Monday, 14 January 2019

Reflections of 2018 and Going Forward in the New Year

2018 has been a hectic year for me, and I just realised I have neglected this blog quite significantly. In 2018, I completed an Honours year in Psychology investigating the relationship between Facebook use, social skills and social anxiety in young adults and it has been a tough undertaking. In this post, I will write a list of learnings and reflections that I gained from last year, and hopefully those learnings have helped me become a better person, and will continue to help me as I go forward in 2019. 

1. As much as I plan and organise things, things still may not go as planned.
2. It is important to adapt to changing circumstances.
3. A few good friends are enough for me to survive Honours year.
4. It is possible to have a social life outside of studies.
5. Even though a situation is less than ideal, it is still possible to adapt to it and make it a good experience overall.
6. I love my favorite spots in the Uni library and the State Library of Victoria
7. Sometimes, in order to persevere in my project, I have to pick myself back up everyday to get some work done
8. We all make mistakes, the best that we can do is to learn from it, move on and do our best not to repeat that mistake.
9. Perseverance is more important than intelligence in finishing a research project.
10. It's okay to change my aims and hypotheses of my research project, just don't do it too many times. 
11. Exercising is important in maintaining sanity which doing a research project and writing a thesis.
12. Other people's projects are quite interesting to get to know about, but may not be as interesting to execute it.
13. One step at a time / One day at a time is the best mantra we can remind ourselves. 
14. I cannot believe I actually wrote a 10,000-word paper, produced at least four 2000-word essays, created a Youtube video and a poster in a year. 
15. On some days, I absolutely love doing my thesis, on others, it's the last thing I want to do.
16. It's okay to take a break and continue working later.
17. Walking and watching netflix and youtube videos have been my go-to self care strategies.
18. It's not over until it's truly over. So, keep pressing on.

Going on to 2019, I am happy to announce that I have successfully been admitted into the Master of Professional Psychology at my home uni, ACU, which is amazing! At this stage in my life, I do think this pathway to become a registered psychologist in Australia suits me well. Even though I have already been in uni for 4.5 years, I am looking forward to new learnings in this year and meeting people from different places and cultures and learning from them too. There will be challenges ahead for sure, but challenges will enrich the experience even more. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

The Power of Community: How being part of communities can help you grow and flourish in life

Person Gather Hand and Foot in Center

A few years back, I moved to Melbourne, Australia to further my studies in Psychology. Besides adapting to the western individualistic culture, different education system and public transport system, it was also tough making new friends.

As I did not have a mentor or guide through university life abroad, I did it the traditional way, via trial and error. Throughout my undergraduate degree, it has been tough and I did not think I was successful in making friends that I could really connect with. Three years later, I am confident to say I have found my own communities and these wonderful people have enriched my life tremendously.

In The Village Effect by Susan Pinker, she emphasised that it is not just having social networks that is important, it is also vital that we actually connect to others in a meaningful way. Reflecting back, I realised just a year ago, I tried to fit into groups that do not really welcome me into their cliques. I also tried adopting new interests in order to have common topics with others. The problem which arose from such 'adaptations' or trying to be a social chameleon resulted in me becoming less authentic, and less real with others.

Time passed, I realised there was no point for me to keep trying to fit into a group which I could almost never blend in. I made a decision to leave that group of acquaintances. Subsequently, I ventured out of my comfort zone to find new people to connect with. Fortunately, the friends that I made were really positive for my wellbeing. We connected, shared stories and were open and honest with each other. These environments were incredibly supportive and I felt I could be myself with these people rather than pretending to be someone I am not.

Since finding these unique communities where I belong and am welcomed fully, I found social connections with them more nourishing than ever before. Conversations uplifted my spirit and gave me more energy to be productive. Meeting these people who I connect with also helped me find opportunities to bless others and contribute to the community in my own ways.

