Staying safe

reading the signs

Cyberstalking’s a word that’s frequently bandied about in the news.

But the real deal really does hurt. These recent reports (“Leandra Ramm’s cyberstalker gets 3 years’ jail“, CNA, 20 Dec 2013; “Cyber stalking case: American singer harassed by Singaporean has written an e-book about it“, Straits Times, 4 Dec 2013; “Singaporean who cyber-stalked US singer Leandra Ramm jailed 3 years”, Straits Times, 20 Dec 2013) bring to light the psychological consequences of exposure to online harassment: symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (“He kept me in a virtual prison”, Straits Times, 23 Dec 2013).

But it can be suggested that two emails of harassment, of any nature, are already one too many. Actually, two too many. Given the serious consequences of cyberbullying on mental health, it’s important to know what to do in that situation.

The case above also raises the issue of being alert to situations in which interactions involve hurtful communications and unhealthy relationships. We may not be stalked by someone with an antisocial personality disorder, which as defined by the Mayo Clinic, is “a type of chronic mental condition in which a person’s ways of thinking, perceiving situations and relating to others are dysfunctional — and destructive“, but we may have come across or had to deal with someone who, to some degree, shows poor respect for others, lacks compassion for others, and is manipulative towards others. It may be someone we spend time with regularly (Psychology Today offers advice on how to gently let go of a toxic friend). It could be someone with whom we have had only online contact with. Either way, we need to recognize a situation for which we want to do something about.

A CNN report offers advice on how to deal with stalkers on the Facebook platform (“How to handle a cyberstalker“, CNN, 21 July 2010), while Yahoo has general tips for dealing with a cyber stalker. And WikiHow has an excellent step-by-step guide. The advice from succinctly states, the first rule is not to engage. It’s excellent advice, but in this digital age, you can protect yourself with one more thing you can use to your advantage: Emails can be automatically filed in a folder you’ve created specifically for the purpose of a) not reading it and b) documenting all correspondence, using keywords in a rule or filter in your email client. The canned response function on gmail is one such example. Finally, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) offers wonderful advice we should heed. Stay safe!

Getting organized for Chinese New Year!

Getting ready for festivities

Getting ready for New Year celebrations need not be a stressful experience. Staying organized with this “To Do” list will keep you keep your cool as you prepare for this big occasion. That should leave you with plenty for time for rejuvenating, celebrating, and relaxing!

Six weeks before (before Christmas)

  • Think about what you’ll wear on New Year’s Day!
  • Clean up and clear out the clutter so you’ll have less to clean.
  • Donate unwanted but still useable things to the Salvation Army or thrift shop.

One month before (before New Year’s Eve)

  • Discuss and delegate “spring-cleaning” duties amongst members of the family.
  • Clear out your freezer in preparation of all the foods to be stored for the reunion dinner.
  • Make table reservations (if not having reunion dinner at home).
  • Start collecting uncreased notes for red packets.

2 weeks before

  • Buy cleaning detergents you’ll need.
  • Replenish the canned and dried goods and other household items that you’ll need for the coming weeks.
  • Stock up on fizzy and packet drinks for guests.
  • Buy all the foods which can be frozen for the reunion dinner if you’re making it at home.
  • Buy your Chinese New Year cookies, bak gua, melon and pumpkin seeds, and persimmon.
  • Make your pineapple jam and bake your cookies!
  • Mail your Chinese New Year greeting cards.

1 week before

  • Time to activate your “spring-cleaning” team.
  • Discuss New Year Day’s visit plans with the (extended) family.
  • Buy your plants and decorations.
  • Buy oranges!

Three days before

  • Prepare your red packets.
  • Pull out your game consoles, karaoke DVDs, movies, children’s puzzles and books, card games, majong table, and chess pieces.

Two days before

  • Buy fresh flowers and fruits.
  • Buy fresh produce for the reunion dinner (if you’re cooking it!).
  • Iron out your New Year Day’s fineries.
  • Pack your oranges into bags.

The Eve

  • Start your cookathon.
  • Sweep your floors and tidy your bins.
  • Get the family to help set the table.
  • Charge your camera batteries.
  • Sit down and enjoy your reunion dinner with your family!

It’s the holidays!

It's Christmas!

