I was going to be swallowed up in a financial crisis that this verse came to me.  My friend who was on holiday in Indonesia felt compelled to email me the verse.  That heartfelt message was a bright light that showed me the way out.  It helped me to join the dots in life’s meanders and mysteries.  I was grateful for that golden connection.

Hope is a life force as I said at the very beginning.  You can feed it or deplete it. 

A storyteller used the analogy of dogs to talk about the human nature, “Inside of me there are two dogs.  One is mean and the other is good.  They fight each other all the time. When asked which one wins? I answer, the one I feed the most.”

Feed the hope in you.  Tell yourself constantly,

“There are always way outs.”

“When one door closes, another one opens.”

“I am a created to be a problem solver.”

“Nothing is too big to be handled.”

“All things are possible.” Etc…

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Believe more for yourself, for your family, for your future.  Root yourself in GOLDEN WORDS and blossom and fruit where you are planted.  Delight yourself in GOLDEN CONNECTIONS and let them be your sunshine.

                                       A BONUS PICTURE OF HOPE THIS MORNING –

                                                  fresh from my neighbour’s garden

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HOPE is looking expectantly at my neighbour’s fig tree with a few leaves and knowing that soon I will be enjoying the ripe and sweet figs.  He doesn’t eat them and so we get to pluck all the figs we want 🙂 Sweet!

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Month of August – LET’S TALK EMOJI – HAPPY

Would you believe that “HAPPY” is the password for the Virgin Lounge wifi?  I actually smiled when I keyed in “HAPPY” into my phone.  It’s one of those words that has a transforming effect.  You just burst into smiles when you greet someone HAPPY Birthday, HAPPY New Year, HAPPY holidays.

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How do I key in “HAPPY” into my brain system so that I can use the data to live well?  Is it as easy as wifi access in the Virgin Lounge?

It turned out, as Professor of Harvard Dr Daniel Gilbert put it, that the brain has the capacity to manufacture happiness when we choose to key in happiness into the system.  That’s why we often hear that happiness is a choice. Key in happiness and you get happiness!

HAPPINESS  IN MOMENTS

Image result for happy muffinHappiness is what we get when we get what we want.  A very happy moment for me was when I finally remembered the flavour of the muffin after a few hours of racking my brain.  It was a distinct flavour but I totally forgot the name of the ingredient.  Nothing could help me recall and I decided to leave the matter alone.  It was in the most unlikely phrase in an English comprehension book for senior school students that I found the answer to my search and prayer:  ‘A rhubarb is a rhubarb is a rhubarb.’ Imagine my happiness when I got what I wanted!

I have told the rhubarb story many times over and each retelling carried the same sense of happiness as when I opened that book with that phrase popping out of the page.  My brain has the capacity to manufacture happiness again and again for me as I repeat that beautiful story.

Can you recall some of your stories of happiness when you get what you want?

You wanted that scholarship and you got it; you wanted to learn cooking and you got into a cooking class; you wanted to visit your friend at his house and you bumped into him at the shopping mall etc.  Big or small things can make you feel happy.

Yet when you ask people what make them happy, many of them are tongue-tied.  Some don’t know what they want so they don’t know how to feel happy even when they get them.

Shawn Achor, the American happiness researcher, recommended writing a gratitude journal for 21 days recording 3 new things each day that you are grateful for.  Being mindful of what you want and being deliberate about how you get it will help you experience happiness at a tangible level.

Image result for writing happily“I am grateful that I could study on a scholarship.”

“I am grateful that I can cook green Thai curry.”

“I am grateful that I met my friend at the shopping mall.”

I am already looking forward to tomorrow to record another 3 new things I am grateful for.  The anticipation itself even makes me feel happy as it holds for me the great possibility of getting what I want.

