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A student's guide to losing weight - Part 2

A student's guide to losing weight - Part 2

In part 1 of the weight loss series, we covered some general guidelines for losing weight. Now, let us delve into the specifics.

1. Change your diet

Reduce the carbs you eat. Studies have shown that low carb diets can help you lose weight and improve your health. But if you reduce carbs, surely you must increase your intake in other areas? What? —that is the question.

Some people increase their fats intake. Sounds counterintuitive? Well, there are some research out there that suggests that high fat diets trigger fat burning in your body(ketosis), resulting in weight loss. However, though true, a high fat diet also comes with its own associated health problems, such as an increased likelihood of having heart disease. My suggestion? Up your protein intake. A diet high in protein helps you to feel fuller, and allows you to eat more food than you possibly can in a high fat diet.

The jury is still out on what is the best diet for weight loss. When in doubt, eat in moderation, in accordance with what the Health Promotion Board suggests.

And avoid the following list of foods.

Foods to avoid

  • Sugar: ice cream, soft drinks, fruit juices (without the fibre, they are nature’s coke), candies, ketchup
     
  • Trans fats: margarine
     
  • Highly processed foods: bacon (too much saturated fats and sodium), instant noodles (aka packaged death-wish)

2. But don’t do something you cannot do in the long term

For me, it’s dieting.

A few weeks back, while surfing mindlessly on the Internet, I saw this Khloe Kardashian backed diet— ominously named the military diet—and because it promised to help me lose 3kg in 3 days, I gave it a try. As with all diets, the portion is small, and for the most part, healthy. To keep an accurate record of how effective the diet is, I stepped onto the weighing scale every day and kept a record of my weight.

The first day, I was a carrot-munching, apple-crunching devotee of the diet. Weight on the first day: 50.4kg. Fast forward to the second day… 49.50kg. I know I shouldn’t let a number define me, but for the few seconds I was on the weighing scale, I was happy.

But lunch came. And I wasn’t that happy anymore. I looked at my friend’s mouth-watering food, and then back at my pathetic bread, cheese and hardboiled egg, and I wanted to cry. My breaking point came during dinner. I looked at my friend’s bak ku teh and I decided that one small pork rib cannot hurt… I ended up eating 2 pork ribs, 1 bowl of lamb soup and 2 sticks of satay.

Weight on third day: 49.05kg. By now, I just wanted the diet to end, and then go back to eating proper food. The day passed by in a whirl and throughout the day, my stomach kept pleading me to give it something good. Anything will do. Just something other than eggs, bread, carrots, apples and cheese. I patted my stomach and told it to hang in there. By then, I was almost on the verge of tears.

Weight on fourth day… I don’t know, because I didn’t weigh, because I don’t care. Dieting is simply not the way to go for me, and no matter how tempting those numbers are, I won’t do it again.  A week later, when I finally did weigh, I realised that the pounds I have shed have found their way back to me. Rebounds are real.

My story serves as a cautionary tale for those who have been dieting on and off, and seeing their weight yo-yo. To lose weight, you need to make lasting lifestyle changes. Don’t go about it in a way that makes you question the meaning of life. But for those of you who think that you have more discipline and perseverance than me, you can find the military diet here.

3. Exercise (but not all exercises are made the same)

Exercising helps you burn calories (duh). But to get the most out of your exercise routine, it is not enough to exercise hard, you also need to exercise smart. Enough talk, let’s get moving.

a. Lower body exercise are more efficient

Your largest muscles are in your legs, and by working those muscles, you create more micro-tears that your body has to spend energy repairing. Do squats, lunges and other leg exercises and you will see the fats in your arms melt away. (If you haven’t realised by now, targeted fat loss—such as losing only fats on your bum—isn’t possible.)

b. Do interval trainings

Alternate between periods of all-out effort and rest, such as 8 seconds of high-intensity all out sprint and 12 seconds of low- intensity comfortable jog, for 20 minutes. It will help you burn more calories, in a shorter time than say, 40 minutes of long distance running.

c. Exercise with a friend

Exercising with a friend makes the workout more enjoyable and helps you to exercise more, without you realising it. Research has shown that when working out with a friend, the two of you release twice as much feel-good endorphins as those who exercised solo. No wonder they say happiness is contagious.

These are just some exercise tips that I found when – once again—surfing mindlessly on the net. To read the details, click here.

To be honest, there is nothing wrong with being a little on the plump side. If you are feeling a little insecure about your size but cannot muster the energy to get out of bed for a morning run, or pack your lunch box with celery sticks, then trust Google to make you feel better. Type in “health benefits of a big butt” and you will realise being all about that bass isn’t so bad after all. 

A student's guide to losing weight - Part 1

A student's guide to losing weight - Part 1

Have you ever stepped onto the weighing scale and feel the world collapse around you?

“I thought… I was… this can’t be… I was 48kg just last month! What happened!?”

(insert screaming, wailing and an impending breakdown)

Weight gain, while irrelevant to some teenage boys who look like pole sticks no matter what kind of junk food they stuff themselves with, is sadly a looming reality for the rest of us. If you, like me, are going through an unexplainable phase of weight gain, or are simply not at your ideal weight, then you might want to try the following weight loss tips.

1. Lose more calories than you gain

Before you start your ambitious lose-three-kg-by-Sunday weight loss program, you need to know the rule of the game. That’s right, there is only one rule, and that is losing more calories than you gain. Sounds simple? Just a simple I-ate-1500-calories-and-burnt-1700-calories subtraction.

2. Accept that you might have it harder

That is until you realise different people have different metabolism rates, depending on their lifestyles and their genes. For instance, muscles burn more calories than fats. So a muscular person will have a higher basal metabolic rate than a fat person of the same weight, and burns more calories even when resting. It is also true that some people naturally have a higher metabolism. It is in their genes. Meaning that the next time your skinny friend asks you to go café hopping with her, pause and reconsider your decision. Though both of you will come out poorer from it, you might be the only one coming out fatter. Life is unfair, suck it up.

3. Not all calories are the same

To complicate things even more, not all calories are made the same. Some types of food are calorie-dense and high in fat. Think of heavenly foods like French fries, coke, cakes. Such foods don’t provide much nutrition and won’t keep you full for long. Other types of food are nutrient dense and provide a disproportionate amount of good vitamins and minerals relative to their calorie count. Think vegetables, fruits, lean meat, whole grains, nuts and beans. 

Oh and about the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day… well, it’s true. In one recent study, people whose largest meal is breakfast lost 8kg over 3 months. While those whose largest meal is dinner lost only 3kg. Even though their total daily calories intake is the same, and they had the same exercise regime.

This is because the body’s ability to make use of the calories it gets fluctuates throughout the day, in line with the body’s circadian rhythm. Eating too late and too much will only mean your body is unable to burn away the excess calories. I know, dinner dates are way more romantic than lunch dates and breakfast dates (if there is even such a thing).  And when sitting across your Mr/Miss Right, it is easy to lose count of the calories you are eating. But hey, too much of those dinner dates and you might just scare your dream guy/girl away.

4. Follow your body

Your body’s unique circadian rhythm will also decide when is the best time for you to exercise. There is no one size fits all solution. If you are a morning person, go for a morning jog. But if you are a night owl, you will find that afternoon or evening exercises are more productive for you.

Losing weight is a skill that takes time to learn. In Part 2 tomorrow, we will cover specific tips that you can do to finally shed those pounds. Until then, stay away from the scales. 

Good vs Bad Posture

Good vs Bad Posture

If you have bad posture, you probably have heard these commands many, many, many times before— “Stand up straight!”, “don’t slouch!”, “don’t hunch your back!” If you are a rebel, you probably just rolled your eyes and slouched even more, just to show that no one – NO ONE—can boss you around. Well, I feel you. It’s not nice to have someone pointing out every flaw with the way you move. However, although such comments are annoying, they are well meaning.

