Category

health

Category

the importance of taking time off

I am back home for winter break for a month, and it feels great. It’s allowing me to take a breather from school, wind down, prepare for the incoming year, and do the things that I personally love to do. My home is not as saturated as my college is. I’m not surrounded by multitudes of people everyday, I don’t have as many external demands, and I can sleep in without feeling guilty. My life at home doesn’t feel as fast-paced as it does when I’m in college, but this is what allows me to recharge for the incoming year.

To resume old hobbies. A lover of books, I realized a week into my winter break that I hadn’t touched my kindle once. I then consciously started reading, and the old habit kicked in. Other hobbies like playing the cello, taking pictures, learning about Photoshop, and catching up with films also followed suit. 

To reevaluate and set new goals. Winter break is a transitional moment, as it marks the end of a semester, a year – and the beginning of a new one. Reevaluating your goals allows you to see what changes need to be made for the coming year. Setting new goals allows you to be excited for the path ahead of you. The beginning of a new year always marks the start of a clean slate, and setting concrete goals allows you to not lose track of them as you go on with your life.

To plan ahead. As you go about your break from school, your thoughts might also drift towards where you see yourself in the incoming year. In addition to setting goals, you should have plans that will lessen your anxiety when the time comes around. I look at planning as the micro steps that I need to take to achieve my goals. Plans are not meant to cement your actions once and for all, as things are bound to change with time. But following through your plans will ensure that you’re going towards your desired path – progressively.

To reconnect with loved ones. For me, these are my family, friends from back home, and also keeping touch with new close friends I’ve made. I’m not the most sociable person by nature, but I value the few friendships and relationships that I have. While I had the excuse of being too busy while at school, there’s nothing standing in my way of spending more time with the people I care about at this time, especially my family.

To relax. This is necessary to restore calm and focus. I find that when I find myself free from demands, my mind starts creating new ideas, thinking of new things to do. I like to enjoy breaks by reading, learning and coming up with possible goals and things that I want to do, but I also have to remind myself that I can’t do them all at once. The world demands us to be in constant motion, but it’s also important to be patient with ourselves. Time is not unlimited, but neither are our abilities. Taking time to slow down is important in allowing us to see clearly what is most important to us – and to truly focus on those things.

Even with all the things that I’ve mentioned above, I reserve most of the time for myself. That means catching up on films that I personally want to watch, going shopping, sleeping in when I need to, catching up on reading, and simply enjoying my own company doing the things that I love.

-Michelle

staying healthy in college

Sleep, eat and exercise. Three simple things, yet when life’s demands get in the way, it’s easy to push these things aside. But for me, these three things are non-negotiable. As someone who fusses over the smallest things, mulls over assignments and stresses about school work easily, I have learned to prioritize my health. I may not always be able to control my emotions or how I react to particular situations, but I can control my lifestyle. By controlling the physical aspects of my health, I am also helping keep myself mentally and emotionally sane.  Now that I’m in college, it’s easy to fall into the temptations of social pressure and delicious food places that surround me. But, as my life has gotten more regular and stable, so have my habits. This is what I *normally* do to keep that up:

Sleep. I need at least 7 hours of sleep each night to function like a normal person – ideally 8-9, so I go to bed between 11pm-12:30am, and wake up around 7:30-8:30 every day. All my classes start in the morning and end early afternoon, so it’s crucial that I wake up feeling rested in order to be able to focus well.

I often find myself in need of a mid-afternoon nap. I combat this by letting myself take a nap, for ideally 30 minutes. Even though power naps can help you focus better, they can also be dangerous. Over-napping is a real thing, and it’s an awful feeling waking up from a nap and seeing that it’s already dark outside. So other times, I drink coffee during lunch if I have the stomach for it; however, it’s not always the most efficient option for me, and personally I would rather not grow ‘dependent’ on it.

So, the best way to combat this is by actually getting quality hours of sleep at night, and finding other activities to prevent me from falling prey of z’s, such as taking a walk after lunch before heading back home to do work, doing some light exercising to increase blood flow, or just pausing from whatever task I’m doing lest I grow even wearier.