Happiness gives the body a great boost. Endorphins are released into the blood and alter the state of the body. The mood is elevated and the pain is reduced. The body works out a new energy to cope with the challenge. “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” (The Bible, Proverbs 17:22)

HAPPINESS IN MEANING

What if life is not so wonderful and memories are not so fond?  Dr Gilbert’s research revealed that the brain can still manufacture happiness even in unpleasant times.  He quoted the example of Moreese Bickham who was put in prison for 37 years for a crime he didn’t do.  Moreese made an astounding statement, “ I don’t have one minute’s regret.  It was a glorious experience.”   He is not alone.   St James in the Bible (James 1:2-3) says, ‘Is your life full of difficulties? Then be happy,  for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.’ What!  That’s furthest from how an average person would perceive happiness!

Perception is everything! How we view our external world determines our inner world.   Moreese and St James nailed it – their lives are testimonials of research findings that 90% of happiness depends on how you process the external world.

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Events in the external world are sometimes out of our control and if our happiness is controlled by them, then we will always be like a yoyo swinging with each twist.  But if we recognise that there are always alternatives and way-outs in every situation, then we can stay calm and can even be happy.

Work at being excellent in manufacturing positive perceptions.  It’s in the capacity of your brain.  Lead your brain to have a high level of ‘ikigai’, a beautiful Japanese word that means ‘the reason for living.’ We want to wake up every morning with a good reason for living.

In an experiment where people were exposed to 3 minutes of negative news and SOLUTIONS, it was found that they became more creative and not negative at all.  If you need to listen to negative news, do listen to the solutions as well.  Happiness pathways are created as problems become possibilities and walls become doors.

Happy are the problem-solvers for they will inherit happiness!

HAPPINESS IN MIRRORING

Happiness can be perpetuated.  The happiest people are the people who have people to laugh with, to smile at, to talk to.  There is a restaurant in Northbridge in Perth that is called “Pleased to meet you.”  I thought it was a strange name at first but it is slowly warming up to me with its great message.  When you are delighted to see your friends, it’s contagious.  They will be equally pleased to meet you.  We have mirror neurons in our brain that copy the behaviour of people around us. That’s how we brand cultures – that’s a fun-loving bunch; it’s  a friendly country; they are a happy-go-lucky family.

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Rather than waiting for another to smile at you and say hello, be the first one to do so.  You will get a mirror effect that will surprise you.  I had the funniest thing happened to me when I was a young adult.  I lived in an apartment and the lift stopped at every floor.  That day, the lift opened and I saw my elderly neighbour whom we called , ‘Ah Pei’, a respectful word in my Chinese dialect for an older male person.  I must have shocked him with my enthusiastic tone that he mirrored back to me, ‘Ah Pei.’  I had a good laugh after I exited from the lift.

What do you want mirrored to you?  If it’s happiness, then you need to project that image to get its expression.

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Month of July – SPIRITUAL SELF-CARE

There was a perfect lying -down spot on the sofa.   The beautiful sun of Sydney shone through the glass door into the living room.  The piano music from the YouTube album on prayer drifted through the room.

Nudie and Jack were already relaxed and suntanning at their corners.  Nudie is my daughter’s hairless Sphinx cat and Jack is her newly-acquired cat. It was a very beautiful picture of peace. Usually they would be chasing each other’s tail, running and plonking up and down the stairs.

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I was writing and rewriting a script for an upcoming talk.  I was anxiously cancelling and adding notes to the script. The empty space between the two cats called out to me. It was cold where I was; the sofa looked warm and inviting.  It looked like a zone of peace.

I laid down.  The cats didn’t move; they were transfixed by the peaceful presence of the room.  I started to pray. The peace was out of this world; it was beyond words. I entered into a sphere, a special zone of God’s felt presence.

Something happens inside when you pray. One of the ways to exercise spiritual self-care is prayer.

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Prayer is attached to your tranquillity system. When you pray, you release a healthy supply of GABA.  GABA is a tranquillity neurotransmitter that is distributed in the neurons of the brain and the nervous system. It calms you down, it brings perspectives, it vitalises hope. GABA is the braking system in your brain. Without GABA, your brain will go on an activity overdrive and burnout is the outcome of that kind of brain.

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Prayer has the force to change the state of your mind.  An anxious state can be changed into a less anxious state or even a calm state. John Ortberg an author said that a prayerful life experiences inner peace and  contentment.  Dr Catherine Hart another author said that prayer is a critical factor to recovery and well-being.