Based on my own experience and relevant research, I find that reducing the time we spend on social networking sites can help us connect on a deeper level with others face-to-face. Since meeting the friends I have now, I have deliberately reduced my social networking site usage and also had less need to go online to check for updates. Also, as Susan Pinker said, it is important to find friends that we can truly connect with, rather than just seeking for social connections just for the sake of having them. I personally found having friends with similar values and interests really helps us relate to one another. When I had friends with different opinions than I did, I remind myself to respect differences, and that also helped us build our friendship. Finally, social connections require maintenance. If we do not work hard to maintain our friendships, we can easily lose touch with our friends or community. With the current communities I have formed, I make an effort to meet them regularly even though I am busy with university.

Finding communities in which I fit in and meeting people who I click with helped me feel more confident about my abilities, improved my wellbeing and allowed me to contribute more for my local community. I hope you learned something from my post. Please share with your friends if you find it helpful.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Life update 2018: Studies, Social Life, Visions for this blog

Hi everyone, it's been a while since I have written anything on my blog. Some of you might wonder what I have been up to, some might have no clue I have a blog. Now you know.

My studies

Life, has as usual taken a huge part of my attention this past seven months. In July 2017, I have finished my undergraduate degree in Psychology and since February this year, I have been pursuing my Honours degree in Psychology at Australian Catholic University in Melbourne. I have always wanted to get admitted into the highly competitive Honours in Psychology degree in Australia. Through sheer hardwork and determination, I made it, however, what came after admission was not something I could predict beforehand. The workload was heavy. We (students) had to deal with multiple assignment deadlines at the same time and meet with group members for group discussion as well. I had to learn one statistical technique every week, which was unlike in my undergrad degree, where we had the luxury of 3 to 4 weeks to learn a topic.

My first semester was tough. I did my best, and my results was satisfactory. Although there is still room for improvement, I am grateful for the marks I got given the difficulty of the course.

Social Relationships 

Unexpectedly, my social relationships improved tremendously this past 6 months. It was probably due to the small class sizes at my uni and friendly and understanding peers and lecturers. Given the difficulty of the course, I often rant to my friends (who offer their listening ears) and they would understand my struggles because they too are in the same position. Facebook chat groups and Facebook page were formed quickly at the start of the semester, and that offered a sense that "we are in this together".

As the course was demanding, I had to drag myself to uni almost everyday and motivate myself to get something done, no matter how small the task is. But when I feel discouraged or had an impulse to drop out of Psych honours, I remind myself that I have 39 other friends doing the degree with me, and that gave me comfort and courage to carry on.

Besides, there were lots of changes and pressures which came as part of the nature of this course that we had to adapt to. For example, I came up with my thesis topic idea the night before I submitted my research proposal. Due to insufficient time for detailed research, I changed my hypotheses and variables multiple times. Also, due to the lack of time, I had to creatively choose the questions I wanted to do in an assignment in order to make my life easier. But through it all, I am grateful and happy that I had my friends' support.

Another part of my social life that improved was the new circles of friends that I have made. In the past, I used to (perhaps unconsciously) stick with friends that neither shared my values nor particularly want me in their circles. However, this year, I have deliberately sought out new friendships with people who shared my values of mutual respect, authenticity and openness. This has led to experience greater fulfillment in my life and improved my wellbeing.

Vision for this blog
It has been interesting reading my old posts on this blog. I have realised that my ideas for blog posts now has changed quite a lot compared to what I thought were good blog post ideas in the past. To me, that isn't a bad thing. Rather it's evidence of growth, of learning, of new reflection on life. It has been a journey these few years. I have learned to be more empathetic, understand other's perspective and hold back of judging others. I have also been more sociable and outgoing.

One of the main reasons I have not posted much these past 6 months was that I feared what others would think if I post content that my viewers may disagree on. I had fears that I may be judged for my values, beliefs and perspectives. However, if I don't put it out there, how would my blog reflect my aim of being authentic?

So, after pondering on it and talking to some people about my concerns, I have decided to write what I think will benefits others, regardless of what others think of me as a person. If I wanted to please everyone, I probably will never write another word on my blog. I am always open to others commenting their views on a certain topics, all I ask is respect for each others and be civil.

