Adventures, Lifestyle

3 Ways To Go On Vacation Without Leaving The Country – Vanessa Tai

Short of going for a full-fledged staycation, are there ways to declutter your mind and experience the benefits of a vacation? Yes, says Vanessa Tai. You just need a little ingénue. 

Living in Singapore can be highly stressful. That’s part and parcel of living in a densely-populated, highly competitive city like ours. In a 2013 poll conducted by the Health Promotion Board, one in four workers admitted to being “highly stressed”. While it would be dreamy to book a flight and go for a short getaway whenever the stress levels get too high, we all know that’s not always financially viable. The next best option would be a staycation but even that can be expensive, especially on weekends.

So how can you feel like you’re on holiday while still in Singapore?

material world_relax

Here are three suggestions:

1. Check out obscure cafes or attractions in the suburbs

A few days before your “vacation”, post a status update on Facebook asking your friends to recommend cool or lesser-known cafes in their neighbourhood. Apart from the usual hipster districts like Tiong Bahru or Ann Siang Hill, there are actually plenty of hidden gems dotted all around the island. For example, Denise and her fiance once managed to entertain themselves for an entire weekend in the unassuming Jalan Besar neighbourhood!

2. Go for a photography or hiking trail

This is one of the best ways to go off the beaten track. Because aspiring shutterbugs and trekkers alike are always on the lookout for new and exciting places to explore, you may just find yourself in previously undiscovered settings. Deborah, Lili, and I used to go for regular night hikes where we ventured into muggy forests, monsoon drains, abandoned railway tracks … all in the dead of the night! Check out Meetup.com to find likeminded individuals.

3. Have a picnic

Sounds simple, but when was the last time you actually packed a picnic basket and whiled away an entire afternoon? To make things a bit more fun, don’t cop out and just get takeaway fast food. Plan ahead and pack a basketful of fruit, bread, sandwich meats and of course, a good bottle of wine. From there, all you need is a picnic mat and an iPod full of your favourite tunes, and you’re set. To avoid the crowds that tend to throng the beach or places like Marina Barrage on weekends, see if you can take a weekday afternoon off. Then, simply enjoy that brief but sweet respite.

Do you have any other suggestions on how to temporarily escape the madness of the rat race? Tell me in the Comments section below!

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 27-year-old dreams of attending every single major music festival before she turns 30. Follow her on Twitter @VannTaiTweets.

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Character & Soul, Self-Improvement

The Truth About Mental Wellness – Vanessa Tai

Mental illness is not something most people talk about openly. If we’re honest with ourselves, the thought of being mentally ill frightens us. However, as our lives become more hectic and stressful, mental illness becomes a growing public concern. As much as we try to keep physically fit, it’s also important to maintain our mental wellness. 

According to statistics from the Institute of Mental Health, one in 17 people in Singapore have suffered from Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) at least once in their lives. Also known as clinical depression, MDD is a mental disorder that’s characterised by a persistent low mood, coupled with low self-worth and a loss of interest in normally enjoyable activities.

Depression affects at least 102,000 adult women in Singapore.

Depression affects at least 102,000 adult women in Singapore.

While professional help is readily on-hand, not many people reach out for assistance, and understandably so. Many are worried about the stigma attached to mental illness, and about the implications it might have on their job security or relationships. However, it’s heartening to note that more people are stepping out to lend a positive voice to those suffering from mental illness. One such cause is Silver Ribbon (Singapore), a group which organises talks, workshops and events to help raise awareness about mental wellbeing.

Individuals are also stepping out to share their story. In September 2013, Pangdemonium Productions staged a drama-musical, Next To Normal, which tells the story of a family grappling with the mother’s bipolar disorder and schizophrenic hallucinations. In the program bill, there were excerpts of interviews with Singaporeans living with mental illness. As I read the interviews, it moved me that they were so forthcoming with their experiences.

Recently, in December 2013, I ran into an old friend, Amy. I was surprised (and touched) when she opened up to me about her experience with bipolar disorder. While she’s chosen not to reveal her real name this time, Amy hopes her story will give fellow sufferers the courage to seek help, and shake off any stigma that people may have of mental illness sufferers.

What is bipolar disorder, and how were you diagnosed?

“People who have bipolar disorder would experience manic episodes (being unable to sleep, racing thoughts, slurred speech) followed by bouts of depression (very moody, suicidal thoughts, no desire to do anything).

In April 2011, my mother passed away suddenly, just before my final exams. I think the shock of it triggered my disorder. During the funeral, I was already behaving weirdly, telling my relatives that I have supernatural powers. A few days after the funeral, I was studying at the school library when the security guards informed me they had to close up for the day. I became hysterical, and caused a scene by shouting and running away from them, and rolling on the floor. The security guards called the ambulance, and I was brought to Singapore General Hospital (SGH) where I was warded for a week. But because there is no psychiatric ward in SGH, I had to be strapped to my bed and was on constant supervision. I had to use a bedpan, and wasn’t even allowed to wash my hands! Instead, the nurses would give me hand sanitiser. A week later, I was sent to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.”

Share with us what your experience with bipolar is like.  

“Actually, there are signs before a relapse. I will be unable to sleep, even though everyone around me can tell I’m very tired. Somehow, my brain refuses to shut down. When this happens, the correct action to take is to admit myself into hospital as soon as possible, or get my medication adjusted. Back then, I didn’t know how to handle it well as I was worried about being admitted back to hospital, away from my friends and family.

I had my first relapse in December 2012. It got to a point where I felt I was losing the conscious part of my mind – there was once where I dashed across the road, without even realising that the traffic was still moving. It was only when the cars started honking that I snapped back to reality. One way to describe it – it’s like when you’re drunk and you know whatever you’re doing is wrong, but you can’t stop yourself. Now, I’ve come to accept that relapses are part and parcel of illness, and I just have to manage it before it becomes full-blown.”

Did your diagnosis affect your relationships with the people around you?

“Most of my friends and family members were very understanding, especially when I explained to them about my condition. However, it affected my relationship with my then-boss. At that time, I was going through the signs prior to a relapse, but I didn’t know it. I was frequently sending him all sorts of texts and emails late into the night, as I couldn’t sleep and was worried about a big project we were working on. After a while, he took me off the project and relegated me to a job with less responsibilities. Eventually, I quit.”

How do you keep yourself mentally fit these days?

“I try my best to stick to a fixed routine – sleeping a certain number of hours, and making sure I take my medication at a fixed time. I also try to exercise at least once a week, and spend time with my friends, who’ve been very supportive throughout. I’m now running my own company, but I try not to stress myself out too much about work. After all, there’s no such thing as a stress-free job; I just need to learn how to better manage my stress.

I hope that my experience helps people understand mental illness better. It’s not something to be afraid of, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help. In fact, you should reach out for help. The earlier treatment starts, the better.”

The Institute of Mental Health has also come up with 10 tips to maintain your mental wellbeing. Print this out and paste it on your desk, mirror, or anywhere you can see it often. 

material world_mental wellbeing

If you know of anyone who might need help, call the Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline at 1800 283 7019, or visit their website 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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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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