One of the peace-killers is anxiety. Modern life has many stresses – working for a living, health issues, matters relating to people near to us and dear to us etc. Your brain is designed to cope with stress.  One hormone which helps us cope is cortisol.  It’s a stress hormone produced in the brain.  It’s like an alarm bell in the fire station to tell you that there’s a fire to be put out.  It alerts and rallies the body and brain systems to put out that fire. All is well if the fires are put out.

But sometimes you are so harassed by the cares in your lives that you carry them all and find yourselves anxious about anything and everything. There are just too many fires to put out.  The mind can be so easily cluttered with toxic thoughts and worries.  Anxiety can cause a lack of sleep and a lack of appetite.

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Prayer helps you to unload your anxieties and cares to a personal God, whom you believe is interested in you and attends to you when you are in trouble.

In prayer you see possibilities in problems. One day I was asked to give a talk.  I was quite anxious about the title of the talk.  I prayed before I slept and that prayerful attitude must have been carried into my sleep for me to have a vivid dream that night.  In big letters, the title of my talk flashed out – MAX YOUR POTENTIAL formed with puffy clouds in the sky.

Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist, did some research on prayer and the brain.  He found that prayer activates the parietal lobe. The parietal lobe processes space, touch, vision and language.  When you pray, you enter into the visual space where pictures can be accessed.  One phrase or one picture can change circumstances for you. Philip Yancey, an author and a public speaker said, “Prayer is the act of seeing reality from God’s point of view.”

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Spiritual self-care is a necessary part of life.  When you pray, it’s  like making  deposits into your spiritual bank account.  Your hopes are raised, your anxieties are lowered, your horizons expand, your resources and possibilities multiply. You are the richer for it when you pray!

 

Month of June – RELATIONAL SELF-CARE

With glistening eyes and a pristine voice, actor Ewan McGregor wooed Nicole Kidman with the song,

Love is a many splendoured thing
                                 Love lifts us up where we belong
All you need is love.”

Love is many-splendoured, uplifting and definitely needful in our relationships to give us the most happiness and highest well-being.  It’s great happiness to enjoy connection and chemistry with the people around us. Together, people make magic – love is shared,  ideas are sprouted, feelings flourish, lives are liberated, wounds are healed. Only in a loving community are all these possible.  People tend to be more generous and open when they sense the spirit of the community is a loving one.

That being the case, our relational self care plan is to learn how to love better so that we can create a sense of community and enjoy interpersonal harmony.

How do we go about relating harmoniously? Start telling yourself:

  1. “I love people”

           CAMARADERIE

Image result for Kelly Rowland with SamKelly Rowland in The Voice Australia was saying how camaraderie was formed among the contestants and her colleagues when they were working together to harness the singing talents of Australia.  Camaraderie, the mutual trust and friendship among people, is so needed in our social lives.

To be a friend, show yourself friendly (The Bible, Prov 18:24). When you are friendly, you send signals that you are ready and willing to befriend and develop the relationship. Scientists claimed that we have mirror neurons that help us connect. When someone speaks with a certain accent, we mirror back with a similar accent.  In so doing, we will appear friendlier and seek some form of connection for the relationship to take off. Mirroring can also come in the form of actions.  When our neighbour gives us home-made bread, we give them blueberry tarts.  The more people can mirror accurately and appropriately, the more social exchange can happen.  Love blossoms as a result.

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  1. “I love to help”

           COMPASSION

One trait that distinguishes us from robots is compassion, said Mr Jack Sim, the Founder of World Toilet organisation.  He is the right person to say that because his compassion for people who are not as privileged is admirable.  He raised funds and awareness to build toilets for developing countries.  Compassion is gut-wrenching but Mr Jack Sim goes about doing his charity work with humour and lightheartedness.

Image result for Mr Jack Sim founder of World ToiletWe may not have compassion that reached the United Nations level as Mr Jack Sim has achieved.  But we can show compassion in our own sphere. Doing acts of kindness not only benefit others, it strengthens our immune system, elevates our moods and makes us  likeable.