Eat. I live in my college dorm, which comes with a meal plan, so I eat most of my meals at the school dining halls. The tricky thing about this is that all the dining halls are all-you-can-eat, so it’s easy to overindulge in foods when you’re really hungry or stressed about work. So this is what I’ve been doing:

  • Breakfast: I make porridge with milk and granola (or just milk with cereal), paired with a fruit (usually a banana) that I eat later in between my classes. About once a week, I have a full meal at the dining hall with eggs, pastries, and bagels (and other yummy food).
  • Lunch: I am hungriest at this time of the day, so I eat at the dining hall and get most of my nutrients of the day: veggies, eggs, some meat, sometimes a bagel (if I haven’t had it for breakfast) and coffee.
  • Dinner: Sometimes I buy a wheat wrap with chicken and veggies from the school’s food cafe/market. If I’m not too hungry, I have milk with cereal, coupled with a fruit and/or a pastry that I brought home from the dining hall.
  • Snacks: I have a big Kirkland Mixed Nuts jar sitting on my desk, and I snack on it every time I crave something. I also take small packs of nuts or granola bars in my backpack in case I get hungry in between classes. I also have chocolate, sometimes cookies and other not-so-good snacks lying around in my room. The way I control my intake of these snacks is by limiting myself from buying such snacks to 1-2 times a month.

One thing to note is that because I’m living in my college dorm, I can’t really cook. My meal plan allows me to have 10 meals a week, but because I’ve used part of the meal points to buy groceries (milk, cereal, and other foods), I have started to ration my meals so I have enough points till the end of the semester. I make my breakfast most days and don’t eat at the dining hall for dinner (when it’s the most expensive), but I always make sure I eat there for lunch to get my nutrients of the day.

Even though campus is surrounded by myriads of food places, I don’t eat out by myself that much. Lately I’ve been eating out about once a week, and if I eat out it’s usually with someone else or to treat myself. I spend money on groceries, because I believe that eating well is worth every penny, but I don’t think eating out is that worthwhile, especially as most restaurants (and even the dining halls themselves) don’t offer the healthiest food options.

Exercise. This is where I like to have the most fun in. I like to mix exercising with sports, so I joined my uni’s recreational figure skating team at the start of the year. Besides that, what I have been doing on my own is explore the exercise opportunities that I can do. As a student at my university, I get free access to the gym – including the myriads of cardio, strength-training and other group classes that it offers. Lately, I’ve been very into power yoga, which I do about 2-3 times a week. On other days, I like to combine nature with exercising, so I go hiking or for a run. I don’t exactly live in the safest neighborhood, so I can’t really go that far, but I can go far enough.


All these three things are bound together: if you sleep well, you will eat well, and you will exercise well. If you fail on sleep, you will need to compensate it with a nap during the day, depriving you of your exercise-time. If you don’t eat well, you will most likely not have the energy to do things as well, such as exercising. If you don’t exercise, I find that it makes it harder for me to sleep at a consistent time every day, thus disrupting my sleep cycle.

I was down with a cold for nearly 2 months since the start of the Fall semester, and it most definitely took a toll on my performance. There were some weeks in which my cough prevented me from falling asleep peacefully at night, or I coughed so much during class that I found myself not able to speak up when I had something to say, or not being able to breathe normally because my nose was so clogged up. I would come home from school tired and beat. This persistent told made me realize that I have a weak immune system, so it’s even more important that I take care of the aspects of my health that I do have control over. Stress, anxiety and other worries affect my immune system, but if I take control over my lifestyle, I will be able to manage my health much better.

This just comes to show that we each have different needs, strengths and weaknesses that are individual to each of us. I’m prone to getting cold (and getting a cold) easily, which means that I have to pay special attention to how I take care of myself accordingly. Understanding what your body needs and finding your own balance is the key to keeping you healthy.

-Michelle

blissful morning walks

I love when the sun rises early in the morning, and sets late at night, making the days seem longer and fuller. I enjoy walking out of my building and being greeted by the sunlight, even when it sometimes greets me too fiercely. I particularly relish my weekend morning walks around other parts of the neighborhood that I don’t normally pass by during the week. I love how the college dorms here are not inside campus, but rather in the areas surrounding it; it gives me the freedom to explore other parts of this town-like place, and it allows me to take these blissful morning walks. I am someone who believes in enjoying the small things in life, especially when nature is part of it. Taking a walk is the simplest way to wind down from the frenzy of life that surrounds us each day.

Taking a walk means challenging life’s demands. When I find that I’m overwhelmed by the demands of life, I make a conscious effort to walk in the places where nature is my surrounding company. It reminds me that I can choose to either rush my day to get as many things done as possible, or do a few things with thoughtful consideration without overstimulating myself. The world won’t end regardless of how much I squeeze into one day, so I might as well choose to spend it in the best way possible for me.