My vision for this blog in the near future will be posts about spirituality, studying psychology, reflections on life and learnings from people. Even though I am not the most creative writer or a know-it-all, I hope some of my posts will benefit you and you would be happy to pass them along to a friend who may enjoy them.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Minimalism: A tool that will allow you to pursue what is meaningful in you life

It’s been a long while since I have written any blog posts. The reasons are that I have been rethinking what I want to write on this blog as I learn and grow everyday to become a better, kinder, more compassionate person, hopefully, and also have just been caught up in life, hence did not have much time to write.

In the past few months, I stumbled on a concept called “minimalism” on Youtube while searching for tips to organise my study space and wardrobe. After watching a few videos, I fell deep into the rabbit hole of more and more minimalist inspirations. Minimalism does not really have a fixed definition. It generally means that we reduce our possessions and live with only the essentials for us. Minimalism helps bring clarity into our lives, reduce stress associated with cleaning and tidying up if we have lots of things, and helps us focus on the important aspects of our lives.

I am currently studying psychology in Melbourne. And I have a confession to make: I rarely use my own study table to do my assignments, throughout my two years of university life in Melbourne. Instead I always do my assignments in the library. The reason I won’t or couldn’t use my study table to do my work was because it was always cluttered with other things! Without my conscious awareness, the clutter in my study environment made me feel annoyed, yet I have never really tidy up my table and my shelves. They would always be filled with papers and books I never touch or read again and other knick knacks. After reading The Joy of Less by Francine Jay and watching numerous Youtube videos, I decided to begin decluttering the things I owned and start my journey towards living with minimal things.

While I was back home in Malaysia, I sold about ten of my books to different people. I did not reallyread the books although I had purchased them several years back. Initially, it was difficult for me to let go of my books, but because I did not read those books since buying them, I thought it may be better for someone else to benefit from them. After I have sold those books to people, I felt quite happy, surprisingly. I was happy not because I had gotten some cash for those books, but knowing that these people may very well benefit from reading those books. Among the buyers, some of them are even school teacher /university lecturer wanting those books so that they can place in their institution’s library collection! How amazing is that? Knowing that my books can be read by others at a cheaper rate just makes me smile.

Since I have returned to Melbourne, I have decluttered my kitchen, pantry, book collection and also some stacks of paper and miscellaneous items. Even though the process of taking everything out, seeing them all in one place, then choosing things to keep, donate or throw away can be a long one and feel daunting, once I started the process, I gained some insight into what exactly I had in those piles of clutter. Turnsout, apart from University lecture notes, most of them were brochures, advertisements, flyers, freebies from events, other people’s namecards etc. I had a problem of taking what everyone promoting stuff on the street gave. I never threw anything out apart from weekly food scraps, and that over the years have created 10 bags of random things that I needed to look into.

Becoming minimalist is definitely a tool I want to use to simplify my life. These few weeks of exploring this concept has led me to truly realise that things do not and can never make us happy. Owning more does not mean that we become happier. I have seen people from the USA having 50 pairs of shoes to declutter, I only have 4 pairs, and I think that’s enough for me. Things that are excess are different for everyone. For me, I had minimal shoes and socks, and minimal number of bags, however I have lots of books and papers, and also lots of clothing. These things, unfortunately create the visual clutter around our living space.

I truly think that minimalism is a great tool to help us live more simply and find more time for meaningful pursuits in life. Personally, I would like to connect with friends and family more regularly, and able to take self care breaks exploring a nearby suburb or a local park or library. Of course, there are more to minimalism than what I shared here, and I will in time explore different aspects of minimalist lifestyle.

Other blogs you may be interested in:

Friday, 5 May 2017

Public Lecture: Neuropsychology of Dementia by Dr Luke Smith

Today, I went to Swinburne University, Hawthorn campus to attend a public lecture on the neuropsychology of dementia, mainly because I got interested in ageing, mental health in older adults and diseases that are common in older adults from my psychopathology lecture on cerebral disorders this week. It was my first time visiting Swinburne University, so it was definitely a good thing that I arrived at the uni 15 minutes early to locate the venue of the lecture.