Ask ourselves frequently, “Who can I show love today?”  Start with small gestures of love.  Ask, ‘What do people around me need?’ I became a psychologist because I realised that people needed a listening ear.  And I couldn’t do much listening when I was a school teacher.  I resigned from the teaching service and started the counselling career in my 40s. My cousin in her 60s, a nursing director, said, ‘  People need help.  And I can still contribute.’  That’s compassion at work and that’s inspiring!

  1. “I love ideas”

           COLLABORATION 

Networking is a buzz word these days. People spend time and efforts to see how they can best come together to produce greater works and better effects. From business to religion to families, it is necessary to collaborate.  Why collaborate? Exponential effect is achieved when there is collaboration.   “One pursues a thousand, two puts ten thousand to flight.” (The Bible, Deut 32:30)  One  Belgian horse can carry 8000 pounds;  two can carry 24000 pounds.  And Belgian horses raised from 2-3 years old can carry 30000 pounds together.

Whatever capacity or opportunity you are given to collaborate, use it. It greatly benefits you and your social world:

  • Change your way of doing things and make it more effective. Writing a blog was as a result of collaboration with my husband.  I write and he teaches me how to publish it on the various media.  I changed the way I do things and it’s making it more fun and far-reaching.
  • Complement others and enhance the work outcomes. I have a friend who is excellent at organising people and another who is very good at making dumplings.  Together with their pastor, they decided to make 200 dumplings to raise funds for Cambodia. But on their own they couldn’t make that many.  They rallied a team to complement them. The support was so overwhelming that they made 500 dumplings in the end.    It was all win that weekend – they exceeded their target, in dumplings and money!
  • Capitalise your strengths as you get the opportunity to keep using your abilities.  People will seek you out when you are good in a skill.  That skill may even be regarded as your signature skill.  What are you good at doing?  Keep capitalising it.  It will bring much happiness to the people around you.

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                                                               “I love ideas”

                                               Ideas sprout via collaboration

 

Month of June – PHYSICAL SELF-CARE

Image result for achieving and healthy peopleMulti-tasking, achieving and excelling, pushing to the limits are all very exciting activities in our lives.  The human body is designed to be the best it can be.   You can move faster, think faster, accelerate more. Perhaps your job or your role in life at this time requires you to be a greater achiever.  Life in the fast lane can be enjoyable and fulfilling.  But there is a need to balance it with lifestyle choices to enhance the energy and to increase positive affect.

Definitely it is more flattering to be enthusiastic, energetic, confident and active than to be alert, fatigued, hurried and devitalised.   As we clocked in time to be involved in work, we also need to have time- out for rest and recovery.  Physical self-care is like the pause between music notes. French poet-philosopher, Paul Valery, wrote, “the pauses between the notes (of a piano piece), ah, that is where the art resides!”  The art of practising good physical self-care will bring great harmony to your life.

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In this blog, I will focus on 2 aspects and 2 activities of physical self-care. One is active and the other is passive.  Active self-care is setting aside time for exercise and movement; passive self-care is taking time to sleep.

ACTIVE SELF-CARE

A large group of people running in a marathon in the middle of a street in Brussels

Recently my friends gave me a Fitbit, a watch that monitors my physical fitness by counting the number of steps I take in a day.  The ideal number of steps is 10000 and the reward of that is fireworks on the watch screen to celebrate the success of a well-moved body.  A small gesture as it is, it has huge motivation for me.  Knowing that I have done the 10000 steps or more makes me feel healthy and lively.

Psychiatrist and author  John Ratey writes that exercise and movement release neurotransmitters into the brain and body that are like a dose of the most important psychiatric medicines. That’s a money saver and a great mental health benefit!  Exercise is indeed good medicine just as laughter is (Proverbs 17:22, the Bible).  It would be interesting to see how exercise can be combined with laughter to give you double potency!

Exercise and movement is beneficial for just about everything – from elevating mood and enhancing energy to recovering from stress and reducing the risk of sicknesses. The emphasis on health has resulted in the popping up of  many fitness clubs and health centres, some of which are 24/7 to cater for people of varying needs. These are great facilities to sign up with, especially with the changing seasons or the preference of specific exercises.  Otherwise, the free parks and walking and cycling tracks are great avenues.  The key is to find one suitable and more accessible facility or activity to be involved in.

