I'm quoted in the July 2018 issue of Singapore Tatler Magazine, where I offer guidance on beating the mid-year lull. Thanks to Singapore Tatler for inviting me to contribute!
Heart palpitations, panic attacks, fear of the future, psychosomatic illness, body dissatisfaction, anxiety and clinical depression are plaguing women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, contributing significantly to the astounding rise of the wellness and functional medicine industries as millions seek out alternative routes to improve their well-being. I should know— as a health and life coach in Singapore, the majority of my clients are women in this age bracket who wrestle with personal dissatisfaction, low energy, baffling physical symptoms, and self-sabotaging habits.
From changing physiologies, increasing stress loads, existential crises, and maladaptive cultural coping strategies, midlife packs a wallop and women, more than ever, are feeling it.
In fact, studies consistently show that the midlife crisis is a real phenomenon, with women experiencing their lowest point of happiness somewhere between the ages of 40 and 53 (peak happiness is reached at age 34, according to international research). Combined with inevitable hormonal changes during this period that radically change the circuitry in both brain and body, women are struggling.
Today in the US and the UK, an estimated one in four women are taking at least one mental health medication, making up the majority of those prescribed an antidepressant, and that number appears to be climbing in Singapore as well. In many parts of the world, middle-aged women are one of the primary groups seeking treatment for substance abuse, particularly problem drinking. And, measures of subjective well-being indicate that women’s happiness has declined in relation to men’s across industrialized countries and demographic groups.
So, what the heck is going on? Here are five reasons I’ve observed that underpin stress and depression for women in midlife, as well as some initial tips on how to turn things around.
1. Your Hormones Are Dramatically Changing During the Menopause Transition:
Although menstruation doesn’t completely stop until around age 51, women generally enter the perimenopausal phase sometime between their late thirties and mid-forties, propelling a cascade of changes to hormone levels as the body gradually produces less progesterone and estrogen while ovarian function declines. During the transition into menopause, cortisol levels rise and adrenal function may be compromised, contributing to stubborn weight gain around the abdomen typically experienced by women in their forties.
The roller coaster of perimenopause generally lasts for three to four years although it can stretch on for a decade or more, bringing with it extreme fatigue, hot flashes, vaginal dryness, heavy periods, sexual dysfunction and erratic moods. This drastic shift, coupled with popular culture’s shame-based attitudes etched upon aging women as well as changes in appearance and sexual functioning contribute heavily to increased stress, generalized anxiety disorder and depression. Fascinatingly, North American and European women tend to have far more extreme symptoms than women in societies which revere older women as wise matriarchs and honor the seasons of life as well as those which subsist primarily on plant based diets, including Southeast Asia, Japan and Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.
Balancing your hormones during this time without the intervention of hormone replacement therapy is typically a challenge, but there are a few things you can do on your own to reduce anxiety and depression during this phase:
- Change up your exercise routine. Perimenopausal women often hire health and fitness professionals to help them tackle unwanted weight gain after finding that, despite exercising themselves into the ground, the weight still isn’t budging. A cyclical problem arises, particularly when personal trainers and health coaches aren’t knowledgeable about the impact these hormonal changes have on the body. HIIT (high intensity interval training) is generally the protocol for torching body fat through exercise, but can work against women in the menopause transition by further increasing their cortisol levels, fatigue and muscle and joint soreness. Instead of high intensity interval training and running, adopt low to medium intensity modalities with adequate rest periods. Breath-focused Pilates and strength training, which can help stave off osteopenia, are good options during this time. Additionally, “while guidelines have advocated an accumulation of at least thirty minutes a day of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week (150 minutes per week), a major study (the DREW study) found that a lower amount of activity was associated with a significant improvement in fitness for women in their mid- to late-fifties,” just after menopause.  Lower amounts of exercise can also benefit clients in the perimenopause phase, particularly if they’re not getting enough restful sleep.
- Make sleep a priority, and aim to get at least 8 to 9 hours of shuteye a night. Sleep length and quality plummets during this time as melatonin levels decrease, cortisol rises, and everyday life takes on a frantic quality.
When women don’t sleep, restorative DHEA and growth hormone cease production, which in turn compromises the immune system and contributes to inflammation in the body. This reaction has a tendency to set off clinical depression.
In this age, sleepless warriors are touted as demi-gods, celebrated for their ability to subsist on 4 or 5 hours a night. In Singapore, most people are clocking just over 6 hours per night— not nearly enough for restoration and rejuvenation. Ignore the hype and commit to some serious rest. Turning your bedroom into a peaceful, device-free and cocoon-like sanctuary, practicing a bedtime ritual such as prayer or mindfulness, and taking melatonin and ZMA (zinc+magnesium+B6) supplements half an hour before lights off can all help contribute to better quality sleep. If you’re bolting up in the middle of the night— common for perimenopausal women— don’t just lie there! Get out of bed, make a cup of relaxing tea such as kava tea and read a boring book. Whatever you do, avoid looking at your phone or laptop screens- exposure to blue light is a primary culprit of insomnia.
2. You’ve Lost Sight of a Life Purpose or Worthwhile Goals:
Around one’s mid-thirties, some people begin to wake up to the fact that they’ve designed a life and chosen a career path that they thought would please others— usually their parents, a peer group, or some nebulous societal definition of success. However, many of us find that as we stabilize financially in our thirties and forties through careers that are personally unfulfilling, regret and energy depletion eventually catch up, particularly for women who have tucked their artistic or altruistic ambitions into the cobwebbed corners of their hearts.
At this point, one is faced with the decision to remain shackled to proverbial golden handcuffs, or to take a radical dive into the unknown, doing battle with the prevailing (and idiotic) notion that when one hits her forties, it is too late to make a successful career change (hello- you’ve got a good twenty-five to thirty productive years ahead. You’re just getting warmed up!)
Other women who have taken years off to stay at home with their children may discover in their forties or fifties that they're itching to rejoin the workforce, but have lost their sense of professional identity in the process of attentive motherhood. While I am not a career coach, I do a lot of work with clients to explore their purpose and goals through an investigation of their values and life narrative. In this coaching work, I’ve discovered numerous ways to craft a new purpose beyond fashioning it from the insights garnered by personality tests like the Enneagram and Myers-Briggs. Here are three helpful tips:
- Become an apprentice. Rather than diving in to what you think might satisfy your purpose, seek out opportunities to volunteer or intern in roles that appeal to you, or audit diverse courses to get a taste of your options. Apprenticeships are not just for twenty-somethings. Increasingly, midlife adults are seeking internship opportunities as a way to hone new skills and explore what might be most pleasing to the child within.
- In uncovering one’s true vocation— a summons to an occupation that a person is specifically designed for— world-renowned spiritual guide and counselor Henri Nouwen suggested taking a piece of paper and drawing a foundation stone at the base of the page, filling it in with one’s birth date and life circumstances during the time. From there, “build on the stone, adding all the major events of your life, whether joyful or sorrowful. When you’ve finished, go back and add notations about cultural or world events happening during those times: political changes, natural disasters, war, etc. When you have finished, look at the whole picture and reflect on this question: what might God be doing in my life and in the world?”
- Honor your subconscious and body wisdom by ceasing to overthink. In his book, “How To Be An Adult,” psychotherapist David Richo writes that “in matters of the heart, thinking (ironically) leads only to more confusion. What works best is simply noticing a) what your body feels, b) what your actions are, and c) what your intuition keeps coming back to.” We have a tendency to overanalyze our options. Free journaling, body scan meditations, and centering prayer are all tools you can use to get out of your head and into your heart.
3. You Are Drinking or Otherwise Self-Medicating to Cope, Rather Than Making Space to Resolve the Real Issue:
It’s no wonder that levels of happiness and satisfaction begin to dip in midlife. During this time divorce rates increase, kids begin to cling to their independence, more women find themselves sandwiched between elder care and child duties, and a lack of self-realization sets in (see #2!)
While the “midlife crisis” has typically been seen as the domain of forty-something men who trade their responsibilities in for a flashy car or a fling, women also contend with a shifting sense of self.
But they usually deal with it differently. In Australia, the US and Europe, as well as in expat communities around the world, women in midlife are becoming increasingly dependent on alcohol, engaging in high risk drinking that has been normalized by celebrities and on social media threads. A recent report from the OECD indicates that college-educated women in Australia should now be considered a high-risk category for binge drinking. And in the US, studies show that problem drinking is on the rise across all age groups while “drunkorexia” is the new trend for middle-aged women who replace usual food calories with booze in an effort to remain trim…and blitzed. Deaths among middle-aged women from prescription painkillers and anti-anxiety tranquilizers like Xanax are also climbing as women take far more than the recommended dosage while washing the pills down with wine— a lethal cocktail. I will be bold enough to assert that alcohol abuse is one of the greatest public health crises women face today, contributing to hospitalization rates for anxiety, depression and suicide attempts; increasing the risk of breast cancer and cardiac disease; disintegrating relationships; and generally eroding one’s overall quality of life. Untangling yourself from a reliance on substances to get through the day is tricky, but millions of people each year prove that it can be done. Here are some options for mapping out a path to sobriety:
- Enlisting a qualified psychologist or psychotherapist to help you uncover, work through and process any trauma or present life circumstances contributing to substance use is paramount in obtaining an awakened, clear-eyed life. Some coaches, including myself, are trained and experienced in supporting individuals battling a reliance on alcohol or prescription drugs, and in helping to change self-sabotaging habits and behaviors. Ceasing to self-medicate generally requires some professional support, at least in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to ask for help!
- Fellowship-based support groups like Moderation Management, SMART Recovery and AA are available around the world, and many have women-only options. Find what works for you… and you may also find many other women that you can relate to.
