Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

I’m Running Myself Into The Ground and Trying Not To Burn Out – Denise Li

Denise has been busy lately. Very busy. And she’s trying very hard to keep her shit together …

Everyone’s busy. In that respect, I don’t think I am that special. When was the last time you heard someone say, “Oh things are peachy at work. My boss doesn’t care what I do, and I get to leave the office at 5.30pm every day!” I’m guessing, probably never.

I’ve been busy for, like, the past four years of my life, but never like this. Not only am I working on four projects concurrently for work, I’m training for a boxing fight taking place on April 4. Since the fight date was confirmed about a month ago, I’ve been trying to clock 10 hours of training every week (up from the usual three or four), and to say that it’s been taking its toll is kind of an understatement.

My day typically looks like this:

8.30am: Arrive in the office. Work on writing projects

11am: Meeting with client

12.30pm: Lunchtime training

2.30pm: Meetings or back in the office to write some more

5.30pm: Leave office for 6.30pm training

8pm: Leave training to go back to the office to write

10.45pm: Leave office for home to Skype

1am: Hit the sack


For the first two weeks of this schedule, it felt kinda exhilarating. Though tiring, I haven’t experienced such mental focus, like, ever. Knowing that I’m due for training or client meeting in the day makes me very productive in the office – I no longer muck around on social media or online shopping sites. I learnt to set realistic daily goals for getting work done. I sit down at my work station and do what I have to do.

Sometimes I’m so busy that I get annoyed if I have to use the washroom – which is another level of psychotic for even someone who suffers from a mild anxiety disorder.

Weekends are not spared either; though I usually give myself a break from work and training on Saturday, I’m back at it again on Sunday. I head into the office at around 11am, work till 2.30pm, and I leave to train in the afternoon.

Over this weekend, though, it all hit me. Hard. I felt completely drained. So while I still did work yesterday (Sunday), I took a day off training.

While I love my newfound sense of focus, something has had to give. Lately, I’ve been finding myself extremely on edge. Because I carefully and rigorously plan my time each and every day, I get edgy and bad-tempered whenever someone inadvertently “fools around” with my schedule, either by arriving late for a meeting, or if an event drags on past its starting time without showing any signs of, well, starting. I am filled with silent rage every time I just miss my bus or if I’m stuck in traffic in a cab.


My world feels like it’d fall apart whenever I’m not “on schedule”, and I hate this monster that I morph into whenever that happens. I’m usually a super chill person so acknowledging this Hyde side of my personality has been kinda scary.

The last thing I want is to annoy people or have them walk on eggshells around me, so I’ve decided to start putting measures in place to save my sanity. Here’s what I plan to do.

1. Add in another 15 minutes to half hour for meetings 

Other than incessantly texting them, there is little I can do if someone is going to be late. While I really hope that the people I’m meeting can be more respectful of my time, it’s not gonna do me or the person any good if I’m going to flip out in front of them. What I CAN do is assume I’ll be delayed and consider it a bonus if the meeting ends earlier than expected.

2. Schedule in guilt-free Me-time

Seems obvious, but lately I’ve been finding myself thinking about work even after I get home after a long day of training and being in the office. I need to be able to do something – anything! Spend an hour alone with my Kindle, or whatever – to switch off from work/training for at least an hour a day. I will turn off my phone during this hour so I won’t have to tend to a neverending stream of Whatsapp messages or Facebook notifications. And that brings me to my next point …

3. I will practise mindfulness as much as possible

The mindfulness movement has been gaining traction in the recent year, and I think they’re really onto something. Mindfulness is essentially a state of mind where you are full engaged in the present moment, rather than being distracted by the past or present. I think I’ve been practising mindfulness quite well where work or training is concerned. Admittedly, I am a lot less mindful and a lot more “absent” in other areas of my life, such as when I Skype with Alain (sorry, babe). He can immediately tell if I’m worried about work, and though he doesn’t guilt-trip me for it, him noticing it makes me feel really guilty. Clearly, he deserves my full and unadulterated attention in the half hour a day when we’re on Skype, and that’s what I plan to give him from here on out.

I know I’m probably not the only one feeling like I’m constantly running just to stay in one place; I’m always amazed at how our Material Moms do it, juggling a full-time job, taking care of stuff at home, and tending to their kids. Even with a helper and a husband willing to chip in, it’s still a sizeable burden to deal with.