As the holiday season approaches (well, the school holidays are already here but the adults are still earning their keep with their more-than-9-to-5 lifestyle), it’s not unusual for stress levels to rise. Whether you’re going away for the holidays or staying at home with the family (and possibly extended family), there’s opportunities for tempers to flare, tantrums to be thrown, and arguments to ensue. When it comes to keeping everyone happy, it may be prudent to pre-empt the disagreements:

1. Tips for parents

2. Tips for children

  • With holiday time being also time to revise study material, it’s good to know the best ways to do this. Top tips include giving oneself a quiz, having study goals, leaving you room to rest and engage in other fun activities, finding a good place and good buddies to study at and with.
  • Research also suggests that we remember information best if we process it in depth not superficially. This and other tips are described and explained here.
  • Self-testing and distributing the studying over time are more effective than underlining and re-reading textbook materials: Scientific American explains why.
  • Summarizing material also isn’t the best way to study; but rephrasing study material and explaining things in one’s own words is (Washington Post).

3. Tips for grandparents

  • There’s much research to indicate that engaging in mentally challenging activities has a protective role against dementia. The growth of new neural connections which result from cognitively demanding tasks such as mastering a new language, musical instrument, dance, or skill, are helpful in building cognitive reserves, which not only lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s dementia (AD) but reduces the effects of brain changes relating to AD (Stern, 2012).
  • But puzzles may not be challenging enough: It’s about doing something “unfamiliar” and not “inside your comfort zone” (“Learning new skill beats puzzles for boosting seniors’ memory“, CBS, 21 Oct 2013; APS, 31 Oct 2013).
  • Lifelong learning is one strategy used to build cognitive reserves.
  • Learning programmes which teach seniors new technology like Skype and social media at the Council of the Third Age not only allow learning to take place; the programmes enable seniors to keep engaged and in contact with their families.
  • A Graduate Diploma and Master in Gerontology is available at SIM University for the brave. Their next intake is in July 2014.
  • But if going back to school is not for you, it might be for your grandchildren. Temasek Polytechnic offers the Diploma in Gerontological Management Studies. Their academic year starts late April 2014.

Having too much festive fun?

Surviving the holidays

It’s that time of year again. The end of December heralds a snowball descent from Christmas festive feasting to New Year’s Eve celebrations straight to pineapple tart indulgences during Chinese (Lunar) New Year.

Before you start the season of eating and finding yourself having to remake your new year resolutions several times over, here are some tips which may come in useful (we hope):

1. Eating out? It might be a good time to make exercise plans!

  • This season is always awash with tempting buffets and lavish set dinners. So you might need a plan to work off all that feasting!
  • You could try some sightseeing down Orchard Road and Bras Basah Road (allegedly to see the Christmas lights and do some last minute shopping).
  • Or dance away your calories at Zouk.
  • Take a breezy walk along the beach and enjoy “Signs on the Loose” from the Sticker Lady at Siloso Beach, Sentosa (till new year’s day).
  • Traipse through the National Musuem to appreciate the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings (read: botanical drawings of plants).
  • Brave the crowd to inhale the fresh smell of pine among the Christmas trees on sale at the plant nurseries at Upper Thomson.
  • Ride the Downtown Line for free with several million other people (remember, jostling is a form of exercise) on 7 Dec 2013.
  • Go ice-skating on disco nights (Fridays and Saturdays) at Jcube.
  • There’s also a leisurely 9km stroll on the evening of 16 Dec 2013 (7pm) under the auspices of Brooks Run Happy (if you have already registered), as well as the annual StandardChartered Marathon on Dec 1st.
  • Or entertain your whole family at the Singapore Teddy Bear Show held at the Drama Centre on Christmas Eve. Plenty of reasons not to lounge around.

2. Need help with Christmas dinner? Here are some recipes.

3. Stressed out by the holidays? 

4. Haven’t made your New Year resolutions yet?

  • According to the statistics published in a 2012 journal article, as many as 46% of resolutions made for the new year make it past the mid-year mark, while a dismal 8% successfully achieve their resolution. And that is probably related to the way we make our New Year resolutions.
  • This year, try making resolutions which are easier to achieve. The American Psychological Association (APA) offers appropriate tips to aspiring resolution makers.
  • Both Psychology Today and Time magazine offer insight into what to do (and what not to do).

5. Need to shop! Can’t stop?