4. A Spiritual Framework Has Not Been Fully Developed:
The culture of wellness has morphed into a religion of sorts, replacing ancient teachings and rituals with the shiny promises of green juices, colonics, westernized yoga, app-led meditation and “clean eating.”
As more women identify as “spiritual but not religious,” discontent with life has also seemed to escalate, evidenced by increases in antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescriptions, heavy drinking, eating disorders in midlife... and a wellness industry that’s now estimated to bring in $4 trillion dollars globally at last count, with no signs of stopping.
In fact, according to a study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, people who are spiritual but not religious are more likely to suffer from poor mental health, including a dependence on drugs, eating disorders, anxiety, phobias and other neuroses— findings that support other similar studies. Surprisingly, atheists tend to fare better than the “spiritual but not religious” group, while those who identify as “religious” have the highest rates of life satisfaction as well as lower rates of depression and suicide.
Today’s “spiritualish” approach lacks the very definition of integrity— a wholeness or completeness— as diverse practices and traditions are taken piecemeal and appropriated, usually without some well-defined life guidelines or ethical foundation, which leaves many feeling hungry or confused. The explosion of corporatized yoga is a perfect example of this, with some of India’s yogis sounding the alarm on its commoditization, fitness-oriented focus and Instagrammable lifestyle. Without a strong spiritual framework, a close-knit community is also missing as modern forms of spiritual practice seem to be more about self-improvement (and arguably, self-absorption), and less about helping your fellow woman, furthering social justice or drawing closer to (God, a higher power, universal life force, the divine, the ineffable, etc.) Developing strong spiritual roots requires openness and faith, which is premised by a yearning to seek out the truth with eyes wide open, and to accept suffering as intrinsic to the human experience. This challenge is an extremely personal one, and more people are finding that the religious options available to them are at odds with our current culture, as well as their original teachings— hence new movements like emergent Christianity and a resurgence of mystical practices. As you endeavor to build a framework that is rooted deeply into solid ground, here are two things to consider doing:
- Seek out true spiritual leaders who have devoted their lives to their faith or belief system and have a conversation with them about your questions and struggles. Come armed with questions and a healthy curiosity about how they’ve come to know what they do, as well as their routines and overall outlook. This can seem extremely intimidating, but many will be willing to talk with you.
- Spend time regularly in nature, open to the silence and the wonder surrounding you. Book a walk with your friends through jungle or forest, basking in each other’s company while staying present to the sounds and sights of the natural environment. It’s no coincidence that many mystics, monks and saints found their connection to the divine while on a mountaintop or deep in the woods.
5. You’ve Got Way Too Much Going On for One Person to Handle:
In Singapore, wealth and status are doggedly pursued, fueling the rise of moneylenders, pawnshops, plastic surgery and marital strife. Social media compounds this insatiable need for prestige, providing a virtual platform to “keep up with the Joneses”. Between the duties of family and career, as well as social responsibilities and the pervasive need to live a double life— the one based in reality and the one shared on social media— women play professional juggler while striving to look the part of perfection, people-pleasing in the process. No wonder they’re drained!
Philosopher and writer Jiddu Krishnamurti remarked over seventy years ago, “it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society,” which certainly applies today. We are, as a collective of people in urban areas all over the world, driving ourselves into the ground by subscribing to an unsustainable lifestyle that is better designed for soulless robots than for human beings. A large part of the problem exists in the rising cost to stay afloat, as evidenced by the widening income gap in Singapore and the subsequent outcry from its citizens. In the midst of writing this, a taxi driver lamented to me, “I work twelve hours a day to support my family. I barely get in 1,000 steps a day. What can I do?”
On the other side of the issue are our expectations of what it means to have a comfortable life, and how much is actually enough. Two common sights in Singapore are the luxury sports cars parked outside HDBs (public housing) and the administrative assistant carrying a new Louis Vuitton handbag. Privileged expats are also stretching themselves to the limit in an effort to keep up with appearances.
In response to runaway consumerism and the stress of modern life, movements in minimalism and essentialism are spreading beyond a niche group of millennials and into the mainstream.
While these movements emphasize simplicity and conscious consumerism, they are primarily tools for obtaining freedom and peace of mind. Greg McKeown, author of the bestselling book, Essentialism, writes that it’s “not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your life and energy in order to operate at the highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”
Here’s an initial exercise to launch a life that embraces the essentials:
- Fold a paper lengthwise down the middle, creating two separate columns. In one column, write down every single thing that takes up your time and energy in a one week period. Be specific! Now, in the second column, write down no more than half of the things that you really and truly need to do each week. Finally, highlight or underline the top three things that matter. Can you envision what your life would be like if you lived by the second column, paying particular focus to the three things you underlined?
Suffering is an inevitable part of life woven into the human experience. But, accepting suffering as one of the many waves we’ll each face does not have to equate to a life of stress and depression.
Cultivating purpose, self-respect, and a strong spiritual foundation along with a focus on the essential and an acceptance of the seasons that each of our bodies will endure invites peace and vitality back into our lives, no matter what our age or circumstances.
I wish you good health, and thanks for reading!
Wow- you got to the end- it was a long one! Did this post help you in some way? If so, share the love on social media or in an email to someone who could use the read.
 (2009) Stevenson, Betsey and Justin Wolfers. “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness” http://www.nber.org/papers/w14969
 (2017) “Perimenopause: Rocky Road to Menopause.” Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Harvard Medical School.
 Sweet, Wendy PhD, (2018). “The Connection Between Exercise and Menopause.” ACE Fitness, https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/certified/january-2018/6882/the-connection-between-exercise-and-menopause
 Nouwen, Henri. (2013) Discernment. Harper Collins.
 (2015). “Women and Children First: Tackling Harmful Drinking.” OECD http://oecdinsights.org/2015/05/12/women-and-children-first-tackling-harmful-drinking/
 (2017). “The Big, Booming Business of Wellness” Self Magazine. https://www.self.com/story/the-big-booming-business-of-wellness
 (2013) King, Michael, Louise Marston, et al. “Religion, Spirituality and Mental Health: Results from a National Study of English Households” The British Journal of Psychiatry.
Love to all the mothers celebrating this weekend,
and to the daughters who have lost mothers,
and to the daughters and mothers estranged.
Love to all the women who have mourned a child,
and to those who are struggling to have one,
and to the women who will not become mothers by choice, chance or design.
Love to all the women who have learned how to mother themselves,
and to the women who teach their own mothers about the worth of a woman.
Love to all the grandmothers who raised their grandbabies because the mothers could not,
and to all the women who were mothers to their own mothers,
and to all the mothers going it alone.
Love to all the mothers who are trying to be
Love to all the women for whom Mother’s Day is a silencer,
women who swallow grief,
women who wrangle over what should be.
Women who are mosaics.
Women who are menders.
Women who are healers.
Women who are vessels.
Women who are diamonds.
Women who are boulders.
Women who are oceans.
Women who are love.
Love to all the women.
In 2017, I learned that we can plan all we want in our attempts to manifest what we think our lives should be, but it's often the serendipitous, spontaneous experiences that bring us to the place we need to be in order to grow, like the seed of a wildflower carried by the wind.
After years of believing that I would never have a family of my own due to endometriosis and ambivalence, my gregarious, funny and fearless little guy entered the world in February, born to two introverted, bookish parents who are still trying to figure out where our bubbly charmer came from. We’d done everything we possibly could to ensure a natural water birth, but after 23 hours of labor, he arrived unruffled by an otherwise harrowing emergency C-section, which somehow set the tone for parenting, my anxieties and neuroticism harshly contrasting the reality of raising such an easy, confident baby.
Here’s how I saw it — I’d be one of those present, put-together moms while expanding Tangram Wellness, writing a book, and working on a doctorate as he napped. I’d strive to be like that gorgeous blonde mom who jogs by my house every morning — she with the perfectly sculpted six-pack, placid wrinkle-free face and Lululemon wunder shorts. I so, so want to be her some days! Now, the reality:
with any significant step forward, there is so much loss. I find that concepts like “balance” and “having it all” as a mother are complete and utter bullshit, that the appearance of perfection means something very different behind closed doors, that holding ourselves up to idealized Instagram standards is yet another form of self-hatred.
So, I chose to scale back Tangram, shuttering it as a full-fledged company and slowly redirecting it back to its essence as one woman, one coach, who simply wants to serve the people she's meant to serve where and when she can. The book, which I’d mapped out to write over six months of baby naps, is looking more like a multi-year project, and the degree that I was aiming to apply for has taken on an entirely new hue, less a necessity and more a high-risk roll of the dice. These days, I’m lucky to get to the gym four times a week. Cardio means a breathless ten-minute stroller run to my favorite coffee shop. And, now that I've been blessed with my son, I've realized that this once proudly child-free woman would probably be happiest with a large family which, at my age, is both an impossibility and a yearning that few of my peers relate to. Nothing, absolutely nothing, has gone as planned.
In 2017, I stopped being a “fixer,” an aspect of my personality that I’d once believed was set in stone. I stopped trying to heal people who have no real interest in feeling good, and I walked away from toxicity cloaked as love, estranging myself from the past after saying a final time in 2016, shortly before I’d conceived, #metoo.
There must be something in the air—so many women, like seeds, found their roots this year and began to flourish fiercely on the outskirts of a desert beset by predators. Their buds are everywhere now, a variegation of colors and textures sprouting from a once unfamiliar land as if they belonged there, because they do. Me too. We cannot breathe in new life without releasing the weight that pulls us under and that often requires a real fight and then, rest. Rest.