Taking a walk means doing something for yourself. By yourself. We easily spend so much time stimulating our senses artificially  that we deprive us of true alone time. We listen to music on our phones whilst we type away on our laptops, we watch videos or read articles online when we’re bored, we text people while we walk. Whenever we’re not interacting with others one-on-one, we fill our voids with the immediate stimulation that our devices can offer. But when we do this, we lose being in the company of ourselves. Taking a walk means listening to your footsteps, looking at the path in front of you, and noticing the details that surrounds you. Though I often feel like distracting myself with a good movie or burying my head in a book, it’s good to ground oneself back to reality at the end of the day.

Taking a walk means noticing our surroundings with a childlike curiosity. There are increasingly more places to see, cities to travel, and adventures to have. It’s always fascinating to go on a roadtrip adventure or visit an exotic place, as it’s literally an escape from our more mundane reality. It’s fun and important to travel somewhere where the culture and reality is different to that of your own, as it’s a valuable experience in itself. But it’s also important to remember that the things that surround us every day can be just as special. You don’t need to travel long distances to find novelty; you can find it exactly where you are right now, if you choose to do so.

I believe that it’s important to accept this before you decide to go out and explore more. It’s important to accept this because only then can you see everything that surrounds you with curiosity, not just the grand exotic places. It’s important to appreciate the richness in all the big and small things.

So, take a walk around your area, but take a different path this time. What story are behind the homes that you see? How do you feel, walking along a calm residential area as opposed to a busy city street? What sounds do you hear – are they human, animal or nature sounds? Welcome any thoughts that come into your mind as you walk along.

-Michelle

things i did in my gap year

One of the hardest things about my gap year was keeping track of my progress by myself. With no teachers grading me and no classes to attend to, with what means do I even measure my progress?

For me, it was a matter of trial and error before I found out what worked best for me. I started my gap year with a list of things I believed I wanted to accomplish, and every month I would review and tweak parts of it. You can see how my goals changed from 2016 to 2017 on this page. Below, I will comment on each of the 5 categories that I worked on in the past year. I hope you enjoy!

work

This involves college applications, classes I took online, and anything academics-related.

2016: A lot of my focus inevitably went towards my college applications – retaking a few standardized tests, researching for colleges, drafting dozens of essays, and all that stuff. The only part that I truly cherish from this arduous process are the essays. I could see how much my thoughts, mentality and writing style had changed since the previous year. As someone who writes, blogs and journals frequently, it was really uplifting to tangibly see my progress.

Additionally, I took some classes that I was interested in academically. This included psychology (one of my intended majors), coding, and a little of web design. I took these courses on Coursera and Codecademy, and though I didn’t love taking classes, they gave me the general insight I needed to become familiar with these fields.

2017: This year was very different. I focused a lot of my education in other ways (that you’ll see later in this post), and mainly brainstormed and planned long-term goals for college. I realized that I am very much interested in psychology and cognitive science in college, looked into other possible minors, researched the clubs and organizations available at my college (once I knew where I would be attending), looked into the ‘different’ types of classes and opportunities available, and mapped out a general 4-year plan for college. So, very college-focused, but also very concentrated on my interests.

health

This includes activities directly related to my emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.

2016: I tried out so many activities and classes this year: meditation, yoga, Pilates, Systema (a Russian self-defense martial arts), ballet, and strength-trained jogged, biked and roller skated on my own. I did not stick with all of these, but they allowed me to understand and take care of my body much better.

2017: I continued taking classes on ballet and Systema – both which I absolutely loved. I learned about beauty and poise in ballet, and the myriad of bio-mechanic skills that Systema taught me opened my understanding about the human body. I also started jogging more, and experienced runner’s high in my first 10k (6.2 miles) race for the first time! I continued to meditate when I needed to (though not as religiously as before), and strength-trained when I deemed it fit. This year was a continuation and consolidation of the activities that I believe helped me most.

personal

All about things that I deeply love and cherish: books, mistyprose (blogging), writing and creativity-related activities

2016 and ’17: I read 100+ books and started a new challenge of reading the world. I got more into photography and learned more about my ‘aesthetic’. I joined the bullet journal community, explored different styles of journaling – morning pages, 5-minute morning journal, gratitude journal, among others. I loved all these activities.

But my proudest personal achievement was creating mistyprose. It started out as The Sapphire, a blog about books, but as my passions started to shift during my gap year, so did the focus of my blog. Earlier this year, I ‘re-branded’ my blog as mistyprose, and realized that my content was varied, but also with a touch of my own style. I promote my blog through Instagram and Tumblr, platforms where I could share my photography too. A few months ago, after getting my (first) camera, I decided to try making videos. As more of a blogger person, this became a new but exciting field to me that I’ve yet to explore further.

wanderlust

This is about traveling, learning new languages, socializing, and volunteering.