Start small, like me, to encourage yourself into the active regime of physical self-care. I started with taking a walk around my neighbourhood and then I went further to the neighbourhood park.  Now I am able to walk up to 3 rounds of the park itself, 7000 steps in all.  Physically I am exercising more and psychologically, I would regard myself as an active person and I definitely feel better.  See how interrelated exercise is to other aspects of yourselves!

Take steps in being active and you will experience changes in your body, mind and emotions.

PASSIVE SELF-CARE

We are programmed to sleep in order to have  optimum well-being.  Each time we hosted people from overseas in our house, the first question I would ask each morning is, ‘Did you sleep well?’  Most times, I get a beaming smile and a positive answer.  In fact, most of them would like to get  even longer sleep if not for the fact that the planned itinerary beckons.

Dr Archibald Hart would recommend a hearty 9 hour sleep if possible.  If that’s not possible (as it is a luxury or an impossibility for many to sleep 9 hours), 7 ½ hours is great. I was in his class in Pasadena and he explained that sleep comes in 1 ½ hour cycles.  With 7 ½ hours, you would have gone through 5 cycles.

Each 1 ½ cycle has restorative and recreating functions.  There’s deep sleep where the fatigued body literally drops into a state of quiet and non-movement and the body does its repairs.  Then there’s the REM sleep where the brain creates dreams and consolidates and files the memories.  This is when the brain is most creative and active, sometimes even solving problems that you don’t have solutions earlier in the day. A healthy 7 ½ hour sleep pattern ensures that you have 5 chances of deep and REM sleep each night.

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This is interesting trivia – crocodiles don’t sleep fully because they have half a brain that sleeps and half a brain that doesn’t. They don’t need safety because they are predators. As predators they need to be alert for survival.  Hopefully as humans, we don’t need to be alert even in our sleep.  God doesn’t sleep, we are told in Psalm 121:4 , the Bible, and perhaps it’s best to let God take care of all your cares whilst you sleep.

Do consult with the professionals if you have a sleeping problem so that you can identify what is keeping you from a good night’s sleep. Good sleep is non-negotiable.  You don’t want to be tired all the time, irritable and grouchy, forgetful and not nice to be around.

Surround yourself with quiet and restful cues to help you get to sleep.  Laptops and TV need to be stowed away, just like when the plane is landing.  When you want to descend to sleep, you need to wind down. All artificial lights need to be switched off so that your brain doesn’t have to light up at every trigger.  Take a warm bath, have a mug of warm beverage; put on your diffuser of lavender essential oil.  Oh yes, if your spouse has a snoring problem, sleep before he or she does! Sleep tight and don’t let the bedbug bite 🙂

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Month of May – MENTAL SELF-CARE

I once gave a talk entitled, ‘Unlock the possibilities – open the front door of your thinking’ and thought the title is a good start to this mental blog.

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The brain is like a house with doors that need keys for access.  Thinking begins in the front part of the brain. When you let yourself in to good and logical reasoning, you enjoy growth and progress.  The world of possibilities open up to you.  This includes the ability to be inventive – to fix something that isn’t working properly.

The trouble with the brain is, like a house, it can be threatened by break-ins.  With any break-ins, the peace is threatened and the property can be destroyed.  It takes time and effort to restore the place to its original order and to be reminded that the place is safe again.  Negative experiences, a lack of support, overwhelming challenges and losses in life are unwelcome intruders but the reality is they do happen in one’s life.  The key is not to let them have unbarred entry into our space.

“The most important things in life

are the thoughts you choose to frame.”

Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor.

“The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness;

But of everyone that is hasty only to want.”

Proverbs 21:5, the Bible

Two things the diligent can do to take care of and thrive in their thoughts:

  1. Tapping therapeutic thoughts

Person in a red shirt and blue hat relaxing in grass near mountainsThoughts that are therapeutic make you feel healthy and hopeful. The more you tap into them, the more dendrites your brain will grow and the more you can think new and therapeutic thoughts.  A penny for your thought – it’s important to know what thoughts you are tapping into!