For all the shifts and surprises, 2017 has been the best year of my life. And yet, the entire time, I haven’t been the one driving, despite all of my planning. God is a tricky topic to write about these days, but for many of us in recovery — recovery from anything — we eventually have to learn to “let go and let God.” I guess I’ve finally realized, after 8 years of sobriety, what that truly means. Cultivating spiritual fortitude sounds like a worthwhile goal for next year, and every year thereafter.
My wish for all of us in 2018 is that we can enjoy “what is” a bit more instead of focusing on what could be — a tall order in this age of achievement, frustration and hashtags, where our will and desires are king and queen. To make ample space for mystery and surprise — to "trust the timing of your life," as the saying goes — is a strange thing for a behavior change coach to advocate but I think, at this point, it’s a strong way forward. Farewell to grasping.
Ring it in, and bring it on! Happy New Year.
Trigger warning: this article deals with the topic of sexual violence and abuse. If you just want resources and solutions to heal, scroll halfway down for a list, beginning with "TOOLS FOR EMPOWERMENT."
As more women come forward with allegations of sexual harassment and assault by Hollywood film mogul, Harvey Weinstein, their collective voice has carried across thousands of miles, encouraging some of us living in the more restrained social climate of Southeast Asia to say, #MeToo. Over a few short days, millions of women and men are now galvanizing to weaken a culture that profoundly impacts countless people not only during the acts of violence, but over the years and decades following their traumas. Admittedly, I broke my “no social media” rule this week after ten months of (mostly) scroll-free living to read through the various headlines and hashtags for some promising indication of change. As a behavioral health professional and another #MeToo, I’m compelled to believe that we have finally reached a point in history where we will no longer tolerate the shame, silence, and predatory environment that has contributed heavily to skyrocketing rates of drug and alcohol addiction, mental illness, and physical pain.
Sexual violence IS a public health issue, and it’s one that coaches, fitness specialists, and medical professionals must be able to compassionately discuss with the people they serve because invariably, all of us in the helping professions will end up working with people who have bodies that speak the language of trauma.
In Singapore, awareness of sexual abuse and assault is finally growing due to organizations like AWARE, an increase in high-profile cases, a global spotlight on human trafficking in the region, and the brave survivors willing to speak out about their own experiences. While Singapore is comparatively safer than the US, violence and abuse regularly occurs here across all racial and economic backgrounds. Voyeurism, up skirting and the sharing of intimate digital images are commonplace. Assault, rape and child sexual abuse (CSA) are regularly in the news. One study carried out in 2014 surveying young adults in Singapore found that 1 in 3 had experienced sexual violence of some form, “from verbal and cyber-harassment to non-consensual touching and rape.” The Harvey Weinstein’s of the world straddle class, race and economic lines. Many of them— as hard as it is to accept— were also victims of sexual violence and adopted a maladaptive coping strategy of false power to bandage their psychological wounds. That in no way means that they should not be held accountable- quite the opposite. Sexual violence is a cycle, and in order for the cycle to discontinue in our world, we must understand all of the moving parts.
Sexual violence lingers. It’s a toxic mold in the body and a stain on the mind, eventually abrading the fibers of both.
This undeserved experience— one that a third of women and fifteen to twenty percent of men are directly impacted by— manifests in multiple pernicious ways, including:
o Eating disorders: About half of those with anorexia and bulimia have endured some form of sexual trauma. Binge eating and body dissatisfaction are also linked to histories of sexual abuse.
o Obesity: Children who were sexually abused are far more likely to struggle with their weight as adults.
o Sexual dysfunction: Women and men who’ve endured sexual violence are more likely to experience vaginismus, erectile dysfunction, and arousal disorders. Intimacy becomes a struggle.
o Self-harm: Adolescents and young adults who attack their own flesh through cutting have extremely high rates of sexual abuse in childhood (CSA). In one group of self-harmers, 93% were CSA survivors.
o Autoimmune Disorders: The amazing ACE Study— a retrospective study of over 15,000 adults— offers fascinating insight into the link between CSA and various autoimmune conditions, including Crohn’s disease, lupus, fibromyalgia, IBS, and endometriosis. 
o Addiction, particularly to alcohol and opiates, is rampant among people living with sexual trauma. Dr. Gabor Mate, a sage in addiction medicine, found that nearly all of his female patients hooked on heroin had a severe trauma history. Women with alcohol use disorders frequently report instances of sexual violence in their path. And, as much as we don’t wish to admit, alcohol consumption is directly linked to sexual assault. 
o Anxiety and low-self esteem: many people who’ve been violated are then subject to victim blaming, labelled by their perpetrators as liars, crazy, attention-seeking, and bad or evil. This leads to a collapse in self-esteem and self-belief, and may contribute to self-internalizing disorders like anxiety.
Trauma significantly impacts our physical and emotional wellness, and recovery is often like peeling an onion slowly; each new layer reveals raw memories, sensations, emotions and challenges. The health impacts of an assault occurring in college, for instance, may end up expressing itself as C-PTSD, depression, an addiction or a pain condition when the person is well into her thirties or forties. The truth of the experience becomes visible only when we are grounded and ready to handle it, although it may not feel like that at the time.
This unfolding can be incredibly upsetting, and survivors are often left wondering why they must bear the consequences of someone else’s violence over years and decades. Many have no idea why their bodies are suddenly rebelling or what’s caused a decline in their moods.
Health and trauma are inextricably connected; we simply cannot talk about mental health, disease and addiction any longer without talking about trauma as well.
Now, the good news. With enduring and healing, we discover an unexpected upside. Thriving beyond abuse means alchemizing hypervigilance into intuitiveness and anger into empathy. It means embodying the truth of forgiveness, unchaining oneself from the offender by no longer demanding something that the perpetrator cannot offer. It means learning to rest in the quiet of your soul instead of racing toward the next distraction. It means being able to believe in and define who you are, rather than handing over your identity to others. With healing and recovery, we’re offered powerful protection against perfectionism, victimhood, narcissism, hopelessness and rage.
Survivor resources are still quite limited, particularly in Singapore. However, I’ve compiled a list of what I’ve found helpful to women who are ready to thrive after sexual abuse or assault. These are not explicit endorsements and I have nothing to gain by recommending them. While our voices are, in this moment, unified, our experiences are all unique. Find what works for you.
TOOLS FOR EMPOWERMENT:
Self-defense classes can dramatically reduce the potential for future assaults while strengthening one’s ability to identify and avoid potential predators. I’m a fan of the brutal Israeli self-defense system, Kapap, as well as basic survival defense using found objects and tools like tactical pens. If you’re willing to endure a few bruises, Kapap Singapore is run by seasoned martial artist and former psychologist, Master Teo Yew Chye. His protégé, Yunquan, is the first and only martial artist to be conferred by Her Majesty the Queen of England for saving lives through self-defense. She’s also a bodyguard and behavioral consultant, skilled at detecting deception and interpreting body language (and a total badass). Boxing and MMA are two other options, but you’ll want to feel completely comfortable with the coach and class, and a testosterone-fuelled environment can sometimes be a challenge for trauma survivors, although often the best way to overcome our fears is by facing them head on, venturing into the dragon's lair.
Yoga is beneficial in releasing physical and emotional symptoms of sexual trauma while encouraging the practitioner to remain in her body, thereby decreasing episodes of detachment, or disassociation, both during and following the session. Look for trauma-sensitive yoga, which embraces a hands-off teaching style and avoids poses that may trigger a fight-or-flight response, like happy baby pose and downward facing dog. Forrest Yoga is a discipline that emphasizes moving shame out of the body while reinforcing the mind-body connection through what its founder, Ana Forrest, calls “synaptic bridging.” While I’m not aware of any trauma-specific practices in Singapore, a good yoga instructor should be able to tailor the class and offer alternative poses if you’re willing to be open with him or her about your specific needs. At least one yogi in Singapore currently offers Forrest Yoga- check their Facebook page for class information.
Weightlifting is an exceptional tool for battling depression and PTSD, and an apt metaphor for the experience of moving into thriving. You learn that what you once believed you could not handle becomes easier to carry, and you stop asking for a lighter load, instead strengthening yourself to face whatever may come. In the bodybuilding community, I’ve met an incredible number of women who have healed from eating disorders, addictions and mental health challenges- for good reason! Weightlifting puts you back in touch with your body and builds your strength in multiple ways. There are many options in Singapore, both at gyms and with private coaches. Three excellent fitness specialists in Singapore are Roz Alexander, Yan Huang, and Cheryl Lin. They are supportive, encouraging, and they know their way around the weight room!
Self-Care is an antidote to depression, stress and self-flagellation, reinforcing that one’s needs and feelings are valid and important. Prioritizing your well-being— getting enough sleep and exercise, nourishing your body with whole foods, setting aside time for play, and creating a supportive routine in your life, for example— will help your body and heart cope with the aftermath of trauma, whether days or years after the incident. Self-care is deliberate, scheduled and controlled solely by you- it’s claiming the driver’s seat in your life and honoring your internal messaging system.
Journaling, particularly structured journaling, provides a private space for mental purging so you can move beyond your past and build a purposeful, rock-solid future for yourself. Pen and paper work well for most, and research shows that writing by hand calms the mind while improving memory and creativity. If you’re looking for something with structure and an end goal, Jordan Peterson’s Self-Authoring course is well worth the money and time it will take you to thoughtfully finish it (around 3 months or so to complete).