At least I can look forward to a break from training after my competition is done and dusted in three weeks. Those of you who are similarly busy: who do you do it without losing your shit? I could really use your help here!

About the Author: Denise Li is a founder of Material World and a freelance writer-editor. Before that, she spent a few years in the Features section of CLEO and Cosmopolitan Singapore. She considers Chiang Mai her spiritual home and makes it a point to head there for a yearly pilgrimage. She’s also a fitness buff and enjoys boxing, running and the occasional yoga session. Follow her on Twitter @DeniseLiTweets.

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Opinions, Vanessa Tai

Going Public With Your Feelings – Vanessa Tai

By now, you’ve probably read about Nicole Seah’s public confession on Facebook. The 27-year-old, who gained public fame during the General Elections 2011, wrote candidly about how 2013 was the worst year of her life. In her post, Seah talked about how she was burned out trying to juggle a full-time job with regular house visits and walkabouts, about receiving death and rape threats, and even suffering a physical panic attack. It was not all doom and gloom, thankfully. She rounded off her post with reflections on what she has learned along the way.

The reason why we tend to hold back from saying what we really feel.

The reason why we tend to hold back from saying what we really feel.

While a handful of cynics have dismissed this post as self-indulgent or even a carefully calculated political move, an overwhelming number of netizens have come forward to laud what they deem as “brave,” and “genuine”.

I belong in the latter group. Even if Seah had political intentions for posting this up, it was still a risk that she was taking. She was putting her reputation on the line, and it could easily have backfired. Supporters and would-be supporters of the National Solidarity Party (the party which she’s a member of) may have second thoughts about whether she’s mature or emotionally stable enough to run for political office. On the contrary, almost everyone who commented on the post or news of the post were thanking Seah for her honesty, encouraging her to keep going and, telling her she’s an inspiration.

Wise words.

Wise words.

Even if we are not in the public eye, it can still be difficult to talk about how we really feel or about the struggles that we face in our daily lives. I reckon this is especially so in the age of social media, where everybody tries to present their best (read: happy and successful) side. Whenever something upsets us, we have a tendency to try and get better as soon as possible. This emotional perfectionism leads us to think we always have to be rational and in control of our feelings all the time. Feelings of anger, sadness or anxiety are seen as being weak or vulnerable, as you may be afraid that you’ll get rejected or belittled if people knew how you really felt.

Opening up to a trusted confidante can speed up the healing process.

Opening up to a trusted confidante can speed up the healing process.

But the fact is, everybody goes through problems. (Yes, even those people with the perfect Insta-filtered photos!) Trying to put on a brave smile and sweeping your emotions under a rug is just going to make things worse in the long run. While you don’t have to take the Nicole Seah route and publish a public confession, it can definitely be cathartic opening up to a trusted friend or family member. In fact, research has shown that when you seek support from others during stressful situations, your body actually produces more oxytocin, also known as “the cuddle hormone”. What this means is, reaching out to others during stressful periods can improve your stress response and you actually recover faster from stress.

When you’re going through a rough patch, the first step to feeling better is to acknowledge your feelings. From there, you can identify the source of your feelings and let yourself feel the full extent of your emotions. If it makes you feel better, cry. Once you’ve unstuck those emotions and let them run its full course, you will be ready to pick yourself up and move on. In fact, I daresay you’ll be stronger and more resilient than before!

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. She’s guilty of the occasional bout of emotional perfectionism. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets

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Character & Soul, Health & Fitness, Self-Improvement, Wellbeing

Gain Strength From Stress – Vanessa Tai

material world singapore_stress woman

As you’re reading this, you’re probably going through some sort of stress. Whether it’s your boss chasing you on a project deadline or your mounting credit card bills, stress is part and parcel of everyday life. In fact, just thinking about stress may cause us to feel even more stressed out. That’s because we know the harmful effects that stress can cause – it lowers your immunity and increases the risk of everything from the common cold to cardiovascular disease.

However, I recently watched a fascinating TED talk about stress, and the points brought up by the speaker inspired me to see stress in a whole new light. I’ll like to share the pertinent points with you, here:

It’s not stress per se that is harmful; it’s how you think about stress that makes a difference

In an eight-year study that tracked 30,000 adults in the United States, the researchers asked participants, “How much stress have you experienced in the last year?” They also asked, “Do you believe stress is harmful for your health?” Here’s what the study found:

1. People who experienced a lot of stress in the previous year had a 43 percent increased risk of dying. However, this was only true for the people who believed stress was harmful to one’s health.