Benefits of good posture

1. Less back pain, neck pain and headaches

Your posture is determined by how your bones and muscles are aligned and that forms the foundation for every movement your body makes. If your posture isn’t optimal, there will be more tension in certain muscle groups while other muscle groups are inhibited. Overtime, this can cause chronic back pain, stiff neck and even headaches.

2. You look taller and more poised

The picture says it all. Do you want to be a suave businessman or the hunchback of Notre Dame?

How to get a nice posture

1. Stand against the wall

To achieve the “good” posture in the picture above, you can stand against a wall. The back of your head, your back, your butt, your calf and your heel should be touching the wall.

2. Fix your workplace

Nowadays, studying has become a full-time job. If you do not spend more than 8 hours at your desk, you are either so sick you can only lie in bed with a book or playing truant. Seeing how much time we spend in the sitting position, there is a need to sit comfortably.

Get a laptop stand which can double up as a stand for your textbooks, and make sure that you are reading at eye level or slightly below eye level, so that you do not have to crane your neck.

Get an ergonomic chair that supports the arch of your back and adjust it to a height such that your knees are perpendicular to the ground.

3. Do posture correcting exercises

There are many Youtube videos dishing out tips on how to correct your posture in a few simple steps, in a few minutes etc. Most of them are informative, but others are just videos of clueless Youtubers rehashing long held myths floating around the internet-dom. I sieved through a few popular videos and I found this video to be quite useful:

And guess what, its promise of correcting your posture in 5 simple steps, starting with your neck, then going downwards, and eventually to your knees, should appeal to people like us looking for a quick fix.

Okay… so I know what I can do to have good posture, but how do I maintain it? That is a legitimate concern that I share too. I might watch a Youtube video titled “the benefits of good posture” and being kiasu and kiasi, I will make sure that I sit up straight, with my shoulders wide apart and head held high. But 5 minutes later, I will get distracted by a funny cat video. And before I know it, I am back to being a spineless couch potato.

Sadly, there is no cure to being a scatterbrain. However, there is work-around around this problem… and that is enlisting the help of your friends and if you are feeling up to it, your parents. When reminders like “don’t slouch!”, “sit up straight!, “don’t hunch your back!” become the one thing you can count on in life, it is hard to forget that your posture (and your Instagram side view photos) deserve to be beautiful too.

6 things your dentist really wants you to know

6 things your dentist really wants you to know

All of us probably have traumatic memories of going into one of those mobile dental vans in primary school to have our teeth checked, usually with tears streaming down our faces, only to emerge heroically a few minutes later with a free toothbrush and strawberry flavoured toothpaste.

We all know that dentists are there to make sure our teeth and smile are in tip-top shape, but most of us don't make the effort to visit them regularly. Some of us only visit the dentist twice in their lives - once when their wisdom tooth pops out, the other when they happen to have a toothache that sucking on ice cubes didn't get rid off.

We're pretty sure our dentists have a thing or two to tell us. Here are 6 of them:

1. Your dentist is looking out for oral cancer for you

Did you know? That when you go for your regular dental check-up, your dentist is also screening you for any signs of oral cancer? Every hour of every day, someone dies of oral cancer around the world. This dental disease which can affect any area of the mouth, throat or lips is often highly curable if diagnosed and treated in the early stages.

So, visiting your dentist just once or twice a year is great to detect and treat any irregularities early, as well as key in preventing oral cancer.

2. Brushing twice (not once!) a day keeps the cavities away

Brushing your teeth properly at least twice a day will remove plaque - the sticky gross substance formed by bacteria and the food that you chew. Plaque accumulates on the teeth and if not removed by brushing, will cause cavities and even cause gum disease. 

You can even level up your dental health by flossing. Flossing daily will remove plaque from the spaces in your teeth that a regular toothbrush cannot reach. 

3. Gum disease will affect your overall health

Gum disease is one of the major causes of tooth decay and teeth loss. But not many will know that it is also linked to heart disease and strokes. If diagnosed early, gum disease can be treated and cured. But if left undetected, a more severe stage of gum disease can occur called Periodontitis, which can result in bone loss.

Just remember: "Twice a day, Twice a year". Brushing your teeth twice a day and going for a dental check-up twice a year are your best bets against gum disease. 

4. Your toothache will not get better without treatment

Let's face it, pretending that your painful toothache doesn't feel like someone is jackhammering away inside of your mouth is not going to make it miraculously go away. If your cavities continue to grow bigger, it's only going to result in much more pain if they get big enough to hit the nerve in your teeth, as well as become more expensive to treat as you might end up having a root canal done!

Similarly, relying on old wives' tales' remedies like chewing on garlic or rubbing salt into the sore area may just end up causing infection.

5. Root canals are not as scary as you think

So, you ended up chewing on garlic cloves and now your entire sore tooth area is infected. The bad news is that you need a root canal done. The good news is that with today's technology, the procedure is nothing like what you may think. You might end up pleasantly surprised at how undramatic it ends up being. 

Instead of having a bad tooth extracted because of all the so-called scary stories you've heard about root canals, in my opinion, it is as painless as having a filling. 

6. Change your toothbrush

Toothbrushes become worn out after about 3 months, and will not be as effective at cleaning your teeth and gums after that. If you have gum disease or severe bad breath, it may help to replace your toothbrush every 4 weeks or so as bacteria can remain in the toothbrush bristles. 

Always rinse your toothbrush after use thoroughly and never share it with others. 

The Top 5 environmental issues that are killing the world now

The Top 5 environmental issues that are killing the world now

Ever since the first tree-hugging hippie shone the spotlight on mankind needing to be more environmentally-conscious back in the 1970s, we have since made great progress on reducing pollution, living more sustainably, and protecting our endangered species. 

Much work is still to be done, however, and we don't have much time left. Experts agree that at the current rate of global pollution, the earth can be uninhabitable within the next 100 years. Below are the top 5 environmental issues we are currently facing. 

1. Chemical pollution

Mankind as a species have become so dependent on synthetic products, like drinking bottled water and eating from styrofoam boxes. All of which usually go into the trash bin and not into the recycling bin. As the factories churn out more of these products, a large number of synthetic chemicals also enter our air, soil and waters. The worst culprits are the factories that produce household chemical products like pesticides. 

No one really knows whether we are breathing in these chemicals as the air particles are carried by the wind all across the globe, and it's practically impossible to detect. Steps are already being taken to study and trace back the source of endocrine disruptors - which are air particles that cause harm to the endocrine system. The endocrine system helps to regulates hormones in humans and animals, and if affected, can cause a wide array of reproductive and developmental issues.

2. Energy extraction

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With lax in environmental regulations and increase in energy prices, comes significant energy development at the expense of the environment. We experience this close to home almost every year when the haze season in Singapore occurs. Haze is a result of forest fires in Indonesia, and the fires are said to be caused by corporations as well as small-scale farmers who use this method to clear vegetation for palm oil, pulp and paper plantations.

The development of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, technology has also created a boom in natural gas extraction in the US and the UK. Fracking is the process of drilling down into the earth before a high-pressure water mix is blasted at the rock to release the gas inside. However, this also makes the land unstable and can result in earthquakes. There is also fear of potential harmful gases that may escape and contaminate the groundwater around the fracking site. 

3. Invasive biodiversity

When governments do not implement strict custom rules to restrict import and export, exotic plant and animal species from a foreign land may be smuggled into another land and wreck havoc. Plant or animal species that are introduced to a new area are considered invasive, as they can rapidly colonize the area by over-populating and killing off the native species.

Recently, sightings of a destructive exotic bird called the Red-Billed Quelea have caused concern as the bird species may damage crops and affect native bird species of Singapore. The bird is believed to have been brought into the country through the cage-bird trade. If we are not prudent enough or careful, invasive species can cause a lot of damage to native species and cause unrepairable damage to the environment on the whole. 