Meditation and Prayer: Mindfulness has become this decade’s cure-all, and for good reason- it works! However, for trauma survivors in the earlier stages of recovery, a meditation practice can backfire with highly negative results, including re-triggering and the onset of mental illness as well as psychosis. If you’re going to give meditation a try, having a supportive therapist and an experienced mindfulness teacher is a smart idea. Start S-L-O-W-L-Y, no more than perhaps a few minutes per day. The Kadampa Meditation Center offers daily sessions and longer courses on modern Buddhist meditation, and there are several options for Christian meditation in Singapore as well, including weekly classes at Saint Bernadette’s Church. Prayer is another path of healing from sexual trauma, and one of the most powerful— albeit personal— I’ve found. Infusing your life with a daily prayer practice has been proven in numerous studies to heal deeply and profoundly.
THERAPIES AND COACHING:
Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, or EMDR is a radical and somewhat mysterious psychotherapy approach to alleviate stress and bodily discomfort from traumatic memory by enhancing the processing and forming new adaptive memories. Developed accidentally by American psychologist, Francine Shapiro, EMDR has become a popular yet controversial treatment for PTSD resulting from combat, rape, child abuse, and physical accidents. EMDR tends to work best for single traumatic incidents, but can also be effective for complex PTSD.
Gestalt Therapy is a client-centered experiential therapy emphasizing a focus on the present life rather than interpreting the past, and views people as a “whole” comprised of body, mind and soul. Techniques combine bodywork, drama, dance, role-play, dream work and art as a path to experiencing how something feels in the moment. Because Gestalt respects and supports the individual’s understanding of oneself, it’s particularly well-suited to people who have been told by external parties how they should interpret their trauma, or who are dealing with gaslighting— manipulation to make one doubt one’s sanity and reality— which is a particularly common experience for trauma survivors.
Tension, Stress and Trauma Release Exercises(TRE) is a system of physical exercises that shakes the muscles to increase body resiliency and relax the nervous system while shedding trauma. This is similar to the natural mechanism to discharge excess energy used by many animals after they’ve encountered a predator. This therapy is also helpful for people in addiction recovery, and those with PTSD.
Comprehensive Resource Model (CRM) is a completely new therapy that, to my knowledge, is not yet offered anywhere in Asia, and helps with the remembering and releasing of traumatic material while re-establishing one critical foundation in Maslow’s hierarchy— a sense of safety and security. It targets the most primitive aspects of the self through connection to the natural world and reawakens the imagination to new possibilities for the future. Based on what I’ve read, I’m really excited about this approach and hope to one day bring it over to Singapore or adapt it for coaching.
Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is perhaps the most basic and widely available therapeutic approach to treating trauma, and involves weekly sessions of talking with a trained clinician about your memories, interpretations and feelings, as well as completing short writing assignments. This eventually increases a sense of safety and self-control while encouraging the release of unhelpful beliefs that may lead to self-sabotage.
Sexual Health: Sexual violence can be so detrimental to one’s sexual sense of self and ability to physically connect in relationships. Be gentle with yourself in the healing process and prioritize maintaining an open dialogue with a trusted partner. Conditions like painful sex can be treated through psychotherapy, physical therapy and the use of tools like dilators and pelvic wands. The book, Heal Pelvic Pain, has a series of daily physical "Letting Go" exercises that can also retrain muscular response. Two sexual health coaches in Singapore are Dr. Martha Tara Lee and Christina Low, so if you’re in the region, you may wish to reach out to them.
Coaching for health, life and recovery focuses on values-based rebuilding with an eye toward the future, and draws on the natural strengths and abilities of the client. It’s a motivational and insightful journey of self-discovery, and an opportunity to rewrite the story of one’s life for a more joyful, resilient and meaningful existence. I am, of course, biased about practitioners, so I won’t recommend any particular integrative coach :-). One specialist who works specifically with sexual abuse survivors is Rachel Grant, and she has a worthwhile newsletter and guide on recovery, as well as one-on-one and group programs offered online.
“The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk is a lifesaver for anyone healing from trauma or working in the field, and explains how trauma rewires the brain and alters our capacity to enjoy life, as well as outlining how to reverse those detrimental impacts. This tome is best read slowly with a highlighter in hand.
“The Gift of Fear” explains the predatory mind in detail, imparting wisdom to help women physically protect themselves from potential attacks. It also tackles the tricky business of saying “no” and is a must read for people-pleasing nice girls. The author, Gavin de Becker is a top expert in personal security and has a company focused on the protection of high-profile individuals and prevention of violence.
“Women Who Run With the Wolves” is a manifesto for the wild woman archetype and explores feminine expectations and roles in history and mythology. It’s an incredibly empowering and enlightening book for women who are ready to reclaim their true nature and intuition, and shed those cultural norms that perpetuate our victimization and second-class status.
“The Courage to Heal” by Ellen Bass is the Bible for recovery from childhood sexual abuse in particular. I would be remiss not to include this book and it’s particularly suitable for those on the beginning of their journey. However, if you’ve already done some therapy and are looking for deeper healing, it may ring a little basic for you.
“Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma” by Peter Levine explores the trauma continuum through the lens of the animal kingdom, and includes a series of body exercises to reduce unpleasant sensations. This book is applicable to any type of trauma or jarring life event and is somewhat similar to “The Body Keeps the Score,” although more specific and less robust in its content.
“Life, Reinvented” by Erin Carpenter, LCSW is a simple book that addresses how to move beyond sexual trauma and rebuild one’s life, and can be particularly helpful to other supportive loved ones as well. If you’re not ready for therapy, this is a good start.
And, three bonus books which don’t relate specifically to trauma, but explore setting boundaries and standing up for yourself are:
“The Nice Girl Syndrome,” by Beverly Engel provides a 10 point plan to stop being abused by spouses, friends, family members, dates, and dudes on the street. Engel’s an expert in treating emotional and sexual abuse, and has been practicing psychotherapy for 35 years.
“Boundaries,” by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend is about taking control of one’s life and learning to advocate for oneself- something that too many women really wrestle with. "Boundaries" is biblically-based and filled with epiphanies that challenge “turning the other cheek” in specific circumstances, like abuse. If you’re a boundary-injured Christian, I cannot recommend this read enough. There’s a workbook as well; get them both!
Another Christian-specific book is Battlefield of the Mind by Joyce Meyer, a minister who transformed her CSA trauma and now counsels survivors through her ministry and books. She’s an inspiring figure who’s transcended shame to help thousands, and if you're feeling hopeless about your own situation, look up her life story. She's proof that severe betrayals can be overcome. Rumination and obsession are two after effects of violence, and Joyce does an excellent job of explaining how to overcome that from a Christian perspective. Both “Boundaries” and “Battlefield of the Mind” may not resonate for secular folks or those practicing other faiths.
GROUPS & HOTLINES:
Support groups can be tremendously powerful for survivors of sexual trauma. As #MeToo proves, we overcome in fellowship and safe, mutual sharing.
I only know of one support group in Singapore that specifically serves adults dealing with sexual trauma, but I’ve found that 12 Step groups (AA, NA, Al-anon) are generally helpful if you’re also wrestling with an addiction and you’d like a space to express abuse-related trauma among others who can empathize.
Two online groups you may wish to check out are Pandora’s “Rape and Sexual Abuse Online Support Community” and Reddit’s Adult Survivors of CSA. Online groups provide some level of anonymity. Remember to proceed cautiously in online communities, as bullies and trolls enjoy targeting the vulnerable online and moderators aren’t always quick enough to protect the group, however hard they may try.
AWARE is a gender equality advocacy group in Singapore that offers several services for victims of violence, including a support group, counselling, a legal clinic, hotline and research-based advocacy.
RAINN is an organization based out of the US and perhaps the world’s largest anti-violence network. They also have a support helpline and offer multiple online resources for children and adults in the US and abroad.
ONLY YOU own your story, your experiences and your path to healing. As more women and men (let's not forget the men here, please) come forward in the weeks and months ahead, you may feel pressured to do the same, even if you’re not quite ready. One of the most important steps in building strength is being able to advocate for yourself while doing what will be most supportive for your soul. If you want to stay silent, do so. If you want stillness over action, embrace that. If you’re feeling anger instead of togetherness, feel that. If you’re not ready to forgive and move forward, don’t. If you feel like shouting your history from the rooftops, go for it! It’s your body, your truth, your walk, and your transformation.
Thanks for reading. If this article has helped you or may help someone else, share it! A few of your connections may appreciate that.
As you may have noticed, I’ve been rather quiet, at least online. I am focusing on my current clients and slaying some goals with my awesome accountability group. Tangram will continue to exist as a platform for advocacy and information, and I plan to update my professional services early next year. If you’d like to join the next accountability group in April, sign up for the newsletter for more information!
Four and a half years ago, Tangram Wellness was launched as a one-woman fitness company offering personal training and early morning boot camps in Singapore. As an introverted foreigner who had made a drastic career change to a hyper-competitive and highly social occupation, to say that I was petrified would be an understatement.
I knew that I wanted to blend physical, emotional and psychological fitness to assist women in rebuilding their lives after a significant setback, but I had no role models or mentors in the field and frankly, no idea how the heck I was going to carry out my vision.
About a year after the business was established, I added health coaching to the roster, and trained as a coach in behaviour change as well. Eventually, I dipped a toe into the waters of counselling and became an addiction recovery therapist, then began seeking out “my people”- women who were on a journey out of an eating disorder, addiction or other type of self-sabotage. A presentation on bodybuilding at the co-working space, Woolf Works, became a path forward, when I inadvertently admitted to a group of about thirty lovely strangers that I had struggled with an alcohol use disorder and clinical depression for over a decade.
When I went home that night, I felt like I might have made the biggest career mistake in my life by giving voice to this highly personal challenge in a conservative country amidst women who frankly seemed to have it all together.
The next day, emails of thanks trickled into my inbox. Shortly thereafter, the calls for coaching started to come in.