2. People who experienced a lot of stress but did not view stress as harmful had the lowest risk of dying of anyone in the study, including people who had relatively little stress.

What this tells us is, it’s not the experience of stress that increases our risk of chronic illnesses, but our attitude towards it. Why?

Our minds influence our biology

Ever notice the physical changes your body goes through during stressful situations, say right before an important presentation or during your annual performance review? Your heart is pounding wildly, you might be breathing faster or you might even be breaking out in sweat. All these physical signs are usually interpreted as anxiety, or that we aren’t coping well with the pressure. But what if you changed the way you thought about these physical manifestations? Your pounding heart is gearing you up for action and your rapid breathing is sending more oxygen to your brain.

That was exactly what participants in a recent social study on stress were instructed to do. The results were astounding.

Participants who learned to view their stress response as helpful to their performance reported feeling less anxious and more confident, but that’s not all. Their blood vessels also stayed relaxed! In a typical stress response, your heart rate goes up and your blood vessels constrict, which is one of the reasons why chronic stress is sometimes linked to cardiovascular disease.

material world singapore_blood vessels

So, by viewing their stress response in a positive light, these participants were actually exhibiting a much healthier cardiovascular profile. In fact, it actually looks a lot like what happens in moments of joy and courage!

material world singapore_stress quoteHow to change the way you think about stress

The next time you experience the physical signs of anxiety – a pounding heart, rapid breathing, etc – tell yourself, “This is my body helping me to rise to the challenge.” You’ll start to view your situation differently. Instead of the situation being an unscalable mountain, it becomes a challenge that you’re well-equipped to take on.

I’m not sure about you, but I found this incredibly empowering. It definitely changed the way how I view stressful triggers in my life, and I hope it does for you too.

To watch the entire TED talk, click here.

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Body News, Health & Fitness, Infographics, Wellbeing

“Stop Being Such A Miserable Git!” – Deborah Tan

In my boyfriend's eyes, I'm THIS in the morning

In my boyfriend’s eyes, I’m THIS in the morning

“Stop being so miserable!”

My boyfriend has this annoying habit of saying this to me every morning. If you are NOT a morning-person, you will totally understand why it is so, so challenging trying to get up and get going in the AM.

My routine is something like this: I wake up, I crawl out of bed, use the toilet, crawl to my work table, turn on the computer, and work. I try not to talk, drink, eat or smile until 12 noon.

This anti-social behaviour in the morning is a source of amusement to the boyfriend who calls me a whole host of names like “Miserable Git”, “Miserable Guts”, “Tim Curry” (see pic on right), whatever. If attempts at wisecracks and lame jokes do not get me smiling (he has a 100% failure rate so far), he would proceed to irritate me, doing things like trying to hug me (if he’s sweaty from a run), or nagging me about some random unwashed cup in the sink.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not like my pathetic behaviour at all. In fact, I do want to wake up feeling like sunshine, radiating more joy and happiness than Smurfette on LSD. I just can’t. Why?

Reason No. 1: I don’t sleep well
For two days now, I have been falling asleep at 4am. When I do sleep, it is mostly a dreamless one. I wake up feeling (and looking) like something the dog dragged in. Stress has a huge role to play in this inability to sleep. The busier I get, the less I’m able to sleep. The less I’m able to sleep, the more miserable I am in the morning.

Reason No. 2: I’m severely dehydrated
Water makes up a majority of our blood. When we are dehydrated, blood thickens, forcing the heart to pump harder, resulting in fatigue. Fluids are also needed to carry energy-boosting nutrients to the brain and other organs in the body. This is where I will admit that I take horrible care of myself. When I work, I don’t eat, I don’t drink. Then at night, I drink a glass before bed, and have to wake up in the middle of the night to use the loo. If I don’t drink water, I wake up the next morning feeling sluggish and lethargic. Don’t ask me why I do this to myself.

Reason No. 3: My body is protesting
As if it isn’t bad enough that I don’t eat regularly, I don’t eat well. The mental and physical stress I put myself through should mean I need to eat even more healthily. Despite this abysmal attitude towards food, I continue to train for my half-marathon, continue to push myself to meet my deadlines, continue to be everything to everyone. Is it any wonder then that my joints are always hurting, that my muscles are always stiff and sore?