2016: Fresh out of high school, I was so eager to travel during my gap year. I thought that backpacking around the world would make me into an independent adult, and I couldn’t wait to get started. However, my (tiger) mom thankfully prevented me from making such rash decisions, as I am a young and naive girl, fresh out of high school. So I started learning languages. I got into German, but couldn’t find my connection with it so I dropped it. I took up American Sign Language (ASL), having learnt Peruvian Sign Language already. I then also started learning Italian, and I loved it.  I also became the translation coordinator for this huge and admirable NGO, something that makes me proud to say.

2017: This year, I realized that I don’t need to physically travel to satisfy my wanderlust soul. I travel when I read books. I travel when I walk to the park and see the sky and the trees with a renewed sense of wonder. I can travel whenever and however. Traveling can be fun, and it’s always an amazing experience to have. But the fallacy in only wanting to travel is not seeing the value of the things that are surrounding you already.

Additionally, I continued learning Italian and ASL, by taking online lessons and/or reading about them. The most important step, however, was my decision to start learning Chinese again. Mandarin Chinese is my first language, but I barely know how to read or write in it. It was after visiting my family in Taiwan in early 2017 that I realized that I needed to learn to communicate properly in Chinese.

music

Instruments and music-related endeavors.

2016 and ’17: Music has been an integral part of my life ever since I was young. I still remember seeing a cello for the first time back in 3rd grade, and watching my cello teacher play the instrument with such expertise and ease. Thus, I learned the cello for several years at school, and then got into the national music conservatory. A year later I joined the national youth symphony orchestra, and then went back to taking private lessons again.

Though I am far from being able to call myself a true cellist, my journey with my cello has been a wholesome one. I learned what ‘passion’ means from other musicians; I saw the hardworking class of the music industry in Peru; and I learned a valuable skill that I will try to cherish for the rest of my life. My gap year allowed me to understand why music is important to me. I went out of my comfort zone and taught violin at a public school; violin’s not my specialty, but I know the theory well enough to teach beginner students.

Something new that I started doing in 2017 was teach myself the piano. My brother used to play the piano a lot, so we have a keyboard at home. I purchased a few beginner books and easy pieces on the Kindle, and that got me started. I love the sound of the piano, but whether I will continue this during college is another matter that I’ll have to decide later on.


So. I read, learned and discovered many things in my gap year, but I did not do so without endless nights of pondering about my personal interests and periods of self-doubt and distress. However, as I look back into this year with sweet reminiscence, I cannot help but be grateful for all that I’ve gained since then. My ‘hardships’ cannot compare to what many have to endure in their lives, but it has allowed me to see past my insecurities with greater faith. As Viktor Frankl once said,

If there is meaning in life at all, then there must be meaning in suffering.

-Michelle

I ran 10k for the first time and I liked it

I am not a runner, and have never run 10 kilometers consecutively before signing up for this 10k race. My body had always given in after 5, 6 or at most around 8 kilometers. But then something interesting happened on the day of this event.

If you’ve ever run a few kilometers/miles long, you would know that the first part of the run can oftentimes be the hardest. Your body is just warming up, your feet are getting used to the speed, and your heart is still adjusting to the new pace. For me, those first few hundred steps are always unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

On the day of the race, I was not feeling my best self. My legs were a little sore from the previous day’s workout, and my stomach was jittery with nerves. Unsurprisingly, the first half of the race was gruesome; I was counting the kilometers as I passed each marker and thinking to myself, “I won’t be able to make it” over and over again. Having my dad run alongside me – motivating me each step of the way – was very helpful as always, but it couldn’t ease the discomfort that had already taken over my body.

My iPod decided to go dead nearly halfway through the race – something that has never happened before. I gave up trying to revive it after a while, and this surprisingly made my run more… bearable. I had prepared a pumping music playlist specially for this day, but I realized that I was actually better off without it.

Running is usually such a lonesome activity, and I usually rely on music as my companion. But having thousands of people running behind, beside and in front of me was the best companion of that day. Yes, I could hear people’s steps akin to the sound of fat raindrops – incessant, notorious and all around me. Occasionally, we would pass by someone gasping heavily for air, and at several points we were in par with a guy whose keys jingled exasperatingly in his pocket.

But that didn’t matter. We were, after all, in this together. The people in front of me were the ones showing me the way; those beside me kept me company and urged me along; the ones behind showed me how far I had come, pushing me to keep on going. This was enough motivation to keep me going, regardless of how slow my pace was.