In 2015, I decided to leave personal training behind and focus solely on my coaching clientele. Business was booming and I knew I’d have to hire someone on to fill my former role. Quite fortuitously, Anna Kwan walked into my life. Her warmth and straightforward sensibility, as well as her passion for all things fitness, won me over. As a business owner and athlete with twelve years of experience, she had another great offer on the table, and I could only hope to be so lucky to work with her. To my shock, she came on board almost immediately, intent on serving new and expectant mothers as a pre- and post-natal fitness coach. That wasn’t my vision for Tangram, but frankly, I didn’t care. I encouraged her to build up her desired clientele and she found rapid success.
As we grew, we needed assistance with the administrative side of the business, so I hired on Vanessa as our VA and she kept us ticking forward. I then received a heartfelt email and CV from Yuyan Huang, a coach specializing in hormonal health and fitness for women. Yan’s exuberant energy, coupled with her can-do attitude and experience, convinced me to get her on board. We were on the upswing, and my vision for Tangram began to change. Seeing an opportunity to build a sizeable and multifaceted company, I added yoga to the mix.
Less than three years after I’d launched Tangram, we were a team of five leading corporate seminars, workshops, talks, boot camps, classes, and individual coaching, as well as working with the press to increase visibility on physical and mental health issues in Singapore. It was exhilarating- and exhausting! It was also way too much all at once, and chasing opportunity diluted the mission.
No ascent is without its tumbles and missteps. Although we tried our best to make it work, outdoor yoga in sweltering Singapore was just not happening for us (and talk about a bad hair day). After much patience, our yoga instructor Katheryn moved on. Around this time, I was waddling around with a miraculous bun in the oven after years of dealing with endometriosis and the erroneous belief that I couldn't have children naturally. Anna was on her own fertility journey, and soon after I found out I was pregnant, she was blessed as well. Yan readily picked up the slack and helped us both along as we dealt with morning sickness, fatigue and full schedules. At that point, we were no longer just a business. We were family.
You may have noticed that we’ve been quite quiet on social media this year. Sometimes mama bears simply need to hunker down, guard their caves, and be with their cubs. Pulling back on work gave us all the space to reflect on what we truly wanted to do with our lives, and the shared joy of motherhood instilled in us the strength to fully come into ourselves and focus on what’s most important— professionally and personally.
Thus, it is with a mixture of excitement and sadness that I announce that Tangram Wellness will be ceasing business operations while we commit to do what we do best as individuals.
That’s what this journey is about- for all women. It’s about figuring out your gifts and then venturing beyond comfort to share them with the world. It’s about stepping into the dragon’s lair to confront your fears and discover your hidden treasures.
That’s a process of not weeks and months, but of many years. It involves lots of preparation, heaps of bravery, many mistakes, some celebration, and at least a few unanticipated detours.
And so, we march onward. Anna will be moving on to Beloved Bumps to lead their pre- and post-natal fitness classes and share her knowledge of parenthood with moms-to-be. She is also launching core strengthening classes for moms and their babies, and will begin accepting new clients this month. You can reach out to her directly at email@example.com or 9230-3141.
Yan is focused solely on coaching women who are interested in improving their energy levels and hormonal health through fitness and nutrition, and she’s currently taking on new clients. Get in touch with Yan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9834-8147.
As for me, I am relishing being a mama while returning full-circle to writing and coaching in behavior change and recovery. I’m also running an accountability group for fellow goal-getters (the current one has commenced; you can email me for details at email@example.com). Serving “my people” as a coach and writer gives me yet another reason to wake up with gratitude, and since my baby now dictates my calendar, there’s no screwing around with time! The Tangram Wellness website and social media will remain for now, and you’ll be able to contact us at that email address throughout 2017.
Through Tangram, I’ve learned more than I ever did in 20 years of schooling while making an impact in the community that I now call home. We’ve all forged incredible connections that will last a lifetime. Most importantly, we’ve had the opportunity to cheer our clients on as they soar in the direction of their goals and dreams, and we will continue that good work. For everyone who has been a part of our lives during Tangram- THANK YOU.
With love, light & lifting,
Aimee and the Tangram Team
Over the last 6 months, reports on the "obesity crisis" have been mounting both in Singapore and overseas. "Obesity" has become a dirty word, and most of the articles covering this issue emphasize the negative impacts that excess weight has on our health. As a nutrition coach and personal trainer who is seen as a paragon of health, I'd like to share something with you about what I've experienced personally growing up, as well as what I've learned from it.
If you live in Singapore or have friends or children who've attended local schools within the past 20 years, you may have heard of a weight loss program implemented in schools called the Trim and Fit programme ( TAF Club).
The programme started in 1992; it was an annual school health screening exercise where children aged 9-18 were tested for vision, growth and development based on height and weight, hearing, a basic medical check-up by the doctor, a basic spinal test and immunisation. If you failed to meet "healthy" guidelines, you became a member of TAF whether you liked it or not. Just 4 years after TAF had been implemented, I was first placed in TAF club based on my BMI ( a value based on weight [in kg] over your height squared [in centimetres] ). Later, when I entered secondary school at age 13, I was once again classified as overweight. I was officially in the "TAF club", with the target aim of reducing BMI.
The school had all of us in TAF skip recess-- the only 30-minute break time for meals-- and replace it with exercise. Now, it makes perfect sense to increase our activity level in the hope that our excess weight would be reduced. But you have no idea HOW it was carried out, in my school at least. First off, the area where all of us "TAF girls" had to exercise was right in front of the school canteen-- in front of hundreds of other school mates. What this meant is that we couldn't hide the shame of belonging to TAF. Everyone automatically knew. Even worse, we had to face the embarrassment of exercising in front of an audience of our "normal" peers.
It didn't help that the teacher in charge was somewhat of a tyrant who was overweight herself due to a thyroid disorder. She screamed and yelled at us at the top of her lungs in the hope of motivating us while reprimanding us for being "lazy and fat", which had the opposite impact it was intended to have. Sometimes she would call us names and say that we weren't allowed to eat during recesses because we were "fat."
At the time, I didn't understand how this experience impacted me, since it felt normal to be categorized with the other TAF girls. Now, I realize, that it affected me in many ways, including:
- being fearful whenever I stepped on the weighing scale again and worrying that, if my BMI goes above 24, I would be labelled as "fat" again, and exposed to ridicule. It didn't help at all that TAF, if read backwards, spells "FAT". How "apt" for trying to motivate or inspire us to get more fit;
- not enjoying exercising and feeling ashamed of exercising in a group. I didn't enjoy my time in TAF or the activities they made us do one bit.
- living in fear after TAF, feeling condemned, stigmatized and labelled as if my body shape was my fault. It impacted my confidence profoundly, and made me believe that I would never be able to lose weight or excel in sports. Hanging around with the fit and lean girls made me self-conscious of the way I looked, and I would try my best to make my pinafore belt looser.
Things did not improve initially in junior college- in fact, they got worse as my body developed and my perceptions changed. I wanted to be active but I was scared of my body and concerned that I'd be too slow to join my friends. In that first year, I still bordered on being overweight, but by the second year, thanks to increased running during PE and an added workload, I dropped 10 lbs. in two months. My school teachers were concerned with my health, because my weight loss was really fast and significant. I didn't think it was a bad thing-- in fact, I enjoyed the "skirt" hanging loose on my hips. My mind was subconsciously fixed on aesthetics. Later on, I found a studio that ran fitness classes to improve
I was later fortunate to find a studio that ran fun-filled classes working on improving cardiovascular health, core strength, co-ordination and flexibility through dance and fitness routine. It felt great that the emphasis was on enjoying ourselves and the instructors were all very encouraging. For the first time in my life, I felt so free as I was able to connect my limbs and body to move to what my heart felt and mind thought. My fitness and confidence level improved while my weight continued to decrease.
A couple of years later, after my chemotherapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma ended, I found a new sanctuary with the bar and weightlifting. I fell in love with the bar not for the aesthetics initially but more of a way of connecting with the inner strength I knew existed within me pre-cancer days.
So, why does our culture put so much stake on "looking good," and why does the media have a tendency to showcase women's bodies in photos without their heads? Isn't it finally time that we pay more attention to the real issues fuelling this "obesity crisis" and focus on improving lifestyle habits rather than emphasizing aesthetics?
A recent Harvard Public Health article, "The Scarlet F" highlighted findings that "weight stigma may be as harmful to the body in itself as poor diet and physical inactivity." It listed the negative impacts of weight stigma to be as rampant and as powerful as racial stigmatisation. Women who experience this type of weight prejudice may also be at a higher risk of bullying, depression, suicide, eating disorders, and other harmful addictions. Weight stigma can also impair their prospects in education, careers, romantic relationships, and physical activity.
These experiences add unnecessary stressors on their already burdened lifestyle and the environment they are in, leading to even more unhealthy weight gain. A 10-year study on the impact of such stigmatisation and the chronic stress it puts on the body shows that it also leads to changes in all the other body defence systems ( particularly the HPA axis dysfunction).
Among women, weight stigmatisation and fat shaming are now more common than racial discrimination, according to Rebecca Puhl and her colleagues at the Rudd Centre of Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.
It's in our human nature to want to belong to a safe and nurturing environment, ESPECIALLY for women. Women and girls are predispositioned and culturally conditioned to combat environmental stressors in a "tend and befriend" way rather than in "fight or flight" mode -- both responses being the body's natural mechanism against any perceived threats. What this means is that for women, instead of constantly putting them in an environment where they feel unsafe, threatened and have perceived themselves as fighting alone, they actually do better in an atmosphere of protection of their kind and befriending in social groups where they feel welcomed.