I’m sick of feeling less than 100% in the morning. So I’m hereby declaring my resolve to become healthier and happier. For starters, these are what I’ll aim to do every day from now on:

1. Drink a huge glass of water the moment I wake up
2. Pop my fish oil and Vitamin E & B supplements before going to bed
3. Sleep promptly at 11pm every night (no excuses!)
4. Get a handle on my stress levels. PRONTO

This infographic (taken from provides a really great insight into how stress at work can badly affect a person’s health in so many ways. But ladies, you know what I really want? I want to know how you are affected by stress. So if you are game enough, please click here to take a survey. The results will be presented in an infographic in early-November. I want to find out how you deal with stress, what stresses you out the most, and WHO stresses you out the most. Meanwhile, enjoy this one:

Taken from

Taken from

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits and has recently taken up baking to help her cope with her stress. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.

Character & Soul, Deborah Tan, Opinions, Self-Improvement

Stop Telling Me To Unplug! – Deborah Tan

I'm only bright when I'm plugged in!

I’m only bright when I’m plugged in!

I don’t know about you but with every article I read about “unplugging”, about “not working so hard”, about “being mindful of your free time” … I get more and more offended. Excuse me, successful people, but I believe once upon a time, you were all probably chained to your desk and buried in work! How is it possible to be as successful as you are if I were to work only 4 hours a day (yep, I’m not a fan of “The 4-Hour Workweek” as you can see)?

Perhaps with luck and sheer ingenuity, it is possible to work very little and still be rich beyond your wildest dreams. Perhaps with angel investors and rich relatives, it is possible to hire an army to help you look after your budding business so you can “unplug”.

I think it is hypocritical of successful people to go about dishing out advice, telling people that they take life easy, that they enjoy their Sundays by not checking Facebook, that they make it a point to not do anything work-related while on vacation. I think it is insulting my intelligence when a rich person say working hard is not the be all and end all of great entrepreneurial success. I think it is rude for those who have made it to say, “Success is not defined by money and power.”

Let’s Be Brutally Honest, Shall We?

The reason why we all work so hard is because we want to get promoted. We want to get promoted because we want the bigger paycheque that comes with it. While we may not be happy, while we may not be healthy, we are rewarded with something tangible. For most of us mere mortals, possessing spending power is one way of seeing success. Shallow? Yes. But you cannot deny it is the TRUTH. Don’t tell me footballers don’t give a shit about their insane paycheques. If so, why don’t they just donate ALL their money to charities instead of buying gorgeous houses and expensive sportscars? Don’t tell me that CEOs don’t give a shit about profits and bonuses. If so, why don’t CEOs just take home a $5,000 paycheque?

Money is important and, having a lot of it does not give you the right to tell the rest of us that “there’s more to life than money.”

How We Make Our Money

Why, by working, of course! In this day and age, work is omnipresent. It’s an undeniable fact. It doesn’t mean I live to work. It just means work is unavoidable. When you are a boss running a company of 1,000, of course it’s okay for you to “unplug” and fly off to the Bahamas for a holiday. When you are one of the 1,000 minions employed to keep the boss’ company running, DO YOU THINK YOU CAN “UNPLUG”? Of course not! Let’s be real. Let’s face it. “Unplugging” is a luxury not many of us can afford! When I was an editor, I checked my magazine’s Facebook Page at 3am to make sure people don’t leave spammy messages on my Wall. Now that I’m running my own business, I check my Facebook Page every six and half minutes to ensure people are continuously giving a damn about what’s going on at my website. It is NOT possible to unplug unless you have someone else plugged in on your behalf. I’m sorry but to ask me to unplug is to ask me to NOT give a shit about my business … and … HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO BE SUCCESSFUL IF MY BUSINESS WERE TO LOSE TOUCH WITH MY CUSTOMERS?

When I unplug, my life goes into a tangle.

When I unplug, my life goes into a tangle.