But something curious then happened after hitting the 5k mark: I started gaining momentum. It was as if my body had rejuvenated itself, and I found myself running more vigorously than before. My breathing came under control, my steps became wider, and I felt stronger. Like I said before – I am not a regular runner, so I don’t know what exactly happened at that moment. Basic research on the internet tells me that I might have experienced what is called a runner’s high – a rush of endorphin. It was a great feeling that spread all over my body physically and emotionally, enabling me to get a glimpse of why long-distance runners do what they do.

The feeling of power and control over your own body. The sense of accomplishment even before you finish the task. The genuine pleasure that comes from inside you while you’re still running, your mind free from any burden. You hardly get these feelings of triumph while doing other (healthy) activities.

I have never experienced this in any cardio exercise before, because I have never challenged myself to such extent. I am curious to see whether my runner’s high will continue to kick in the next time that I run the same distance, or how it will change as I (hopefully) run longer distances. As for other sports, it’ll be interesting to see if this ‘high’ happens too!

-Michelle

how to recover from a burnout

BURNOUT: physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress.

We are all familiar with this. That moment when… anything and everything seems to be too much all at once. When you just want to shut the world down, and make everything stop. When you’re no longer stressed, but on the verge of falling apart. When you lose that drive and sense of motivation that you used to have.

I have experienced my definition of high stress, social anxiety, and demotivation for short periods at a time. I don’t think I’ve actually experienced burnout to the point of being unable to go back to work, unless it was due to some external reason. However, I do have a few methods, that I have used myself, to help you recover from any form of short-term burnout (if you experience a heavy, long-term burnout, please consult a professional):

1. Schedule time for yourself.

Turn off the notifications in your phone, stop checking social media, and let the emails go. One cannot truly relax if one is constantly being interrupted by things as distracting as Facebook, Instagram, and emails. You live in the now, in the present moment, not in the pictures that random people post on Facebook, nor the chaos in the news nowadays.

Acknowledge it, value it, live it.

2. Do something creative

Whenever I delve into something fun, like practicing brush lettering, taking pictures, or even just journaling, it feels therapeutic. I put on some soothing music, and it becomes me and my art. It allows me to recharge creatively and lose myself in the beauty of it for a while.

Simply choose something that you consider fun, creative, simple and relaxing. For me, it usually has to do with some form of pen and/or paper. I love journaling, planning, brush lettering, doodling and painting in a coloring book. It’s easy and soothing, and it gets me going.

3. Get out.

This one never fails me. Whenever I feel stuck, stressed, and even on the verge of a breakdown, I force myself to go out if I can muster the energy to do so. I’m lucky to live in a neighborhood surrounded by parks, and that’s where I go. Not somewhere crowded with people talking; just nature, people walking with their doors, and cars passing by.

Nature, besides it being there to allow us to live, is the best natural form of therapy. It will allow you to breathe in the fresh, fresh air. Let you slow down for a bit, and enjoy your view as it is. Get you up and walking, without going anywhere in particular.

4. Get active.

Following #3, once you’re outside – take it to the next step! You could start by walking or jogging, or skating, or biking, or taking your pet for an afternoon together. Make it an event. Get your body moving and your blood pumping. You will have to focus on your task at hand and, consequently, get your mind off your work. Your body will also automatically release endorphins, which will inevitably relieve you of the stress you were experiencing, and make you feel much, much better overall.

You can get active by going out for a simple activity like the ones named before – walking, jogging, biking, etc. or by signing up for a class that you’ll have to go a few times a week. I do both, so I get my dose of endorphins pretty much everyday – whether I feel like it or not – and always end the day feeling sore, but refreshed.

5. Get your zzz’s.

I know, I know. There is not enough time to sleep. But there is if you make it a priority. I prioritize sleep because:

  • It allows me to perform hours of productive and concentrated work everyday; if I don’t, I end up spending twice as much time in each task and accomplishing half as much.
  • I maintain my body’s health and weight by doing so; if I don’t, I end up eating more than necessary, oftentimes caffeinated products or just food my body doesn’t need. Your body should not be dependent or coffee or any other food at all if you get your sleep.
  • I love to wake up early. I’m not an early bird, but I can wake up relatively early if I sleep at a proper time, and a consistent schedule is what allows me to be the best version of myself every day.

This is also key to prevent oversleeping, which will most likely depress you even more, as you’ll feel like you’re sleeping your life away. In order to take care of your body, maintain your health and recover from a day of work, is to sleep no more than necessary. Lie in bed for a while after waking up, but don’t fall asleep again if you’ve slept enough, or you’ll wake up more restless than before.


Lastly, forgive yourself if things don’t go your way. I cannot reiterate this enough. More often than not, your day will not go as planned. When that happens, acknowledge your mistakes, forgive yourself, and move on. It will all be alright at the end.

-Michelle