This also means that, as fitness professionals and coaches, we should not be training women in the same manner that men are trained or force them to do exercises that do not feel comfortable or safe to them. Condescending tones, yelling, or scare tactics are generally not appropriate in group classes or private sessions with women who are focused on weight loss.
By using encouraging, self-esteem boosting modes of training, we help to reduce the hyper-loaded activity on their hypothalamus-pituitary-axis, which can have a positive impact in significantly reducing any inflammation, improving mental and emotional well-being and thereby reducing weight in a healthy and sustainable way.
So what can we do to tackle the "obesity crisis"?
1. The traditional FOOD PYRAMID we've relied on for so long is outdated. As of 2014, Singapore's Health Promotion Board has ditched this model and replaced it with MyHealthyPlate, which emphasizes consumption of vegetables and fruits. Harvard School of Public Health's "Healthy Eating Pyramid" focuses on both exercise and diet control instead of just the eating plate alone. This sets a right framework and mindset shift towards a healthier living, and should be implemented widely.
2. Shifting the emphasis from weight loss, numbers on the scale, and body mass index (BMI) to monitoring health biomarkers such as blood lipid levels, insulin levels, cholesterol, liver fat, aerobic fitness and mental wellness will offer a clearer picture on overall health and steer us away from the overemphasis on aesthetics. "Focusing on healthy habits rather than numbers on a scale may be more effective for both weight and health in the long run..Too much emphasis on weight loss, sets people up for failure and increases their risk of shame. " - says, Erica Kenney, a researcher with the Harvard Chan School’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity. Placing someone, especially at a young age, as overweight or obese based on mainly BMI, just may lead them to eating disorders and depression as they move into adulthood, leading to further weight gain and other health issues.
3. Media and advertising are powerful forces in influencing the perspectives and emotions of people. Publishers should shift to adopting a more realistic choice of words and pictures when publishing articles related to weight and fitness, instead of constantly using images of skinny white women or headless bodies. More can be done from the media to promote body positivity, including popular celebrities, leaders and social media stars/influencers. An emphasis on body positivity may lead to less weight gain or eating disorders since we tend to eat less when our psychological health is intact.
4. There are other supportive measures which can be made at the government and corporate level. Offering accessible, reasonably priced locally farmed veggies and fruits at the supermarkets and restaurants would be a big win in Singapore. Currently, it's really difficult to access this kind of produce. Incentivising hawker stands and school cafeterias to prepare their menus according to the healthy eating pyramid would also be helpful. We could also tax sweets and sodas just like we do alcohol and cigarettes, and the tax collected could be used mainly to support measures related to obesity prevention at schools, workplaces and households. Some cities in the US and the U.K. have already begun implementing this, and though there is an ongoing debate and yet any conclusive data to prove its effectiveness, "taxing" on such beverages may perhaps change our mindset into thinking how these items are NOT necessities.
5. At the individual level, for myself, at least, I have adopted the following practices and incorporate them to the best of my ability, because I have learn to accept my body is beautiful at any age or size, be it 0 to 8, and shift my focus towards health and strength:
- Mindfulness: It can't be said enough but being more mindful in an ever-noisy world helps to keep me grounded and centered, making my health a top priority.
- Being "selfish" with my environmental exposure: This may sound narcissistic from a girl with an Asian upbringing, and no, I am not out on a mission to take everything in sight, but rather, I am selective of my environment. It can be a very empowering and uplifting feeling too (and if you want to read more on how to be "selfish", read " To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get Selfish: Here's How" from Aimee).
- Being empathetic to myself and to others: This includes taking time to understand and accept the changes to my body is going through at age 33, what my emotions and thoughts are telling me, and not wallowing in self-pity or negative self-talk or hatred upon myself. And above all, not blaming myself for my weight or dress size!
Although we have a long way to go, Singapore IS making some positive steps in the right direction. For one, the TAF program was removed and replaced with a Holistic Health Framework (HHF) in 2007. The club is now called "ActiveKids" for students who are overweight, but is open to all who want to participate. I am hopeful that more positive lasting changes to combat rising weight-related health challenges are right around the bend.
April 2016 http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/obesity-also-rising-in-singapore
June 2017 http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/singapore-risks-hitting-obesity-rates-of-15-in-seven-years
June 2017 http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/st-editorial/weighty-trend-not-to-be-taken-lightly
Perceived Weight, Not Obesity, Increases Risk for Major Depression Among Adolescents
Health Consequences of Weight Stigma: Implications for Obesity Prevention and Treatment
Perceived Weight Discrimination and 10-year Risk of Allostatic Load among US Adults
Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight.
Childhood Obesity - Issues of Weight Bias https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181194/#B1
Social media and Obesity
Psychological consequences of obesity: Weight bias and body image in overweight and obese youth
Soda Taxes Can Protect Health in Asia https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-02-23/soda-taxes-can-protect-health-in-asia
Can a sugar tax stop obesity? http://edition.cnn.com/2016/08/31/health/sugar-tax-obesity/index.html
A soda tax - will it change anything? http://www.obesityaction.org/educational-resources/resource-articles-2/nutrition/a-soda-tax-will-it-change-anything
Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health
Obesity - can we stop the epidemic https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/magazine/magazine_article/obesity/
The Trim and Fit Program in Singapore
Mar 2017 - http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/a-more-holistic-approach-to-a-childs-health-and-fitness
Several years ago, a friend recommended a book that would completely transform my self-awareness and interactions with the world, as well as the way I viewed self-care. Dr. Elaine Aron’s “The Highly Sensitive Person: How To Thrive When the World Overwhelms You” explores the traits of sensory process sensitivity found in 15 to 20 percent of the population. Signs of high sensitivity include:
- being easily overwhelmed by bright lights, loud noises and harsh smells;
- feeling rattled by severe time constraints;
- needing to avoid high-drama individuals, violent TV shows and upsetting situations;
- susceptibility to addiction, especially alcohol abuse and overeating;
- enjoying a complex and colorful inner life;
- preferring close, deep relationships over a large group of acquaintances;
- having strong intuitive gifts and future-oriented perceptions;
- being drawn to spiritual, artistic and helping career paths;
- requiring lots of quiet time to process, decompress and reflect, and;
- being told as a child that they were “too sensitive”, or being a gifted student in school.
Highly Sensitive People (“HSPs” otherwise known as “empaths” in New Age circles or “burden bearers” in Christian discussion- although each of these terms have particular nuances that differentiate them slightly from HSPs) experience the world in high-definition. If they don’t have a keen awareness of their personality type and the skills to manage it, their high-def filter tends to be plugged in all the time.
Highly sensitive people often grow up thinking that something is “wrong” with them because they’re not all that interested in what modern society most values, they tend toward introversion (although one-third of HSPs are considered extroverts), and they attract high conflict people due to their thin boundaries, high empathy, and a tendency to have strong emotional reactions. HSPs are also prone to complex health challenges, including autoimmune illnesses, allergies, chronic anxiety, and burnout. There are a few different theories as to why this is. Findings from research conducted by Tufts University psychiatrist Ernest Harttman and from Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan are compelling. In investigating the connections between boundaries and personality, Dr. Hartmann found that people who score high in creativity have a tougher time separating their everyday reality with their fantasy life, and allow more of their environment to impact them. Jerome Kagan focused on “high reactives”- people who possess a sensitivity to events in the environment that imply a new challenge. Brain imaging studies in this population showed a hyperresponsive amygdala, the region in the brain that decodes fear and acts as the body’s alarm circuit, which makes them far more susceptible to clinical anxiety, PTSD, elevated inflammation, and diseases of aging.
If you suspect that you have traits of high sensitivity, you may be thinking right about now, “this sucks… and it explains a lot!” High sensitivity is a gift to be handled with care, one that can actually contribute positively to your well-being, wholeheartedness, creativity and interconnectedness. However, if you’re not conscious of your exposed wiring and you don’t take the time to build a life that honors who you are, you may soon find yourself sick, depleted, victimized and depressed.
WHAT IS A HIGHLY SENSITIVE BODY?
Simply, a highly sensitive body is one that possesses a hypersensitive nervous system, an amplified stress response and a porous stimulation barrier.
I have a deep respect for science and tend to steer away from wellness woo-woo. Thus, a little disclaimer: the theories around a “highly sensitive body” and its causes are just that- theories- ones which I strongly ascribe to from personal and professional experience. Commingling physiology and psychology is tricky business, and we’re in an age now where we’re beginning to realize that we still know so little about the delicate relationship between the body and the psyche.
My hypothesis is that a lot of the mystery health challenges and body breakdowns we face today are the result of maladaptive coping strategies and modes of living which are incompatible with our internal machinery, as well as the result of a societal denial of our true nature as emotional beings who require connection to each other and our environment in order to thrive. Many of these health challenges are also rooted in early childhood due to adversity and trauma, which rewire the brain and nervous system, impact vagus nerve functioning, and set us up psychologically to neglect important signals from our bodies. A wealth of research on disease supports this, and if you’d like to learn more about the connection between health outcomes and adverse childhood experiences, I recommend starting with Dr. Vincent Felitti’s “ACE Study.”
Highly sensitive people are hit particularly hard due to their porous boundaries, empathic qualities and tendency to shut down as a coping mechanism. A person exhibiting symptoms of chronic fatigue or a thyroid disorder may in fact be holding in emotional toxicity from years of anguish that they have never properly released, and these feelings translate to psychosomatic illness and disorders- pain felt within the body. However, the vast majority of medical doctors will not refer a patient showing signs of a physical dis-ease to a professional who deals with the mind- a psychologist, counsellor or coach- and even if they did, many mental health professionals simply do not have the tools to bridge the treatment of mind and body in a way that brings long-term relief to the patient (although this is beginning to change). That’s the other part of the issue- we live in a time where we expect a pill to fix all of our ills, including our mental health challenges, many of which can be rectified or eased through behavioral, nutritional and environmental adjustments. It’s no wonder that the psychopharmaceutical industry is amassing multi-billions of revenue per year.