It’s good practice to think of truthful things and being truthful yourself. Your mind gets nourished when you reflect on promises that are made and kept in good faith. “Considered done when I shake your hands,” someone said the other day.  People like this make you think well of this world especially when the handshake really result in a done deal.  It inspires me to be the person who wants to stay true to my promise, my words, my character. When my motives are pure, my thoughts will be clear and my relationship with people will be sincere.

Think of lovely and admirable things, things that bring good reports.  You can train your mind to attend to things that are worthy of your thought. Therapeutic  thoughts spring from the study of good things. Do tap into therapeutic thoughts and occupy your brain with an exhaustive catalogue of good things.

Image result for think of good thoughtsSpeak and think well of events and people, not gossipping and ruminating. Remind yourself of dwelling on the strengths and goodness of people and the joy of hanging out with them.  Remember the times of hospitality where you have been well-treated, not the rude and obnoxious service.  And talk about the excellence of the multiple good treatment you received, not repeat and repeat the old story of how your food didn’t come on time.  Reflect on lovable, pleasing, auspicious things and people often.  Read affirming and life-changing books like autobiographies, sacred writings etc. Your brain needs such input to thrive.

Think therapeutically consistently. New healthy thoughts can be cultivated.  You will grow to like your thoughts and enjoy life better.

  1. Terminating toxic thoughts

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Any thought is toxic when it sabotages you from experiencing peace and happiness.  Especially destructive are thought patterns that are conditioned because of your past or by choice and habit. They break in to your mind and cause you to be discouraged.

Be aware of the break-ins toxic thought patterns can cost you in your quality of life. Imagine yourself predicting the scenarios to come to these conclusions:

“ People are staring at me.” “I feel inadequate.” “I feel the pressure to perform.”

 “I am going to get fired.” “  I am a bad worker.” “I will never get a job.”

You will be insecure in your job and personal life if you let these thoughts run wild and form negative associations.

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‘Take no thought’ (TNT) is a good way to terminate toxic thinking. The more weight you give to toxic thinking, the more they will affect you negatively.

Toxic thinking sometimes amplify the effect to make you worried and exasperated.  Bring it down to size or give it a reality check so that the thought doesn’t overwhelm you:

“People stare at me. They mean no harm; they are curious, not cruel; they are interested, not judgemental.”

“I am not fired yet!”

“But if I do get fired,  there may be other reasons besides I being a bad worker. I can find that out.”
“ It doesn’t mean I will not get another job.  That’s overgeneralising.  It’s not the most pleasant feeling to be out of job but it’s not the end of the world.”

After having rationalised the situation and seeing realistic perspectives, take no thought (TNT) about it. Terminate it! Change the way you think about toxic situations. “ It’s too hard,” you may say.  But what are the advantages of hanging on to  gloom and doom thinking? Probably none.  It’s better to postpone the worry till the actual situation happens and then deal with it.  Sometimes the imagined situation doesn’t even come!

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When it’s time for caterpillars to spin a chrysalis, some of them would resist and try and cling on to their larval life.  As a result, they won’t spin a cocoon till the following year.  This state of clinging is called diapause, a period of suspended development.  Holding on to what is familiar  deprives the caterpillar of the potential of reproduction.

Responses to toxic thoughts can be very automatic conditioned by many years of repetition.  Clinging on to the old patterns seems easier to do but it can result in a delay of possibilities.  For your optimum mental self-care — Unlock all possibilities – open the front door of your thinking!

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Month of May – EMOTIONAL SELF-CARE

Good emotional self-care brings about what I call ‘The Hydrangea Effect.’  Hydrangeas change their colours when you change their soil.  Pink blossoms become blue when you put aluminium sulfate in the soil. The acidity of the soil dramatically changes the colour of the hydrangeas.

Violet and pink hydrangea flowers in two white vases

When you put the right ingredients into the soil of your heart, you change the colour of your world of emotions.  You can be the emotionally healthy and intelligent person.  You don’t have to alienate yourself and you don’t have to be an emotional wreck.