4. Inappropriate Land Use

When then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew introduced the “garden city” vision on 11 May 1967, it has since transformed Singapore into a city with abundant lush greenery and a clean environment that makes life a whole lot more pleasant for all of us living in it. All around the world, green spaces provide habitat for wildlife, space for forests to produce oxygen, and wetlands to clean our freshwater.

Green spaces are also a rare resource nowadays as we keep using land inefficiently, turning them into gas fields, roads, factories and even private property. All these can fragment the natural landscape, force out wildlife and even cause natural disasters. 

5. Global warming

Research has shown that if the earth heats up by another 2 degrees Celsius, humans will become extinct. No matter where you live in the world, global warming affects us all. We're pretty sure everyone is feeling it one way or another, be it icebergs breaking away in Antarctica or ridiculously hot afternoons in Singapore.

Some places are already facing damage that are irreversible, like the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and the squeezing out of polar bears in the Arctic. These changes will only continue to get stronger, negatively affecting the ecosystems that we and the rest of the wildlife rely on, unless we start playing our small parts in creating change.

 

7 health-centric apps you need in your phone

7 health-centric apps you need in your phone

Considering that most of us are glued to our phones nowadays, and will likely go into panic mode if our phones are not by our side 24/7, why not allow our phone apps to enhance our lifestyles too?

So long as we don't end up like these guys...

So long as we don't end up like these guys...

It's only a matter of time before this tech-loving generation is relying on the latest gadgets to aid them in achieving a healthier lifestyle, so why not make it fun to be fit and check out these 7 apps that can help us all stay healthy (plus, they're FREE!)

1. Couch to 5K 

If you've never ran more than the distance required to catch the bus, and the thought of the 2.4km run portion of NAPFA test makes you want to vomit, then this app is for you. Couch to 5K, or C25K, aims to take couch potatoes and slackers off their butts and slowly whip them up into shape so they can successfully complete a 5km run without passing out halfway through.

The time period for this sitting-to-running evolution is 2 months, and what I like best about this app is that there's an active, supportive community of people who are taking part (or have took part) in the program available online to share tips and cheer one another on.

2. 7 Minute Workout

The idea behind the 7 minute workout is to use your body weight to create exercises that build strength and endurance, all in the comforts of your home. That's right, no need for fancy equipment or a gym membership to get that toned body fit for Siloso beach!

The app functions as a High Intensity Interval Training countdown timer. Simply follow the instructions and perform each exercise at a high-intensity effort for 30 seconds. When the timer goes off, move on to the next exercise and so on. The workout is a mix of dynamic as well as static exercises such as planking for 30 seconds, so by the end of 7 minutes, you should have broken out into a sweat. If you're looking for more of a challenge, the workout can be repeated 2-3 times.

3. Zombies, Run

If you already find running a great way to de-stress, unwind, and keep fit, congratulations, my friend. Why not up the challenge by turning your run into an epic adventure? One of my personal favourites, Zombies, Run! is an immersive running game where every run is a mission to escape zombies and collect supplies to grow your base back home in order to survive. 

The audio stories are dramatic and exciting, and the best part is that you can set the app to play songs from your own playlist, so you get to run to your own running mixes. 

4. Map My Fitness

Another app for the running junkies! Map My Fitness is a handy tool if you happen to be on an overseas trip with family or with school, and you want to check out the sights by going for a jog. The app will find the best and most convenient running routes in the city that you are currently in, so you get to try out interesting routes that runners from all over the world recommend. (Fun fact: The most popular running route in Singapore is in Bukit Timah Nature Reserve)

The app also syncs easily to other fitness apps like Nike+ and MyFitnessPal so you can easily keep track of your kms and calories burned seamlessly by letting technology work for you. 

5. Plant Nanny

Plant Nanny helps you to stay hydrated throughout the day by tracking your daily water intake. There's tons of water tracking apps out there but this one turns it into a game. Drinking a glass of water at an allotted time in the day will help your plant grow from a seed into a fully bloomed flower, and oh my goodness, look how adorable those plants are! 

You can choose the size of the glass of water to consume each time but my suggestion would be 8 glasses of 177ml/6 oz water to keep you well hydrated and energised every day. 

6. StrongLifts

If you've ever felt lost as a lamb at the gym over what kinds of weights to use or how long you should rest between reps, StrongLifts will help answer those questions. The app focuses on weight training with weights and barbells by introducing a weight training newbie in performing just 5 types of barbell lifts per week: the deadlift, squat, bench press, overhead press, and bent-over row.

It's a 3-day-per-week program that uses 2 different workouts alternated throughout the week, with a rest day between each training day. So you'll get to learn different types of weight training exercises, while allowing your muscles to adapt to the various workouts without overstraining them. 

7. Virtual Runner

If you've ever felt that running on the treadmill is similar to running on a hamster wheel, and you're bored of the repetitive motion, Virtual Runner can help to create a fun simulative environment for your run.

The app uses virtual reality and high-def videos of different scenes in exotic locations to make it seem like you're running in that location. From New York Central Park to Niagara Falls, it's a fun way to convince yourself that running is actually pretty exciting.

The only downside to this is that you'll have to take along a tablet to prop up against the treadmill as the simulation loses its appeal on a mobile phone.

 

 

The amazing human body

The amazing human body

The human body is more marvellous than you think it is. Don’t believe me? Let’s take a ride aboard the magic school bus and delve in.

Stronger than you think

The acid in your stomach, standing at a pH of 1, is so strong it can dissolve metal… In one study, a razor blade became fragile and brittle within 24 hours, retaining only 63% of its original mass. The same thing happens to coins that are accidentally swallowed; they lose mass the whole time they are in the child’s stomach. But most of the time, the coins are either surgically removed or passed out before they can be fully digested.

Your bones are incredibly strong. A block of bone the size of a matchbox can support up to nine tonnes of weight.

You have heard stories about people who lifted boulders off themselves, or dashed to save their falling child in record time. Well, these superheroes were just average human beings like you and me before those life changing moments occurred. Unknown to us, our muscles are capable of more strength than we realise. But our body subconsciously places a limitation on our strength to protect our tendons and muscles from over-exertion. It is only during critical moments that the limitation is lifted, and voila, a new superhero is born.

More sensitive than you realise

Your eyes can distinguish between 2.3 and 7.5 million colours. Your nose is even more amazing: it can tell apart 1 trillion scents. As for your sense of touch, Swedish scientists have debunked the myth that your sense of touch is under-developed. In a ground-breaking study, it was shown that people can detect nano-scale wrinkles while running their fingers upon a seemingly smooth surface.   

Facts you cell-dom hear

Your skin cells shed every 2-4 weeks and if you collect all the skin cells shed in a cycle, they weigh approximately 0.7kg altogether. No need to thank me, you weight conscious people, for telling you the secret to being effortlessly 0.7kg lighter.

However, if you think all cells are so replaceable, think again. Some cells stay with you your entire life—those of the inner lens of your eyes, your heart and parts of your brain. If you suffer a heart attack, then good luck to you. For your heart is unable to regenerate itself. Taking the place of heart muscles are fibrous tissues and scar tissues, which affect the ability of your heart to pump blood.

Lying nicely in the middle of cell lifespan are fat cells. People used to think that fat cells last your entire life, and if you overfeed a baby, it would carry too many fat cells with it its entire life, hence increasing the risk of obesity. Well, the good news is, your parents have not condemned you to a lifetime of obesity. A researcher carbon dated fat cells and found that they, on average, last 12 years. Not exactly a consolation, but at least there is hope for all you weight-conscious people out there.

The lengths we would go

If you are standing on the third storey and held out your intestines (like a rope), it will be long enough to reach your friend standing on the ground floor. If you take all your blood vessels and stretch them out, they will stretch for 90,000 kilometres, which is enough to go around the earth 2 times. If you take all the DNA from your body and uncoiled it, it will stretch 16 billion kilometres. That is the distance to Pluto and back. WARNING: the above experiments have been known to cause death, and excruciating pain, to the human subjects. Please do not attempt.