Somatization, or the bodily communication of psychological distress through physical illness and pain, depletes the body of vital energy. In his brilliant book, “The Tao of Fully Feeling”, psychotherapist Pete Walker explains that somatization often injures the body through the chronic tightening of musculature to avoid feeling. “Muscular contraction against feeling is a psychological form of self-hatred,” he writes. “It’s a vicious way of saying no to healthy aspects of the self. This clamping down on the self not only depletes our energy, but also restricts the blood supply to various parts of the body, making it more susceptible to disease. Many digestive disorders appear to be caused by the stifling of feelings through visceral connection.”
We humans seem to be losing our ability to understand feelings through bodily perception. Instead, we intellectualize our emotions, packing them into neat little boxes and cognitively storing them. Even our language for feelings has been stifled. We’re no longer thrilled, touched, ashamed or stupefied. We’ve traded in our rainbow of options for happy and depressed- perhaps because we’re not sure how we feel anymore. Our bodies have been separated from our minds.
Highly sensitive people contend with strong forces which have the tendency to either serve them or sabotage them, depending on how those forces are applied. By nature, they’re environmental sponges, soaking up the energy and noise of all they come in contact with and directly absorbing the external stimuli into their bodies. Processing their daily reality requires time and space, both of which are usually in short supply. Lacking the opportunity to thoroughly understand and release whatever has been thrown their way may lead to a toxic emotional buildup not uncommon from what might be exhibited in complex post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic anxiety. Highly sensitive bodies need to cry, to express anger, to speak up, to nap and to retreat into silence on a regular basis if they’re to function optimally. However, the opposite tends to happen. Highly sensitive people learn to adapt by ignoring the messages of their bodies and switching off their internal radar. Rather than self-partnering and honoring the subtle signals within, they’ll happily step outside of themselves in order to focus on others because they feel empowered by their empathy and healing nature… until that eventually backfires.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
We’re living in a time where the human life span is ticking upward and new advancements in science could dramatically increase our years on this planet. Yet, so many people are experiencing inexplicable body breakdowns in their thirties, forties and fifties, impacting their joy, productivity, and overall quality of life. Conventional medical doctors often seem at a loss to explain why this is occurring, and routinely dismiss conditions manifesting as chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, reproductive issues, allergies, migraines, and various autoimmune syndromes.
It is beyond evident that so many of our bodies and minds are really struggling to adapt to the world of today, but since we cannot change society or other people, we’ve got to focus on what we can change within ourselves.
This is great news, because it makes our jobs a lot easier (HSPs love to dream about saving the world- a blessing and a curse!). Since the medical community is at a loss for concrete answers regarding many of the illnesses and conditions that impact HSPs, they’re often left to figure out how to save themselves, which is probably why there are now so many forums, coaches, and alternative health practitioners addressing specific conditions that impact millions but that do not receive the proper funding or interest in traditional channels. This is simultaneously helpful and dangerous, so it’s important to remember that at the end of the day, you alone are responsible for your health.
HOW SHOULD I CARE FOR MY HIGHLY SENSITIVE BODY?
There are many things you can do to support a highly sensitive body and encourage optimal health- both physical and mental. While I could write a book on all the specific foods, supplements, activities and behaviors that benefit HSPs, here are six of the biggies.
1. Create Unbreakable Self-Care Routines: One of the many upsides to being highly sensitive is that you’re automatically incentivized to pay close attention to practicing good self-care… because if you don’t, you’ll experience the consequences of neglect quite profoundly. Self-care isn’t just about scheduling time for a massage or an Epsom Salts bath. It’s also about being able to say “NO” to things, asking for help, and taking naps when you’d rather be achieving or producing (I wrestle with the last one myself!) Commit to putting non-negotiable self-care time on your calendar, whether that means 15 minutes of quiet each day, taking an assertiveness class every week, penciling in that daily yoga class, or having an hour before bed each night to read something uplifting. Self-care isn’t selfish- it’s the mark of an adult who respects herself and the people she loves.
2. Emote on the Regular: When I was living in China, I’d be awoken every morning by long and furious shouting echoing from the mountaintops behind my home. Upon investigating, I found out that some of the elders in the town engaged in this practice to support heart health. We have few safe spaces today to cry, yell, pummel pillows with our fists, or dance with glee- it almost seems insane to express our feelings. As FEELING beings (rather than DOING beings), processing and releasing old emotions makes space for new experiences and prevents rigidity in both body and mind. Find a place where you can go to safely express whatever storms may be brewing within you. In cramped, urban settings, this can seem like a tall order, but sometimes a long walk in the evening or a leisurely warm shower can provide you with the privacy you need.
3. Release Tension Through Movement: Endorphins- brain neurotransmitters that transmit electrical signals to the nervous system- manufacture a positive sense of well-being in the body. These endorphins are compromised by stress, and boosted through exercise. Typically, the modes of exercise recommended most for Highly Sensitive People are yoga, tai chi, and other gentle forms of movement. Others may favor jogging and weightlifting, although the latter can be jarring due to high levels of noise in gyms. If you do decide to engage in regular high intensity exercise, prolong your cool down period- take a good 20 to 30 minutes at the end of your routine to stretch, walk, rehydrate and breathe deeply. If you have a history of trauma or anxiety, trauma release exercises (TRE) and defensive martial arts like Krav Maga might be just the ticket. Don’t be afraid to experiment to find what works for you, and make it a priority to work up a sweat most days of the week.
4. Stick with a Simple, Anti-Inflammatory Diet: HSPs tend to struggle with digestive issues, including IBS and Crohn’s disease, as well as numerous allergies to dairy, nuts, soy, wheat and other grains. A simple anti-inflammatory diet primarily consisting of fruits and veggies, fatty fish, lean meats, and healthy oils can make a massive difference in physical and emotional well-being. Like exercise, you’ll want to test out what’s most suitable for you. Some HSPs really flourish on a Paleo or FODMAP elimination diet, while others do best as vegetarians or vegans because they feel the suffering that animals have endured before becoming meat. Processed grains, dairy, sugar and high glycemic foods tend to work against the constitution of a highly sensitive person, and caffeine can also have detrimental impacts. In fact, the majority of HSPs I know are unable to tolerate more than a cup of coffee a day. Five to six small meals a day to keep blood sugar stable is almost always a good idea. You’ll want to avoid juice fasts and skipping multiple meals, which can send out stress signals to the nervous system and kick off a fight or flight response.
5. Make Sleep a Priority: Highly sensitive people tend to walk around in a state of hypervigilance while soaking up external stimuli and the emotions of everyone they come into contact with. By the time nightfall arrives, they find themselves simultaneously “wired and tired”- exhausted from having to contend with the world and yet buzzing with the excess energy they’ve absorbed.
Getting at least 8 hours of sleep will help HSPs reset and release the tensions of the day, although they often need a little help nodding off. You’ll want to steer clear of alcohol and prescription sleep aids, which can leave HSPs with a nasty morning hangover. Instead, consider trying valerian root, melatonin, a calcium & magnesium supplement, or kava kava tea. Based on observation, HSPs usually require more sleep than the average person, perhaps because they sleep less soundly, waking up easily throughout the night. It’s also hypothesized that going to bed before 10pm works better with the body’s circadian rhythms and leads to more restorative sleep. A bedtime around 9pm and an aim for 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night might leave you feeling like a shiny new person.
6. Enforce Strong Boundaries: HSPs have a notoriously difficult time establishing and enforcing boundaries because they’d prefer to keep everyone happy. This attitude is the downfall for HSPs, particularly since they’re prone to being bullied and manipulated IF they haven’t yet developed high self-confidence and found their place in the world. When it comes to boundaries, HSPs are generally better off insisting on iron-clad boundaries until they know they’re entirely fluent in protecting their own space, energy and heart. Don’t be afraid to enlist a coach to help you navigate the complex world of boundaries, or enroll in some assertiveness training, particularly if you’ve got a pattern of being steamrolled by pushy or self-centered people. A word of caution: strong boundaries are often met with strong resistance and anger. Flex your confidence muscles and remember that the people who love you want to see you healthy and thriving- they’re the ones who will honor your boundaries.
These initial suggestions for promoting optimal health in highly sensitive bodies don’t come easily to the HSP and must be learned and practiced regularly. For the past seven years, I’ve enlisted a lot of external support to assist me with some of the areas that I’ve personally struggled with. We all have our blind spots, so don’t be afraid to ask for help! When you're feeling frustrated about your own high sensitivity, remember that it's a true gift which contributes to a life of meaning, friendship and purpose. Our world needs highly sensitive people now more than ever!
High sensitivity is a superpower once you know how to manage it properly.
If you’d like to take the HSP test and learn more, check out Dr. Aron’s website.
Another helpful resource is coach Caroline Van Kimmenade’s website, “The Happy Sensitive.”
Are you a highly sensitive person? If so, what are your mechanisms for thriving in the world? How are you protecting and nourishing your body? Leave your comments below- I'd love to hear from you. And, if you liked this article, share it! As always, thanks for reading.
Of the coaching enquiries I’ve received over the past year, some of the most common ones read something like this:
“I’ve recovered from anorexia through an in-patient program, but now I’m overexercising. I’d like to raise my self-esteem, make peace with my body, and look really fit and lean. Can you help?”