So, this is just a brief overview of what topics were covered in the public lecture. It is by no means complete with all the notes in the slides, but it will be a summary of the main points that I manage to jot down during the lecture.

This public lecture is part of a series of seminars on ageing which runs every year for more than 6 years already. So basically, this lecture is the continuation of previous lectures on related topics in ageing. Dr Luke Smith is a Clinical Neuropsychologist and he conducts neuropsychological testing with older adults who were often brought in by their concerned family members to examine if the individual has illnesses that can cause dementia.
1. Cognitive Domains
Dr Smith started the lecture by talking about the cognitive domains that are tested in a neuropsychological assessment for dementia. They are information processing (a fancy scientific work for how fast you can think), attention and concentration (divided into attention span, sustained attention and attention to detail), working memory (ability to hold information and manipulate them simultaneously), visuo-perceptual processing (how a person construct, integrate and organisation visual information), and finally language (which includes semantic processing [word finding], verbal fluency [naming as many words as possible starting with the letter F] and repeating sentences. When a neuropsychologist assess an individual, he will usually use "thinking and learning" instead of cognition to describe what tests he will be administering to the patient. This is because not many people understand what cognition means, therefore using phrases that people can understand will be essential for effective communication. Testing will also require 3-4 hours, including approximately 1 hour of history taking, which comprises interview with the client's family and friends, asking about premorbid functioning, social, occupational, educational history and so on.

-Learning and Memory
A special mention on learning and memory here is because the general public (or us) often think that memory problem is the early sign of dementia, however Dr Smith explained that this is not the case. Learning is usually the aspect that becomes impacted first. It starts with learning problem, where the person is not able to take in much information from his/her surroundings, and also may never encode the information. Hence, the memory problems that are observed by caregivers are because the information was never learned / encoded in the first place.

Other aspects that are assessed are free-recall memory (ability to recall something without prompts), and recognition memory (ability to recognise if a word was on a list or not).

-Executive Functioning
I remember learning this in my capstone subject at my university, although I still don't really know what executive functioning means. So, Dr Smith describes executive functioning as top-down processing. It involves ability to generate ideas, divide attention, inhibit attention, reason and problem solve, planning and organising, and finally having insight.

Often, individuals presenting with symptoms and signs of dementia are refered by carers or other people as being in denial. However, there is a crucial difference between being in denial versus having no insight. When one has no insight, there is no awareness of the problem to begin with, whereas being in denial is when the individual knows that there is a problem, but does not want to acknowledge it or is actively ignoring it.

2. Behavioural Changes
Secondly, a neuropsychologist assesses a client's behavioural changes by interviewing family and friends of this individual. A clinician / diagnostician needs to be mindful of the possibility of an observed behaviour to be just eccentricities of the individual which may be present for all of the client's life. The behaviour of interest has to be a change from a person's pre-morbid presentation. Examples of these include: being disinhibited and impulsive, irritable, agitated, aggressive, being rigid and inflexible, being repetitive (i.e., repeating same things over and over), being hyper-oral (i.e., having a sweet tooth), and apathy (i.e., not caring about things they used to care about or anything at all).

3. Social Cognition
Third aspect that is assessed in a client to determine if the client may have dementia is social cognition. Social cognition is our ability to judge and interpret others' emotions. This ability is crucial for us to understand what others are feeling. It allows us the capacity to empathise and is essential for communication. Generally, we have more difficulty judging negative emotions such as disgust and confusion compared to positive emotions such happiness and excitement. The participants of this lecture (me included) completed an activity on social cognition, where we had to identify another person's emotions based on what they express on their faces. In dementia presentation, the individual will generally have difficulty expressing emotions, and the way they express emotions may changes as well. This is called affective expression. They may also have difficulty judging the emotional tone of another person's voice. As a participant brought up the issue of the appropriate action when the client being in a culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) background compared to an Australian born and raised clinician, Dr Smith explained that he usually cuts out all forms of sarcasm and tones, and just being very formal and neutral when conducting the assessment. This cuts down the chance that the client misinterpreting what was said.

4. Disease Syndromes
Fourth aspect which will be examined in a neuropsychological assessment is which of the syndromes does the client's presentation fit in, Alzheimer's disease, Dementia with Lewy Bodies, Vascular Dementia, Frontal-Temporal Dementia, or others.

For Alzheimer's Disease (AD), a common form of neuropsychological disorder in older adults, patients often present with naming (word finding) difficulties, visuo-construction problems (unable to copy a drawing of a house), and rapid forgetting where prompting no longer helps. Interestingly, in initial stages of AD, patients often do not present much executive and behavioural changes. A neuropsychologist can also administer a test called Block-Design test where the patient is required to recreate a design using colour blocks as shown.

Vascular dementia was also discussed. But unfortunately I didn't jot a lot of information down. I did include a link so that you can have a read if you like.

Next was dementia with Lewy bodies. This forms of dementia have presentation including visuo-perceptual problems, hallucinations (often nocturnal, meaning at night time), problems with executive functioning, attention problems, and REM sleep behaviour disorder (which means patients act out their dreams). A point was also highlighted about the importance for clinicians to be able to constant differentiate the presentation of the client and ruling out what may not likely be the diagnosis.

Furthermore, we have frontal-temporal dementia. This is when the person can show language changes (i.e., repeating sentences), and carers may report the patient has sexual disinhibition (i.e., cheating on their spouse when they never would have before developing dementia).

Dr Smith also highlighted the relationship between movement disorders such as Parkinson's Disorder, Huntington's Disease and Motor-Neurone Disorder with progression towards development of dementia. In particular, almost 100% of people with Huntington's disease will develop dementia later in life.

5. Decision Making Capacity
Decision making involves ability to do four things: Understand, retain, communicate and weigh up information. The assessment of this capacity will involve corroborating information from the patient's family and friends, followed by a structured capacity interview and finally a comprehensive cognitive and behavioural assessment. The point is to assess if the patient has the cognitive capacity to make well-reasoned decisions in their daily life.

6. Behaviour management
Contrary to what we usually think is the main problem with dementia, such as memory, it is in fact behaviours of the patient that cause most distress to his/her family and friends, and also health professionals. Behavioural management is now considered first-line therapy for patients diagnosed with dementia. It is based on models of behavioural change and includes evidence-based strategies. Anyone can learn methods of managing behaviour of patients with dementia. Connecting with the person's long-term memories is also important to build rapport with the individual, as the person's short-term memory is often impaired.

Finally, although at present there is no cure for dementia, getting an individual to seek help from a multidisciplinary team, involving geriatric specialists, neuropsychologist, dietician, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, nurse and social worker is likely to help the individual in the most comprehensive way possible.

I hope you enjoyed my summary. Please share with others who you think this information might be helpful for.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Life update mid-2017: Studies, Visa, and Australia

Hello everyone!

It's been a while (more than 1 year) since I wrote a blog post, and many things have been happening. So I thought I would do a posting just to update.

I have always wanted to volunteer for some mental health organisations and non-profits. This year, I finally achieved this goal. I got accepted into three mental health organisations in Melbourne for volunteering. So far, I have been volunteering for them for about 3 months, and the experiences have been great. I met wonderful people, many older and much wiser than me, and I am glad I learned a lot from each of them.

I am currently in my final semester of my undergraduate studies! My goodness, I can't believe I am actually graduate in 3 months time. By August this year, I hope to get a Post-Study Work Visa  so that I can stay in Australia for a longer period of time to study and maybe find a part-time job (haven't figure that out yet).

Perhaps because I am graduating soon, I have been enjoying more of my psychology studies recently compared to previous years. I thought I would post a series of posts about what I study in uni, which maybe can help some students, whether they are Melbourne University students or from other universities, to understand their lecture material better.

Also, I plan to visit some surrounding suburbs for the next few weeks, take some photos and share my experience here as well.

That's all for now. Will post some new updates soon!

Friday, 4 November 2016

100 Ideas for Self Care!

Recently, I have compiled a long list of ideas for my own self-care during Uni exams period (which is now really). I will share them with you today, some of them have been modified to suit most people. 

1. Take a few deep breaths
2. Take a 10 minute walk
3. Make yourself a cup of hot drink 
4. Practise gratitude
5. Be compassionate / kind towards yourself
6. Take a break
7. When stressed out, brainstorm alternative ways to solve the problem
8. Accept uncertainty as part of life
9. Allow yourself to feel your emotions, don't shut them out. 
10. Love all parts of yourself: the good, bad and the ugly
11. Focus on just one thing that you have to do for the day.
12. Talk to someone you trust
13. Write a letter to yourself
14. Embrace surprises, unexpected turns and failures in life
15. Go to the beach and the ocean
16. Tell yourself: "It's hard, but I can do this"
17. Go back to the basics: Nutrition, Rest, Sleep, Leisure, Water, Cut down on sugars and caffeine
18. Be present in the moment
19. Practise meditation exercises
20. Listen to some relaxing music
21. Look for the positives in every situation (especially during adversities)
22. Don't compare yourself with others. There are 7.5 billion people in this world, you can't top them all. 
23. Hit the gym or run around your residential area
24. Smile to someone else
25. Help someone else
26. Avoid catastrophising (i.e., making things bigger or more serious than they actually are)
27. Have some comfort food
28. Recall happy times with friends and family
29. Call or text a friend to catch up
30. Open up
31. Read a book
32. Watch a movie you like
33. Hugs
34. Colour
35. Journal
36. Volunteer 
37. Visit a local exhibition / museum / or some other artsy stuff
38. Cry
39. Do yoga 
40. Hyperfocus on something
41. Laugh about problems
42. Accept what you can't change, and change those that you can. 
43. Learn a new language / craft / recipe / whatever you like
44. Surround yourself with nature for a day
45. Practise being. 
46. Do nothing, literally. 
47. Solve a puzzle
48. Visit a bookstore 
49. Go to an art gallery
50. Paint
51. Take a mental health day, or schedule it into your week.
52. Spend time with people who empower you
53. Avoid toxic people
54. Remind yourself why you are doing what you are doing, this keeps you motivated. 
55. Appreciate the beauty of this world
56. Play video games / iOS / Android games
57. Put on makeup, or put on a suit
58. Join social events
59. Share your knowledge with others
60. Work limited hours
61. Set boundaries by saying "no" to things
62. Be brave and do something you are fearful of
63. Go shopping
64. Accept your painful / unpleasant emotions.
65. Go for a massage
66. Try aromatherapy / essential oils
67. Eat healthily
68. Sleep at appropriate times
69. Set a positive intention at the start of your day
70. Don't let petty things get to you. Ask yourself: Would this matter in 5 or 10 years time?
71. Try a new hobby
72. People watching
73. Get a pet or many pets
74. Eat ice-cream
75. Pamper yourself
76. Create a list of 10 things you like about yourself
77. Fail, but fail happily, because you can learn something each time you fail
78. Go to your favourite cafe
79. Party with friends
80. Lose yourself momentarily in a good book or movie
81. Go on an adventure
82. Create a bucket list
83. Read inspirational quotes
84. Spend quality time with your significant other
85. Smile even when you feel horrible
86. Creative expression
87. Go to a garden, watch the flowers, the trees, the grass
88. Watch funny videos
89. Attend a musical or theatre performance
90. Go for a buffet
91. Take naps
92. Look at yourself in the mirror and say "I love you"
93. Experience life as it comes, as it is. 
94. Go on a roadtrip
95. Sleep in for that day
96. Educate yourself on wellbeing and self-improvement
97. Travel
98. Help someone who is less fortunate than you.
99. Meet new people
100. Learn to forgive yourself and others

How did you find this list? Did any of them helped you? If you have any tips that are not listed here. Please share them in the comments below.