Other unknown wonders

In 30 minutes, the human body gives off enough heat to bring half a gallon of water to the boiling point. It is a wonder the Earth isn’t overheating yet.

This is embarrassing, but the average person farts 14 times a day. If you don’t remember, you probably did it in your sleep.

4 effective techniques to overcome your fears

4 effective techniques to overcome your fears

Almost every person has some form of fear or phobia. A phobia is a type of extreme fear and anxiety towards an object or a situation in which the person will go to great lengths just to avoid.

From closed-in spaces to heights, dogs to flying cockroaches, there are phobias of all kinds - and many of them are irrational. You may be able to bungee jump of the world's tallest bridge with ease, but break out in a sweat panicking when faced with public speaking. 

boo.

boo.

No one knows just what causes fear and phobias. They can start at childhood and disappear over time, or they can suddenly be triggered by a traumatic experience late in adulthood. So what can we do to prevent our fears from interfering too much with our lives?

Here are 4 types of mental techniques that can be used the next time you're seized by fear and want to crawl into the nearest corner to hide.

1. Create a "fear ladder" and slowly climb up it

Creating a fear ladder is a great psychological method to break down all the fear-related things that make up a fear, and then slowly tackle them in bite-sized pieces.

For example, Vanessa is deathly afraid of dogs. She tends to avoid places where there are dogs, such as parks or beaches (even though she used to love going to Sentosa beach on the weekends). She will cross the road or turn around if she sees someone walking with a dog. Vanessa's goal is to be able to be near dog with excessive fearing.

First, she will list down all the things that she's scared of regarding dogs and rank them 1-10 from least scary to scariest. Then, she can start organizing those fear items in a ladder format. The least scary item goes on the bottom rung, and every item has its own rung all the way up to the scariest item at the top-most rung. It will look something like this: 

Vanessa will then tackle each step on the fear ladder in her own time under controlled exposure to dogs, until she is comfortable enough to finally be able to pet a large dog that's off-leash.

Once she has completed the fear ladder and can tolerate being around dogs, she can start a new ladder tackling other fears she may have. You can print out a blank fear ladder template here and start overcoming your own fears too!

2. Be aware of your own mental exaggerations

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When under stress or pressure from fears, no matter how irrational, the human mind will start exaggerating the danger so as to speed up the fight or flight response. This is why when you are afraid of something, your palms go sweaty and you may even feel like fainting.

For Vanessa and her fear of dogs, one of the mental exaggerations would be that all dogs are scary and will bite her, especially the larger ones. By being aware that she constantly thinks this way, she can prepare a response to counter this such as watching youtube videos where big dogs are behaving gently towards young children, or if she has friends who have children as well as own a dog, she can take a trip to their place to see how the dog acts around the family on a typical day.

Being aware of your own mental exaggerations and having a response for each of them will help to assure yourself that the situation you are experiencing fear in is not as dangerous as you think it is. 

3. Arm yourself with facts that will help minimize your fears

Similar to the previous technique of having a response for each of your mental exaggerations, this is taking it one step further by arming yourself with solid facts to counter any irrational fear thoughts you may have.

This is especially helpful if you fear a situation that is unavoidable, such as fear of flying in planes. Sooner or later, you are bound to sit in one when travelling, so it helps to prepare yourself mentally beforehand by reading up on hard facts to dispel the fears and help ease your discomfort.

Fact: Air travel is the second safest mode of transportation in the world. It is second only to taking the elevator! Fact: Your chance of being in a plane crash is 1 in 11 million. Fact: The most dangerous part of your trip, was actually taking the taxi to the airport. 

4. Learn simple relaxation techniques

By learning relaxation techniques such as meditation and breathing exercises, they can be used as a coping mechanism for when your fear is causing serious anxiety or triggering breathing difficulties. 

A simple breathing exercise is to you breathe in and out in sequence to the numbers as you count to 10. Breathe in '1'. Breathe out '2'. Breathe in '3'. Breathe out '4', and so on. 

Another immediate way to stop anxiety from rising is to consciously relax your body from head to toe, focusing on how your muscles are progressively relaxing. Think about your blades of hair softening, to your scalp, to your forehead, and so on -- all the way till you reach your toes. This technique helps to shift your mind's focus away from your fear at the moment, so your body can stop being tense and start to relax.

Try either one of these methods out the next time you feel thrown out of your comfort zone. 

Should we be concerned about the Selfie Culture?

Should we be concerned about the Selfie Culture?

I literally had to sit my boyfriend down and explain to him why it was important for me to Snapchat the new and interesting things we experienced when travelling overseas.

He was growing annoyed with the way he always had to wait until I had snapped a photo of the food we're about the partake, before getting to taste it. Or the way he would turn around to excitedly talk to me about something beautiful that was unfolding before our eyes, only to see that I was looking at it through my iPhone's camera lens instead of savouring the moment for what it was.

Me. All the damn time. 

Me. All the damn time. 

I understood where he was coming from. But could he also see my point of view? Snapchat-ing has become a way for me to compile travel diaries of the places we went to, as well as to share them with close friends. I showed him a compilation of snaps that made up an entire week of our trip to Osaka, and I could see him appreciating the memories re-unfolding before him again.

We had managed to reach a tentative compromise.

The selfie culture

The phenomenon of constant photo-taking or video-taking with a phone is something that occured only within the last decade. While it’s debatable when holding out your phone to take a photo of yourself became a ‘thing’, in 2013, ‘selfie’ was named word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries.

It's defined as  “A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." With over 200 million users on Snapchat, and over 600 million on Instagram, more and more young people are using selfies to communicate with each other.

And it’s not just to communicate, but every moment, mundane or not, seems to need to be captured, just in case. Sometimes I find myself thinking in squares when I'm taking a photo because I want to use it as an Instagram post later. I know of certain friends who carefully edit and curate their selfies, posting them at certain times of day – and making sure it is not too frequently or infrequently - in order to get the right number of likes.

I also know of certain friends who will delete a photo they have posted just because it doesn’t get likes quickly enough. Is all of this really necessary? Should we be concerned about the long-term effects?

What are the dangers of the selfie culture?

Branding yourself is not a new concept. However, branding yourself with a certain image that you want the world (or your followers) to see is the new form of personal branding.

Someone might only post photos with white backgrounds, or of a certain filter, or perhaps within a certain pantone colour theme. Selfies often are captioned with poems or song lyrics. Sometimes, the more elusive and random, the better. I guess there's nothing wrong with all of these. I would argue that it only becomes dangerous when a lot more of our time is spent capturing moments rather than living life and enjoying moments.

The danger of this selfie culture is the constant comparison game. Even though the majority of millennials are doing it, most still fall victim to comparing themselves to the picture-perfect-fantasy-life that others are portraying. Or worse, that the media is flooding us with. The power of these social connections, can give you a high when you receive positive reinforcement, and a low when you seemingly don’t. Comparing the number of likes can then become a slippery slope leading to potential issues such as depression and self-harm, low self esteem and narcissism.

So what is the solution?

Change your mindset from Dependence to Independence. Instead of trying to get a rush of connection, power, and self-worth from how many people like your photos, find a different way that puts you in control.

Find your experience of connection by forming deep, real bonds with people who genuinely care about you, and that you care about too.

Find your experience of power by pushing through your fears and challenging yourself by not posting anything on social media for 24 hours. I started this as a kind of dare to myself, but slowly found that I was relishing the offline moments and now have managed to wean myself off constantly checking Facebook and Instagram every few hours. 

It's not about never taking another selfie ever again, or shutting down your social platforms. It’s about filling those desires in other ways (in real ways) so you no longer need anything from selfies. And their importance diminishes.