“I’ve been binge eating for years and am finally ready to stop this bad habit, but I also want to reduce my body fat and weight.”
“I’ve been in and out of treatment for an eating disorder for many years, and nothing seems to work. Every time I start to get better, I gain weight. Can you help me overcome it while being able to maintain my current weight?”
Most months, I’ll receive a few requests along these lines, all from smart and determined women in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Their accounts are often similar, mirroring the traits and experiences of those who deal with eating disorders in other parts of the world, which include numerous failed treatment attempts, low self-esteem, pervasive perfectionism, and few social supports. Some of these women were raised in enmeshed or narcissistic families, where self-worth is gained through external achievement and little autonomy or emotional expression is allowed. A majority deal with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosomatic illness or other kinds of addictions in addition to an eating disorder. Some are in tumultuous relationships or are otherwise experiencing instability in their lives, and others have a history of trauma.
I know this story all too well because the narrative is also part of my own, one that I’ve gently held onto in order to alchemize it. I know the shame of having a nurse hover over you as you sit on the toilet because she’s got to make sure that you don’t throw up. I know what 800 calories a day does to mood and metabolism, what it’s like to try on a hundred outfits and still hate what you see in the mirror, and how empty if feels to live for the approval of others.
It’s been many years since I’ve contended with an active eating disorder or addiction and since that time I’ve realized that we’re having the wrong conversation. Eating disorders are not about vomiting or starving or compulsive calorie-burning gym sessions. They’re not about reaching an ideal weight.
Eating disorders are about refusing to actually be IN our bodies. They’re about rejecting our true selves. They’re about seeking worth externally, and then battling with that external illusion in an attempt to regain control. They’re about swallowing big lies- that we don’t matter unless someone else recognizes our significance, and that a woman’s value is hinged on the way she looks. And, they’re about attempting to cope with emotional pain stored in the body- pain that is all too often “unspeakable.”
In Asia, we’re in the midst of a process addiction and eating disorders crisis, exhibited by the rapid rise in the number of people seeking treatment for gambling, sex and video game addiction, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. Due to the shame-based cultural underpinnings and the pervasive sociological concept of having “face” (mianzi) and protecting a family’s reputation at all costs, eating disorders and addictions are woefully underreported in this neck of the woods. To complicate things, careers serving this population aren’t generally desired due to the nature of the work, the low pay in comparison to glitzy financial service jobs, and a high rate of burnout. This ensures that many, many people who need treatment aren’t getting any because they’re too afraid to ask for it and even if they did, options are severely lacking. It’s estimated that 80 percent of people receiving treatment for eating disorders will relapse, and 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders will die from their condition. That’s what I’d call a serious public health crisis. ED recovery is hard work, and women on the path are true warriors. A quote I recently came across summarizes things quite accurately:
“Alcohol and other drug recovery is like dealing with a tiger in a cage. Recovery from eating disorders is like taking that tiger out of the cage three times a day and then taking it for a walk.”
When you couple this global health emergency with the fact that the societal perception of a person’s value has become increasingly commodified, it’s no wonder more women are saying, “I want to recover from my eating disorder and look hot while doing it!” Since today’s version of “hot” apparently equates to being impossibly lean and thin, the goal of solid recovery is in direct opposition with the wish to chisel a Fitspo body.
I should know- while competing as a bodybuilder in 2014, I noticed that as soon as I hit a low body fat percentage during my third competition prep, several eating disorder-related thoughts and obsessions began to resurface. Because I’d been on the recovery path for many years and had a great coach, I was able to view these thoughts objectively and avoid a relapse, but I now recognize the fine line I was walking in pushing body, mind and soul to complete exhaustion. In some ways, sports are an incredible option to overcome an eating disorder or other addiction; I’ve met a lot of other bodybuilders, powerlifters, and distance runners who became athletes on their journey of recovery.
One of the best ways to beat a bad habit, compulsion or addiction is to replace it with a healthier behavior. However, if the addiction or disorder is still active and the person’s secondary goal is focused on the external (to look a certain way) rather than the internal (to self-partner and generate positive inner energy), I can nearly guarantee that the person will not reach a higher level of self-esteem, make peace with her body, or find reprieve from her disorder- quite the opposite.
So, what can you do if you want to develop a better relationship with yourself, with food… and still look a certain way?
First, a focus on the true roots of the eating disorder and a method for releasing some of the internal pain is paramount and best done with a licensed counsellor or psychologist, as this is beyond the realm of coaching. Somatic psychotherapy and EMDR can both be helpful on this journey.
Second, reprogramming your inner messaging system to raise self-esteem, transforming your emotional hooks or vulnerabilities into strengths, and replacing negative behaviors with positive ones are all vital and require long-term commitment. A qualified coach can be highly beneficial here.
Third, relearning all you can about nutrition, food and exercise will provide knowledge, newfound self-respect and a sense of control. I personally find that intuitive eating approaches don’t work all that well for a lot of women with eating disorders due to an impaired interoception response (missed cues for hunger and satiation) and difficulty accessing their emotional barometer, particularly around something triggering like a food buffet. Add to that, ripping away control can actually backfire. Acquiring knowledge about how to eat in a healthy manner reinstills some of that control.
Fourth, cultivating an environment that supports your journey is important, which usually means severely limiting or deleting social media applications like Instagram and refusing to flip through fashion magazines, at least until you feel a comfortable level of confidence within yourself.
Fifth, returning to your body is essential- practices like yoga, mindfulness or prayer, journaling, and an exercise program can be incorporated as a part of your week to turn your focus away from the impossible ideal and toward learning how to love and appreciate yourself as you are.
By coaxing your body toward alignment and honoring your emotions, you’ll begin to feel deeply that you’d rather be friends with yourself than fight against the true you in your quest for the “perfect” body.
Over time, you might just find that you already have the body you’ve always dreamed of, because it supports and houses the authentic spirit of you.
Recovery is a lifelong journey and an unparalleled gift.
If you’re on the path to overcome an eating disorder or an addiction, that means you’re also on a path of self-realization and heightened awareness, which will give you the tools and vitality to build a life you can appreciate in the body you’ve been given while maintaining your integrity and cultivating peace of mind. Recovery lights up the BEING inside the BODY. Now, that’s hot.
I'd love to hear from you- is holding onto the ideal of the "perfect body" keeping you sad and sick? If you're in recovery from an eating disorder, what's helped you stay on track? Leave your comments below. And, if this helps you or may help someone you know, share it!
We’ve all heard the saying, “your problems will follow you wherever you go.” While the issues we wrestle with may have a profound impact on the external circumstances of our lives like an illness, the dissolution of a relationship, or financial problems, the seeds of those painful experiences are usually rooted within our thought patterns and behaviors. It’s no wonder that many people find themselves in the same types of situations even if they've moved across the country, or the world.
As an expat for a quarter of my life now, I’ve observed that people who relocate thousands of miles from their place of origin are usually attempting to leave hard things behind- not always, but often. It’s no surprise then that expats are at high risk for addictions and self-sabotage. Culture shock, demanding work schedules and a freewheeling lifestyle, coupled with first-class personal baggage, all tend to lead to undesirable habits and behaviors, particularly when an addiction or bad habit had already taken root before stepping foot into a new host country.
Relocating to another state, or even to the other side of the world, can be an excellent option if you’re seeking to transform as long as the circumstances are right and a foundation for better living has already been laid.
By creating a new life for yourself in new territory, you have an opportunity to wipe out many types of triggers, build a new social circle, and design a healthier lifestyle in a location that might be better suited for you.
If cold weather brings on seasonal affective disorder and increases your alcohol consumption, for instance, it might not be a terrible idea to reconsider moving to a warmer climate. Or, if your entire social life revolves around your neighborhood bar which just happens to be right next to your home, starting over in another town could be the jumpstart you need.
Relocation also provides an amazing opportunity to flex your “can do” muscles by proving to yourself that you aren’t stuck and that you have the power to act in your own best interest. One of the most difficult truths to digest on any transformation journey is that, while you may change quite radically, your loved ones and acquaintances often only recognize you as who you once were when they formed a bond with you, and will treat you accordingly. This constant tug back into your past can make it nearly impossible to continue on your thoughtfully chosen path, particularly when self-sabotaging dynamics are at play, simply because many of those compromising and damaging behaviors were learned. Moving releases some of the rusty hooks, outdated expectations and external definitions of yourself.
Relocating to a new environment can be the catalyst to permanently shift a habit or beat an addiction. Conversely, it can hinder your growth and drag you down even further. So, before you pack your bags, here are five questions to ask yourself:
1. Are the triggers, temptations and relationships in my current location compromising my ability to move forward as a healthier person and if so, is there anything I can do on my end to change that?
2. Concerning my mindset, am I primarily running away from something or am I moving toward building something new, exciting and grounded?
3. Can I visualize my life for the next five years in the desired new location AND then turn that visualization into a tangible written plan of action?
4. Do I have a reliable support system in my new desired location and if not, what can I do to begin to create one before I plan on moving?
5. Practically speaking, how can I figure out a way to financially and logistically make this relocation work- a way that will support a healthier lifestyle?
Growing into our true selves sometimes requires replanting. The soil we were originally rooted in no longer nourishes us. The sun’s too harsh, the wind knocks down our ability to grow. Weeds have obstructed our view. We can plant a new seed in another place and water that seed with the lessons we’ve collected from our past. Sometimes, this new environment provides us with the conditions we require to blossom into our best version.
Have you considered relocating in order to overcome self-sabotage, an addictive behavior, or to improve your health and well-being? Or, have you already taken the plunge? Leave your thoughts in the comment section- I'd love to hear from you!