Emotions are beautiful like the blues and pinks of the hydrangeas.  It’s great to feel happy, loved and surprised!  To be in touch with your emotions is to be human.  But perhaps you have been taught that feelings are unreliable and therefore not to be trusted.  And you disallow yourself to feel deeply and miss out on the greater meaning of life. You can change the way you approach emotions particularly those of anger, sadness and fear; you can bring colour to your world.

  1. READ YOUR EMOTIONS

All emotions have a message.  An event or certain people could have evoked that emotion.  You can read your emotions by describing the event.

Emotions            Describing the event

Happy                  I am happy that you came and spent time with us.

Love                     I cook a good meal for my children.

Surprise               I am surprised that I enjoyed that movie.

Emotions in your thoughts

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Your emotion has a thought attached to it. Your thoughts determine the quality of your emotion.

Thinking well of the guest that visited you makes you happy. Thoughts of cooking a nutritious meal for your children make you feel like a loving parent. The idea that you can be touched by a movie that you are open to gives you a greater thrill.  These thoughts give rise to the emotions of happiness, love and surprise.

However if you think badly of events in your life, you can feel badly towards them. These are like scripts in your head for example,  “The guest was all out to take advantage of my hospitality”, “the children are so demanding and want to be fed often”, “ I never like true story movies and will definitely not enjoy them.”  Thinking like this might make you feel angry, resentful and closed up.

Imagine your emotional world if you allow negative thoughts to occupy it most of the time:

“I am a mistake and a burden.”

“I am worthless and only feel Ok when I am approved by some people.”

“I don’t have the right to enjoy myself or to say what I think.”

“My value is based on my intelligence and education and not for who I am.”

Emotions on your face

Image result for face expressionsYour face is the quickest place to reflect your emotions.  The Bible in Proverbs 15:13 writes, “A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.” If you want news of the heart, ask the face. Happy heart, happy face!

When you are happy, your happy hormones or endorphins are activated and your face lights up.  When you smile or laugh, others will join you as you mirror one another’s behaviour.  Behaviour is contagious! And your face is the most accessible mirror of your emotions.

Sometimes a confusing signal is sent in the face.  You are happy but you don’t want to show it evidently for a myriad of reasons.  The recent Volkswagen advertisement showed a boy who had an ecstatic experience in a Volkswagen but he wanted to be cool and didn’t want to reveal his true feelings.  He put on an ‘It’s ok’ face. In a sense, this is not being honest in your emotions.  Emotional dishonesty can have low risk, medium risk and high risk effects.

A public speaker said something I found amusing, “My face is not so loving.  Don’t worry.  It’s only a face.  I am still working at it.”  Work we must at our face, at our thoughts – not just reading the emotions but also in REGULATING them.

  1. REGULATE YOUR EMOTIONS

Your emotions need to be regulated so that they can operate properly.  When emotions are well-regulated, you sleep deeper, you socialise better, you think and feel fresher.

Change your thoughts

You can change your thoughts about events and people so that your emotions are more controlled.

You may be angry at a person because of your angry thoughts about him for example,  “ I am so angry that the husband behaves so badly towards his wife.” Rather than letting your blood pressure go up by this observation, get another perspective. Tell yourself that you don’t have the full picture of this couple;  you don’t know them enough to get so uptight.  Many things in life can trigger anger in you.  You need to get better in seeing new and peaceful perspectives

When you felt embarrassed about your skiing skills, rather than keep comparing yourself with others and feeling miserable, think of more constructive ways to improve yourself – take up skiing lessons, tell yourself you are only having fun and you are not taking skiing as a serious sport, stop looking at others and downplaying yourself etc.

A big part of the brain is designed to deal with the regulation of emotions. The limbic system releases hormones to stimulate or inhibit your emotions; it draws from your long term memory to help you deal with the present emotion and then form new memories with it.

Change your input

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Download good scripts into your brain so that your limbic system can churn out good feelings and store positive memories.  Affirm yourself,

“I regard myself highly and respectfully despite my imperfections.”

“It’s good that I exist”

“ God loves me and has an unique plan for me”

“I can be confident, secure and joyful.”

Say it as you believe it.  You are putting good nutrients in the soil of your heart. And look out for the Hydrangea Effect!