Science hacks to beat the stress hormones in your body

Science hacks to beat the stress hormones in your body

From breathing in lavender-scented essential oil, to going for a kickboxing class to work out your pent up frustrations, and even sleeping with a weighted blanket to help relieve insomnia -- there are a ton of ways to help relieve stress, but they all seem to cost a pretty penny. 

The good news is that we have some science-backed ways to help you lower the stress hormones in your body. The better news is that they are all free, and can be practiced in the comforts of your own home. 

What are stress hormones, anyway? 

Stress hormones are also known as cortisol. They are hormones produced by the adrenaline gland and influences our immune responses, metabolism, and blood pressure as part of a "fight or flight" survival mechanism that the human body naturally created to give us the energy to survive in stressful situations.

In today’s hectic world, we are dealing more with emotional stress rather than physical dangers. But our body can’t tell the difference so it continues to tell cortisol to do its job. If we don't manage to deal with stress and lower our cortisol levels, having constantly high cortisol levels can deprive us of sleep, lead to weight gain, and cause various immunity and digestive problems. Here are some simple hacks you can apply to reduce cortisol levels and feel better:

1. Sleeping an hour earlier can reduce cortisol levels by 50%

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There's a reason why your parents nag at you when they check in on you at 12am and you're still up youtubing away. The benefits of a good night’s sleep cannot be overstated as it goes a long way in improving the quality of your life.

A study conducted by the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Germany showed that helicopter pilots who slept 6 hours instead of the recommended 8 hours had an increase of 50-80% in cortisol levels. If, however, for some reason you don't manage to get enough sleep, try to take a nap the following day. It can work wonders in bringing your cortisol levels down as well.

2. Drinking black tea can reduce cortisol levels by 47%

Tea time! What's popularly seen in movies and tv drama series as the time old ladies sip tea and gossip about the neighbours. It's no wonder those old ladies are living to a ripe old age, researchers from the University College London conducted an experiment over a period of six weeks where a group of volunteers was given 4 cups of black tea every day, while another group was drinking plain water. 

Both groups were given stressful tasks to complete, and while they recorded similar increase in cortisol levels, those who drank black tea had 47% lower cortisol levels an hour after completing the tasks. Those who drank water had their cortisol levels decreased just 27%.

So pick your favourite time of the day when you can be on your own, make yourself a cup of Lipton black tea in the kitchen and enjoy the silence. Try to make this your daily habit.

3. Listening to soothing music reduces cortisol levels by 66%

If you're not a fan of tea, I'm sure you are a fan of listening to music. We all know that music can stir up emotions in us, but did you know certain genres can evoke more positive emotions and lift our spirits? We can all benefit by using music as part of our stress-relief therapy.

A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information explored the effects of instrumental music during a surgery procedure, and proved that soothing music helped the patient reduce cortisol levels by up to 66%. The types of music that are the most effective are instrumental music such as classical, soft jazz, and sounds of nature. 

So, whenever you feel like you are going to explode, plug in your earphones and play some music. It helps to create a "I’m-not-going-to-freak-out" playlist on Youtube or Spotify, and make that your go-to music when you need to unwind. This is a good channel to start off with. 

4 foods that are good for health, but actually bad for digestion

4 foods that are good for health, but actually bad for digestion

A strong digestive system ensures that you won't suffer all sorts of digestive disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), bloating, constipation and diarrhoea. It will also prevent other health issues such as weight gain, eczema, chronic exhaustion and asthma.

Good digestion starts in the mouth. Some foods may seem healthy, and they are, but if you already have a weak stomach or are just recovering from an illness, it's best to not each so much of these 4 foods as they can be harmful to your digestion. 

1. Chocolate

While it’s not the healthiest of choices, a little bit of chocolate (especially dark chocolate) can serve as an energy boost after a strenuous workout.

But if you suffer from constipation or irritable bowel syndrome, chocolate can actually worsen the symptoms. Those with lactose intolerance may also react badly to the dairy in milk chocolate as it stimulate cramps, bloating, and diarrhoea.

2. Diary Products

Speaking of dairy, while getting the right amount of calcium is crucial in a balanced diet, many people can develop lactose intolerance from the diary found in milk and cheese. It can cause a lot of discomfort such as bloating, gas, and cramps.

The problem occurs when a person doesn’t make enough of the lactase enzyme which helps break down the lactose in dairy products. If you find yourself experiencing an upset tummy often after ingesting high lactose foods such as soft cheeses and milk, it's time to stop.

3. Berries

While berries can be full of vitamins and antioxidants, the types of berries that have tiny seeds in them such as strawberries, kiwi and figs can pose a risk to the digestive system especially those that have suffered from intestinal inflammation, infection or appendicitis before.

Eating these berries could cause them to get lodged in the intestinal pockets and create much discomfort while eating, so perhaps it's best to avoid eating too much of them. Or if you do want to eat them, to make sure you have a glass of water handy to wash the seeds down.

4. Corn

While corn is full of fibre and may seem like a good food for our digestion, it actually contains cellulose, which is a type of fibre that we are unable to digest due to us missing a certain enzyme in our bodies.

The fibre is corn actually ends up going in and coming out of our bodies in pretty much the same state. Our body has a hard time digesting it, and if your stomach is actually feeling weak either due to recovering from an illness or being lactose intolerance, it will be good to avoid corn in your diet. 

20 seconds of this a day will transform your health

20 seconds of this a day will transform your health

There's one exercise pose that you can do anywhere, anytime. Whether it's at the gym, or in your bedroom, or if you feel like, right in the middle of your lecture theatre. You don't require any equipment, other than your own body weight. What is it? 

Planking. 

Planks are one of the most effective exercises you can do. Why? Because they don't take up much time like swimming, require rallying friends like soccer, and yet still offer the chance to achieve results in a short span of time. Just starting with 20 seconds of plank a day would boost your immune system and help prevent injuries. So what happens when you start doing planks every day?

1. Planking improves your core strength

Abdominal muscles like the transverse abdominus, the rectus abdominus, the external oblique muscle, and the glutes provide support for our entire back and spinal column. However, our core muscles have to be strong for them to play a vital role in supporting your spine and preventing injuries. This means training those muscles. When you start strengthening these muscle groups you will notice:

Transverse abdominis: Increased ability to lift heavier weights.
Rectus adbominis: Improved sports performance, particularly with jumping. (This is also the muscle group responsible for giving you that coveted six pack)
External oblique muscles: Improved ability to side-bend and twist from the waist
Glutes: Gives you a strong supported back and shapely butt

2. Planking decreases your risk of back and spine injury

According to the Korea's Inje University's Department of Physical Therapy, planking regularly not only greatly reduces back pain, but it also strengthens your muscles and ensures a strong support for your entire back. Planking allows you to build muscle while also making sure that you are not putting too much pressure on your spine or hips. This will also allow you to improve your overall posture and balance.

3. Planking gives an increased boost to your metabolism

Planking burns more calories than other traditional abdominal exercises like crunches or sit-ups. The muscles you strengthen by regularly planking provide an enhanced metabolic rate, ensuring that you burn more energy and fat even when not exercising (yes, even while you are sleeping). This is especially important if you are spending the majority of your day sitting in front of your computer studying. 

3. Planking improves your overall mood

Doing planks will also have an effect on improving your overall mood. By stretching out those muscle groups we've mentioned above, they release stress and tension in the body.

Just think about it: if you are sitting in your chair in school all day long; your thigh muscles get tight, your legs get heavy due to being bent for several hours; and tension develops in your shoulders due to being forced to slump forward all day. These all put stress on your muscles and nerves, and planking for 20 seconds can release those tension.

This not only calm your brain, but they can also treat anxiety and symptoms of depression.

How do I start planking regularly?

First, you must learn how to hold a proper plank position:
1. Get into pushup position on the floor. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms.
2. Keep your body in a straight line from head to toes with no sagging at the belly area. Your head is relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.
3. Breathe in and out slowly and steadily as you hold the position for as long as you can.

Try this 20 Days challenge to see improvements in your overall health:
Dаy 1: 20 seconds
Dаy 2: 20 seconds
Dаy 3: 30 seconds
Dаy 4: 30 seconds
Dаy 5 : 40 seconds
Dаy 6: Rest
Dаy 7: 45 seconds
Dаy 8: 45 seconds
Dаy 9: 60 seconds
Dаy 10: 60 seconds
Dаy 11: 60 seconds
Dаy 12: 90 seconds
Dаy 13: Rest
Dаy 14: 90 seconds
Dаy 15: 90 seconds
Dаy 16: 120 seconds
Dаy 17: 120 seconds
Dаy 18: 150 seconds
Dаy 19: Rest
Dаy 20: As long as you can

Do we all hear sounds differently?

Do we all hear sounds differently?

So a song plays on your 'Trending Now' Spotify playlist, and you absolutely love it. But to your friend, it sounds like a cross between a screaming child at MacDonald's and a cat that got its tail accidentally stepped on. Why is this so?

The reason there's such a large difference in the way we hear music (and other sounds) isn’t just due to different tastes, it's also due to the way we individually hear sounds.

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It has to do with our bones

No one has been able to fully understand the process of how humans physically hear sounds, and then translate it into an emotional experience. But Harvard Medical School has recently begun breaking down the process: When the inner ear receives sounds, it triggers a reaction from the various brain cells responsible for transmitting the information to your brain. This triggering reaction forms different types of aural patterns that touch different parts of the brain. This may explain why we associate certain sounds with certain feelings and memories.

Another theory also has to do with the way our skulls are shaped. Everyone has different bone structures, including the bones around our ears, which may explain why we hear the same noise but in slightly different ways.

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According to the Acoustical Society of America, even the slightest differences in bone density can change the way our brain receives and processes sound waves. Women’s skulls tend to vibrate faster than the skulls of men. This suggests that our likes and dislikes of certain music styles might be due to the physical structure of our skulls. The reason why you hate country music so much might actually be because your head is shaped differently! 

This also impacts our language and math skills

Another study that the Acoustical Society of America did was to expose children to different types of music to see whether the way they process sound can affect other areas of learning. The results were pretty fascinating. The children who were exposed more to music lighter in tone such as Classical music and Jazz tend to process language and maths with higher efficiency. So now you know what genre of music you need to put on loop when cramming for exams. 

It might seem kind of a waste of time to spend all that money and effort into studying how we process sound. It might explain why we love or hate certain kinds of music, but that doesn't help the world become a better place. Or does it?

There is actually a more practical reason for understanding this research - it has the potential to help in creating more efficient hearing aids, and it may also help programmers improve speech recognition programs. So the next time you ask Siri something, you know who to thank.

6 ways to help you get better sleep

6 ways to help you get better sleep

Did you know we spend up to 40% of our lives sleeping? With that much time spent snoozing away, shouldn't we want to ensure that we get the best type of sleep possible? 

Most of us know that getting a good night's sleep is vital for our overall health and help us stay alert the following day, but too few of us actually make those eight hours with our heads on the pillow a priority. To help you remember how being really, really rested feels like, here are 6 tips to help you sleep better. 

1. Know how much sleep you should get for your age

The National Sleep Foundation released the results of a global study that took more than two years to complete. The results provided a guideline on how much sleep we really need at various stages of our lives. 

Which means if you're in tertiary studies (between the age of 18-25), you will require 7-9 hours of sleep every night to function optimally. Whereas if you are between the age of 14-17 years, studying in secondary school, you will need slightly more sleep of at least 8-10 hours every night.

Keeping to your optimal sleep range will ensure that you constantly feel rested and performing at your peak.

2. Have a nighttime routine that will ease you easily into bedtime

Lying in bed face-up on your pillow watching YouTube videos is the perfect kind of sleep sabotage. Not to mention it also increases your chances of dropping your phone on your face. Blue light from your phone screen tricks your body into thinking it's still daytime and keeps your brain stimulated. 

Help ease yourself into a restful state by cutting out all vigorous activities like exercise, as well as caffeine and alcohol 3 hours before you go to bed. You can make it even easier to fall asleep by taking a hot bath or reading a book an hour before you say goodnight. 

3. Get the right type of pillow

If you have been sleeping on the same yellowing pillow since primary school, perhaps it's time to replace it with one that will actually support and cradle your head. Better yet, get a pillow that is best suited for your sleeping style.

If you like to sleep facing up, a memory foam pillow will be most ideal as the dense foam will mold to your neck and head and cradle it properly as you sleep. If you are a stomach sleeper, there is nothing better than the delicate fluff of down pillows; which are also cushiony and reduces perspiration during sleep. Side sleepers will benefit from polyester pillows which comes in a variety of thickness, depending on whether you sleep in air-con or with fan breeze. 

Now that you know the type of pillow you should get, a good place to go to is Ikea, where you can find a proper one for as low as $12.90.

4. Make your bed smell wonderful

According to The National Sleep Foundation, any smell that helps you relax can help you get to sleep faster. I personally love lavender, and crawling into bed with the scent all around me is very soothing by itself. There are a couple of ways to make your bed and space around it smell great. 

Singaporeans seem to be obsessed with scented candles down, so make a trip to the nearest Yankee Candle to sniff around for a scent that is calming to you (just be careful to blow them out before you fall asleep). Room sprays and reed diffusers are a good alternative if you are worried you'd wake up to burning curtains. A simple hack is to add a few drops of essential oil to a spray bottle, add some water, shake well and spritz on your bedsheets and blanket. By the time you finish brushing your teeth, the dampness will have dried and you can crawl into a tiny slice of heaven.

5. Listen to soothing podcasts 

If you find it hard to put aside your phones when you're in bed, you might as well make them work for you. Listen to some soothing podcasts that tell non-stressful stories. Some great ones are Sleep With Me or Welcome to Night Vale.

I can also personally recommend this. On nights when I can’t seem to calm down because I have too much going on in my brain, I listen to either of these podcasts to help distract myself and to unwind (disclaimer: although Night Vale can be a little too exciting some episodes)

6. Start tracking your sleep 

We can all do without hitting snooze ten times every morning until our mums barge into the room yelling that we're going to be late for school. Make use of technology to help you track your sleep so you can monitor your sleep patterns, as well as wake up calmly.

You can download tons of apps like Calm to help you relax, track, and monitor your sleep habits. But I personally like the Bedtime feature that now comes in almost every iPhone's clock app that can help you achieve more consistent sleep. See how it works here

4 reasons why you're always so tired

4 reasons why you're always so tired

If you are one of those people who set 7 alarms on your phone but still hit the snooze button for each one every single morning, or you constantly feel like you have zero energy, here are 4 possible reasons as to why you feel so tired all the time. As well as tips for each one to help you feel more energised and awake (without the help of caffeine)!

1. You're having too much screen time before bed

I doubt there is a single person under the age of 25 now alive who doesn't use their smartphones before they sleep. Every student is guilty of this! Whether surfing the net, watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram, using your phones in bed is not helping your quality of sleep at all. Researchers from Harvard found that students read an e-book before going to sleep, they got significantly less REM (deep) sleep and felt up to 60% less alert the following morning.

Phones screens emit bright blue light so you can see what's on your screen even in the sunniest of days. But at night, your brain gets confused by that light. This causes the brain to stop producing melatonin, a hormone that gives your body the "time to sleep" cues. Because of this, smartphone light can disrupt your sleep cycle, making it harder to fall and stay asleep — and potentially causing serious health problems along the way.

If you have an iPhone, try setting the Night Shift mode to automatically switch on from 9pm onwards, or better still, try to stop using your phone for 45-60 minutes before you actually try and nod off. Read a book, listen to music, try meditation, as long as it's anything without a screen.

2. Your food choices suck

As much as I love my daily Starbucks' fix, MacD's and cake, obviously there comes a point where too much junk food is just too much. What you eat during the day can affect your sleep pattern at night, and your overall diet is a huge thing that affects how well you rest and how alert you'll feel in the day. Most people have cultivated the habit of having a caffeine fix first thing in the morning to jump start their system, but over the long run, your body becomes immune to the stimulant properties of caffeine.

Try eating a balanced breakfast every morning that includes one source of protein, such as a banana or eggs. Stay away from any sugar. Sure, that 10am chocolate muffin might sound good then but when you're struggling to keep your eyelids open by 1pm, it won't be so great. Your magnesium levels also play a key role in the regulation of sleep. If it's too low, you can feel anxious and exhausted. Try to keep those levels up by adding more leafy greens and nuts to your diet. 

3. You're not getting enough of a workout

Studies have long concluded that people sleep significantly better and feel more alert during the day if they get at least 150 minutes of exercise a week. It can be running, playing basketball, cycling or a quick yoga session; but by adding those 2+ hours of moderate to vigorous activity into your week, it's enough to provide a 65% improvement in your sleep quality! 

Exercising in the early morning and afternoon can be especially beneficial as it helps reset the sleep-wake cycle by raising your body temperature slightly, then allowing it to drop and trigger sleepiness a few hours later. It can also be helpful if you are able to exercise outdoors to let your body absorb some natural sunlight which triggers the circadian rhythms (body clock) to reduce insomnia. 

So the next time you're having trouble falling asleep, a quick run downstairs will do wonders instead of binge-watching Orange is the New Black on your phone screen.

4. Your sleep environment sucks

Is your bedroom too noisy, too bright, or not very comfortable? Your sleep environment can have a huge influence on your sleep quality. By pinpointing the things that may be causing stress or distraction, and eliminating them. You can set yourself up for the best possible sleep every night.

We’ve already mentioned that too much light from your phone screens at night can shift our internal body clock and make good sleep difficult to achieve. External lights such as bright lights outside your bedroom window can also be a contributing factor. Make sure that your bed doesn't face any direct lights, and if needed, an eye mask can help in blocking out any form of lights shining on your eyelids.

How hot or cold your room temperature is can also affect how well you snooze. There is no perfect temperature to produce optimal sleep patterns. People simply sleep best at the temperature that feels most comfortable. That said, REM (deep) sleep is commonly more sensitive to extreme temperatures so make sure that your blanket is neither too thin till you're feeling chilly, nor too thick till you're feeling stuffy.

 

6 happiness hacks to know going into 2017

6 happiness hacks to know going into 2017

A brand new year is almost upon us, and it can either fill you with excitement at the thought of all the new things you are going to experience; or it can fill you with dread at the thought of all the new things you are going to experience. 

It's all about choice. Yes yes, we get that life can be really hard. Here are 6 ways to help you make the conscious decision to stress a whole lot less and generally be happier in your everyday life in 2017.

1. Be kinder to yourself

Seriously,  stop being so hard on yourself. You may already be facing pressure from school, your parents, even comparing yourself with peers. The last thing you need is to be tough on yourself too! Decide to love and support yourself heading into this new year, and choose to not be super critical of the way you look, the number of likes you have per Instagram post, etc.

The best way to start this is to be 100% honest with yourself. Ask yourself, would you treat yourself the same way as how you would treat your best friend? Or set expectations on yourself the way you would to him/her? Probably not, so maybe give yourself a break once in a while when it comes to comparing yourself to others. 

2. Find healthier ways to cope

If you tend to deal with stress, rejection and frustration by downing an entire jug of Long Island Tea at Zouk before dancing up a storm and then end the night by puking all over yourself, or by bingeing on a Double McSpicy followed by 20 more McNuggets while watching Netflix for a week straight... then perhaps you need to change things up. These coping mechanism are not going to help your happy levels.

If your 'coping' leaves you feeling out of control then you need to replace it. Sure, you can head out for a couple of drinks with your friends or spend your Monday night watching cat videos on YouTube instead of going to the gym, but there needs to be a limit. If you head straight for the alcohol when things go bad, this can set you on a road to disaster.

Try and replace them with healthier alternatives. If you find the need to pound on something, take up kickboxing or set your feet to pounding the road by running. Sweat the frustration out. If you're more the unwinding type, take your mind off the stress with yoga, cooking, or just zoning out and not thinking about it (also known as meditation). 

3. Don't be alone

Speaking of coping mechanisms, another thing to keep in mind is that you don't have to feel like you need to journey through life alone. When you're feeling down, it can be a lonely place. Why not make it a place where you can talk to someone you trust and that you know will be honest with you without judging you.

Alternatively, you don't even need to talk. Often by being around some trusted friends who understand and accept you for who you are, it's enough to lift up your spirits and take your mind off the negativity. 

4. Tidy the hell up

Studies have proven that physical clutter can negatively affect how you concentrate and process information. So when you're feeling stressed out, the environment around you can actually be contributing to it even further.

So, if your room looks like a clothes bomb exploded inside there, or if your desk is like one big ball of paperwork nightmare, then maybe it's time to throw yourself a huge clear-out party and get rid of anything that you don't need and don't absolutely love. Your brain will thank you for it. 

5. Practise mindfulness

No one is expecting you to read this post, and suddenly come out the other end as a total meditation pro and yoga convert. But perhaps just take a long bath and read a book instead of checking Instagram every 15 minutes. Mindfulness simply means to start taking more notice of the present, being thankful of the past, and to not constantly stress about the future or things that should have happened. 

It does not mean to fool yourself into thinking that everyday is all rainbows and unicorns, it simply means to stop dwelling on things that are making you unhappy. In fact, if you take 5-10 minutes out every night before you sleep to take some deep breaths and not think of anything, it can improve your concentration and heart health by up to 40%!

6. Don't forget to think about the little things

It's easy to remember the saying, "everything that can go bad, will go bad" when things don't seem to go your way. It's times like these that by forcing yourself to do some reflecting, it can actually remind you of the many things in life that you can be thankful for. Pause for a moment and take some time to list 3 things that you enjoy in your life.

You may not have gotten those results you and your parents wanted, but you still managed to get into the course you wanted. You may have broken up with your gf/bf, but all your friends rallied around you during this time to let you know that you deserve a lot better. Every morning, the kopi auntie remembers your order without you even needing to tell her. These are all little silver linings in the dark clouds that we can be thankful for. Of course, this can be harder than it seems when you're actually feeling like crap, and you might not be able to do it all the time, but I highly recommend giving it a go.

Frequent drinking may be causing you higher stress

Frequent drinking may be causing you higher stress

50% of a Singaporean students' life is dedicated to figuring out how to get into the most popular clubs. There's no reward greater after a hard week of cramming quite like downing tequila shots with friends in the midst of loud, thumping music.

One might think that an alcohol fix is the most efficient way to unwind and get rid of stress, but recent studies are showing that frequently drinking alcohol in your teenage years are limiting the brain's ability to deal with stress.

What happens to your body when it's stressed?

When stressed, your body produces cortisol. This stress hormone helps the body deal with the physical and mental strain you feel when you're stressed. Over time, your body should release less and less of the hormone, as it learns to adapt to stress as you grow older. The way you deal with career-related stress as a working adult will be completely different to how you dealt with exam stress as a student. This is great news. 

But in a recent study at Binghamton University in New York, pre-adult rats (whose brains respond similarly to human ones) who drank a lot of alcohol, seemed unable to adapt to stress. They kept producing more and more cortisol, but were unable to bring the stress levels down. This can be harmful, and lead to long-term illnesses such as anxiety attacks and depression. This effect also seems to be higher in males than in females.

Binge drinking damages your body's ability to cope with stress

In Singapore, an average of 18% of males and 12% of females aged 18 to 29 binge drink. As long as you're downing more than four alcoholic drinks in one session, that's binge drinking. And that's typically the amount of drinks just for pre-drinks before heading into Zouk for more drinking! 