Don’t Tell Me These Don’t Matter

Success, money and power. The dream tripartite every entrepreneur wishes to achieve. The thing is … we want them FIRST before we do a Bill Gates and give it all away to the less fortunate. When a businessperson has success, money, and power, I think it is incredibly rude to go, “Look at me, I used to be rich, but I was soooo unhappy. Now, I am the chairperson of a humanitarian organisation … and my life is sooooooo much better.” Hey, I think you forgot to mention that your house is fully paid for, that you have a huge trust fund set up to give you a comfortable allowance every month for the rest of your life, and that your best-selling self-help book is still bringing in huge royalties. Yes. While I would love to go into world-changing philanthropy work in Africa for good, my bank manager isn’t being very supportive at the moment. So money and power do matter.

The Hard Life For Now

Until the day we achieve success, money and power, it is safe to say that we are in for the HARD LIFE. A life of working past 6pm, a life of working on weekends, a life of checking emails at night and on vacation, a life of doing business calls at family dinners, a life of Facebooking at 4am, and a life of telling clients, “No … you are not getting me at a bad time. How can I help you?”

It is not depressing – mind you. I love my work, I love what I do, and I cherish every minute of a life led fully and fruitfully. I am passionate about my work but it doesn’t mean my loved ones are being cast aside. I may work while I’m on vacation but it doesn’t mean I’m losing my sanity. Facebook may be the first thing I look at when I wake up in the morning but it doesn’t mean the quality of my sleep is any worse. I exercise, I hang out with friends, I watch TV, and I still do the things I love.

The only thing I don’t do is … UNPLUG. And I really don’t think I’m being shortchanged by life here or that my life is soooo tragic.

Until I make the kind of money I want to make, until I get to where I want in life … I am not UNPLUGGING.

And I refuse to let anyone (successful or not) guilt-trip me about it.

About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, and Suits. She updates two blogs, three Twitter accounts, three Facebook Pages, one Pinterest account and two Instagram accounts every day. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.


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Family, Lifestyle, Relationships

4 Gift Ideas For Father’s Day – Vanessa Tai

In case you’ve forgotten, Father’s Day is this Sunday! Before you rush to buy Dad yet another tie, check out these fab gift ideas.

1. Grohe Power & Soul Shower Head

Grohe Pacific - Power&Soul Mood 1

If your father works long hours and often complains about having tension headaches, gift him with a Grohe Power & Soul shower head. Designed to offer therapeutic results, the Jet Spray is a welcome relief for tense muscles. Grohe Power & Soul shower heads is available from $250 at Grohe Spa Boutique, #03-333 Marina Square, Tel: 6338 4352

2. Nederburg Heritage Heroes Wine


Does your dad fancy himself as a wine connoisseur? If so, he’ll appreciate this limited-edition range of wines from South African wine producer, Nederburg. These handmade, artisan wines are made with the finest blend of grapes and come in four variants – two reds and two whites. Look out for the wood-fermented sauvignon blanc, The Young Air Hawk, which is less fruity than regular white wines and has a richly nuanced flavour. Nederburg Heritage Heroes Wine is available from $39 at DFS. 

3. +Rehab London Skincare


Whether your dad is still a “soap-and-water” kind of guy or has been known to nick Mum’s skincare products, he’ll appreciate having a skincare set all to himself. +Rehab London was created specifically for modern men and carries just six fuss-free, easy-to-use products. We reckon your dad will love Men’s Scrub Up Daily Detox, a two-in-one exfoliating facial cleanser that’s refreshing and leaves him feeling clean and polished. +Rehab products are available from $24.95 at all Beauty Horizon or Beauty by Nature outlets, or online at (Delivery takes 3 working days.)

4. Roast Beef Tenderloin at Balzac Brasserie

Roasted Beef Tenderloin

After a long week of work, there’s probably nothing Dad likes more than kicking back with a hearty meal of meat and potatoes. This Father’s Day, award-winning chef Jean-Charles Dubois has created the perfect meal for hungry dads. A generous slab of Roasted Beef Tenderloin topped with French Morel Mushroom sauce and Potato Truffle Gratin Dauphinois. Yum! To further sweeten the deal, all dads also enjoy a complementary house red or white. Available for lunch and dinner on 15 and 16 June. For reservations, call 6336 0797 or email 

About The Author: Vanessa Tai is a founder of Material World who has previously worked on magazines Simply Her and Cosmopolitan Singapore. Now a freelance writer and a full-time contributor to this website, the 26-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. She’s also an unabashed Daddy’s girl. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets