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Mind and Body tips on a healthy and meaningful Chinese New Year festive period

Joyce Teo on 03 Feb 2019

The Straits Times


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SINGAPORE - As many Singaporeans gather to celebrate Chinese New Year tomorrow, the focus is likely to be on indulging in good food and meeting relatives and friends.


Here are tips on how to make the most of the festive period in a healthy and meaningful way.




Well, not entirely, but do not spend the whole Chinese New Year period making small talk with everyone at every gathering just for the sake of social courtesies.


Instead, connect at a deeper level with some of your relatives and friends.


"The idea is not about quantity, but quality," said Ms Andrea Chong, a senior psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health.


"It's to have quality conversations with relatives who matter to you, rather than superficial conversations with everybody you meet."


Connecting and having meaningful conversations will likely lead to better relationships, which you can build and count on throughout the year and in difficult times.




At gatherings where there may be a number of people, conversations sometimes turn into comparisons.


For example, how many children couples have, how well their children are doing in school or how well someone is doing in his job.


It is best to avoid these comparisons as it may make people feel uncomfortable.


Also, avoid probing questions as you never know what someone is going through.


"Show respect when someone is not willing to say more. You can say, 'It's okay, I understand you don't want to talk about it' and then talk about something else," Ms Chong said.




While you may be at a loss over what to say to an elderly relative at a gathering, the reality is that the topic does not matter.


"Anything goes, but just be genuine and avoid judging them or giving unsolicited advice based on your personal biases," Ms Chong said. "Do not assume you know better."


If an elderly person broaches a difficult topic such as death, show genuine concern and gently inquire more, she said.


"Understand what the issue is in a gentle manner. It could be health issues or loneliness or that no one bothers about him," she said.


For instance, he could say that he is waiting to die because no one cares about him.




If you feel stressed during this period, you need to identify the triggers to manage the stress.


"If you're doing too much or have to cook a lot for many people, you'll need to set good boundaries. This means perhaps having to say no to some people."


If the stress is about money, stick to realistic budgets.


If the stress is originating from meeting family, find a way to politely decline meet-ups and see them less.


"It's not like you want to avoid them, but you want to limit the time spent with them. It's about moderation," said Ms Chong.




There is a tendency over this period to overdo most things - from eating to staying out all night. This could result in a number of unwanted health issues.


If you want to play mahjong or cards, for example, it may not be a good idea to pull an all-nighter.


The lack of sleep during this period can lead to low immunity, said Dr Kong Jing Wen, head of Hougang Polyclinic and a family physician and consultant at the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics.


When one's immunity is down, there is a higher chance of catching the common cold, the symptoms of which include sore throat, cough, running nose and fever.


During this period, there may also be significant changes in one's routine that can contribute to a migraine, said Dr Jonathan Jia Yuan Ong, a consultant at National University Hospital's neurology division.


"These include changing sleep patterns (either too much or too little sleep), irregular eating times, insufficient hydration and excessive intake of alcohol."


Overindulging during meals will not only result in weight gain, but also increase the risk of gastroesophageal reflux, the symptoms of which include bloatedness, stomach discomfort and heartburn.


Heavy meals, especially those that are too oily or spicy, can result in reflux. Common food culprits include nian gao (sticky rice cake), bak kwa and alcoholic drinks, said Dr Kong.


"As these food items are not usually eaten regularly, one may experience gastric discomfort when consuming these items in large amounts," he added.


Dr Ian Phoon, chairman of the cardiovascular disease workgroup committee at SingHealth Polyclinics, said unhealthy eating during the festive season continues to be a major health issue because the high sugar content in Chinese New Year goodies and drinks may cause a spike in blood sugar.


"Beware even if they are not sweet as there may be a lot of carbohydrates (starch) and fats in your food," he said.


Alcohol such as beer also has hidden carbohydrates. A can of beer may have 10g to 14g of carbohydrates, the equivalent of two to three teaspoons of sugar, he said.




You may turn up at the same gathering as a friend or relative whom you do not have a good relationship with.


This might just be the year that you move on from whatever grudge or unhappiness you are holding on to.


Letting go of anger and resentment will lead to better mental well-being, said Ms Chong.


"Forgiveness is for yourself. The intention is not to make the other person feel better," she added.


To forgive is not to forget that something happened, though.


"It's not about forgetting, but acknowledging that it happened," she said.


Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.



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