And what you usually see when the lights come on at 4am...

And what you usually see when the lights come on at 4am...

Binge drinking raises the amount of alcohol in the blood. Levels on a night out partying typically run to 0.08g of alcohol per 100g of blood. This is also the level at which the police will consider you drunk. If you're drinking this amount of alcohol every week, it causes damage to your nerve cells all over your body, but mostly to the brain.

Being a student can be one of the most exciting times of your life, but it is also the time when your brain is going through a lot of changes. This is really cool because you're building the brain you’re going to need for the rest of your life. But if you don't treat it well during this period, too much neural damage from frequent alcohol usage can have lasting effects. And the last thing you want is to go out on a night of relaxing, and end up finding yourself more stressed out instead. 

So build a brain that’s going to serve you well as an adult by giving it good experiences, and maybe not go for that extra jug of long island tea. 

 

Should you "sweat it out" when you're sick?

Should you "sweat it out" when you're sick?

We're headed into the end of the year! Along with the school holidays, Christmas and cooler weather, also comes influenza. Did you know Singapore has 2 big flu seasons? One in June, and the other in December.  

Picture this scene. You fill up your water bottle at the gym, bend down to tie your shoelaces, and stand up -- just in time to catch a thorough spraying from a guy sneezing next to you. Gross. 

You're thinking, "doesn't this coughing, sneezing, inconsiderate dude belong at home resting?! Not here infecting all the gym equipment!" Well, this results in the age old question: when you are not feeling well, should you "sweat it out" by exercising or recuperate in bed? Let's clear the confusion once and for all. 

Your immune system

Every single day, bacteria and viruses are attacking our bodies. It's a germy jungle out there. Thankfully, your immune system has a way of protecting itself. It does this through physical barriers like mucus lining in your nasal passages, chemical barriers like stomach acid, and producing protective cells like white blood cells. 

Things that affect your immune system

First, let's get one thing clear: There's a difference between "working out" and "physically moving the body." A workout in which you find yourself sweating hard, breathing heavily, and feeling some physical discomfort, awakens a stress response in the body. When we are healthy, our bodies can easily adapt to that stress. In fact, this adaptation is what makes us fitter and stronger over time. But when we are sick, the stress of a tough workout can be more than our immune systems can handle.

So, should you exercise when feeling sick?

Prolonged vigorous exercise is definitely out when you are feeling under the weather (no marathon running, duh). But some non-strenuous movement can actually help your immune system to battle the flu germs. These are activities such as: Walking, yoga, light swimming, and low-intensity cycling. 

These activities are not super intense until it poses serious immunity-compromising stress on the body. But they boost your heart rate sufficiently enough to help your body fight illness. Research shows that even one session of moderate exercise seems to strengthen the adaptive immune system. Even better if you do it regularly.

Also, it's important to return to your strenuous workout routine gradually. A good tip to follow is to return to heavy exercise in proportion to how long you were sick for. So if you were sick for three days, take three days to ease back in. 

One final note: For the sake of the rest of us, we suggest exercising at home and avoiding team sports while you are sick. All it takes is a single cough, sneeze or touch and bam! -- you've spread your virus to the whole gym...

Salt, Glass of Water and the Lake

Salt, Glass of Water and the Lake

Once an unhappy young man travelled all the way up a mountain where an old master lived. He came to the old master and lamented that he had a very sad life. He asked for a solution.

The old master instructed the unhappy young man to put a handful of salt in a glass of water and then to drink it.

“How does it taste?” – the master asked.

“Terrible.” – spat the young man.

The master chuckled, then asked the young man to take another handful of salt and follow him for a walk to the nearby lake. The two walked in silence to the lake and the master instructed him to put his handful of salt into the lake. The young man was confused, but bent down to swirl the salt into the lake.

The master said, “Now drink from the lake.”

As the water dripped down the young man’s chin, the master asked, “How does it taste?”

“Refreshing!” – remarked the young man

“Did you taste the salt?” – asked the master.

“No.” – said the young man.

The old master sat beside this troubled young man, took his hands, and said, “The struggles and stress in life is pure salt; no more, no less. The amount of stress in life remains the same. But the amount we taste and feel that ‘pain’ depends on the container we put it into.

So when you are facing tremendous stress, the only thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of self. Stop being a glass and letting the struggles of life overwhelm you until it feels terrible. Become a lake. Let the pain enlarge you, even refresh you, so that it can make you stronger.”

As a student in Singapore, feeling stressed is practically inevitable. We are constantly pressured to do well and to be at the top of our game. We are also constantly bombarded with homework and CCA commitments. If we do not learn how to mindfully relieve the pressure and regain control of our lives, stress can be very harmful for our physical and emotional health.

Listen to calming music. Go for a run. Confide in a close friend, or watch a funny video and laugh out loud. No matter how stressed you may feel, remind yourself that you ARE in control of YOUR life.

4 choices to help you stay healthy

4 choices to help you stay healthy

If you have been watching the news, you probably would have heard of this name: Zika. It is a kind of virus that is quickly spreading in Singapore. This virus is especially dangerous for pregnant women because it causes microcephaly in foetuses, a birth defect which leaves a baby with an abnormally small head.

Although as a student, you are not most at risk, the stark reality is germs and viruses surround us and they are constantly warring against us. The only thing that keeps you from succumbing is your immune system. To give your immune system a better chance of keeping the coughs, sniffles and ah-choos at bay, here are four areas that you should take more notice of and choose to practice to help keep yourself healthy.

Healthy diet

Eating healthily gives your immune system the necessary vitamins and nutrients to function properly. You probably have heard of this age old adage: an apple a day keeps the doctor away. While apples are high in nutritional content, but to truly keep the doctor away, variety is key.

Research has shown that people who constantly eat the same food tend to be less healthy than those who get more variety in their diets. This is because micronutrients – for example, zinc, selenium, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C and E—are present in different amounts in different food families. Eating from just a specific food family results in micronutrients deficiency which makes your body more susceptible to illnesses.

So for all the Singaporeans out there who eat chicken rice/ nasi lemak/ roti prata every meal, every day, my advice is to switch it up. This can be done by eating according to the food colour wheel. As a rule of thumb, fruits and vegetables of different colours generally contain different types of vitamins, nutrients and anti-oxidants.

Exercise in moderation

We all know that exercise is essential to healthy living because it improves your cardiovascular health, help control your body weight and keep you energised. What you might not know is that by promoting good blood circulation, exercise allows the cells and substances of your immune system to course through your body unhindered, and do their job.

However, make sure that you do not overdo it. Intense exercise temporarily puts stress on the immune system, and make you more susceptible to infection. For example, running a marathon may temporarily depress the adaptive immune system for up to 72 hours. This means that if you train vigorously for more than 4 times a week, your body’s line of defence will always be down and you will get sick more often than those who exercise in moderation  

Keep stress level low

The stress hormone corticosteroid suppresses the effectiveness of the immune system which makes us are more vulnerable to infections. Additionally, a person may also use unhealthy coping mechanisms such as binge eating, drinking and smoking to deal with stressful situations; this indirectly compromises the immune system.

Here we need to differentiate between acute stress, which lasts for at most, hours, and chronic stress, which lasts for days or even years on end. The latter is more problematic and results in a host of health problems, ranging from stomach upset to even heart disease.

Sleep more

Not getting enough sleep has been linked to an impaired immune system, and a longer recovery time once you fall sick. Mortality increases when you get less than 6 hours of sleep a night. So, if you have to wake up by 5.30am the next day to go to school, you best be in bed by 11.30pm. I know, you have endless amounts of homework, but do not forget that you only live once!

No one likes feeling under the weather, so this article serves as a check list for keeping your immune system in tip top condition. And if you think your health can wait, let me tell you, no it can’t.