Simple Self-Care Ideas to Implement Today

It’s time to put yourself first. As a fellow creative (illustrator and professional landscape designer), I grew up with a lot of anxiety. I was also chasing dreams that were not my own and putting my needs last. I finally started confronting my mental health a few years ago and prioritized my time to do the real, deep work in finding myself again and practicing self-care. This has positively changed my life. I’m living so much more fully and happily. I still get anxious, but it’s not crippling anymore and the constant self-doubt and worry is not holding me back from doing things I wanted to do.

I started practicing self-care in baby steps. I needed to do more than just routinely using face masks and keep a good skin care regime – I needed to actually do the deep work. Below are the tiniest steps I took to make it to where I am today:

1.) Meditate for 3 minutes, at least 4 times a week.

I know how woo-woo it sounds and, as a skeptic myself, I didn’t believe sitting still would reap any benefits. But after listening to Tim Ferris saying that at least 80% of successful people meditate over and over again in his podcast, I was convinced to try meditation myself.

I simply started meditating 3 minutes in the morning whenever I can. Then I made a space and time to do it during the work week, which involves sitting in my car and meditating right before I head to the office (if I am not running late). On the weekends, I do it right after I make my bed. I use the Calm app (not sponsored) for it’s simple mobile interface and I also enjoy the positive quote after every meditation session.

From the outside, it looks like meditation does nothing and the person appears to be sleeping. In reality, when you’re the one practicing meditation, you are actually centering yourself, calming your chaotic thoughts, and clearing your mind by taking deep breaths. It can do so much in so little, and it is by far the easiest way to feel more present and at peace with yourself. You will feel more focused and productive after.

Now, the caveat is that meditation only works if you do it consistently and over a sufficient period of time. Everyone has different results, and it took about 8 months for me to finally be able to see and feel the effects of meditation. I still have hard days and go through emotions like a normal human being, but the difference is that I don’t get too overwhelmed or overthink over a prolonged period of time and I am at a healthier state of mind much longer than before. The benefits of meditation has been a game-changer for my life and I believe it can transform your life too.

2.) Take 15 seconds to be brave everyday.

I don’t mean jumping off of a cliff, but scaling it down to something super simple and easy. It can be asking another question besides the typical “How are you?” question whenever you greet someone or have a different response than the normal, “I’m doing well.” Or try having a conversation with a stranger or actually make eye contact with someone when you are talking.

These small moments of bravery can lead to big results. Once you get into the habit of doing things that are uncomfortable and scary, you will do them a lot more. Even if you are afraid of doing it, you will start to gain confidence as you take the initiative to be brave. Part of being brave doesn’t mean you won’t have fear, but you will do it anyway with the fear inside. When you start to do brave things, you will start to do brave things for yourself, such as actually do things you love, learn to say no, and accept the rejection and challenges. You will be brave enough to get back up even when the odds are against you and have the brave mindset to keep moving forward.

3.) The 5 Second Rule

I recently learned about this from another podcast I was listening to. It was created by Mel Robbins, a now successful author and motivational speaker, during a time when she was at her worst, bottom moment of her life – a marriage on the the brink of divorce, a lost job, in debt, and becoming alcoholic. One day, she watched a rocket launch that counted 5-4-3-2-1 and launched live on television. She for some reason decided to apply this one day to help her get out of bed and it worked. So she did this in secret for several years before telling anyone about it. This 5 second rule extended to other moments of her life too.

I’m always interested in learning about simple ideas to practice self-care and time will tell if this 5 second rule will work for me. Still, I wanted to include this idea because it may help you with your own struggles and be something you can apply today or now even. I have heard stories from Mel Robbins about how this 5 second rule prevented someone from committing suicide or helped someone out of life’s most toughest moments. If this is something that can make a difference in someone’s life, then yes I’ll put it here so you know about it too.

These ideas show that self-care doesn’t strictly have to be so serious or hard to implement. It also doesn’t have to be lonely either. Sometimes, it’s even better to do a fun and festive self-care activity in a collaborative environment so it can help spark joy and ideas. A group setting can also help provide clarity in your next steps with many more minds to help you figure out your next thing.

I would like to invite you to a free virtual event that will take place on Sunday December 12th from 4:00 PM to 5:00 PM (US Pacific Time, GMT-7). It’s my new Sparking Joy in Self-Care Virtual Event Series and December month is Cocoa and Coloring! Every event will be themed, feature a Creative, have a self-care activity, and an easy homemade recipe. A creative will be featured in the monthly event, which helps support small business owners and creatives out there. Sign up here if you’re interested in attending!

Sparking Joy in Self-Care Virtual Event Series

The event is featuring a self-care calligraphy artist based in Singapore and we will be using her self-care coloring sheet she made exclusively for this event. You can learn more about her here. See you then and have a jolly day!

Don’t Sugarcoat It

At some point in our lives, we had to respond to somebody asking “Why?”, which is really implying “why are you doing this?”

Why would you quit a good paying job? Why would you go to a second rate college? Why would you move across the country? While these questions show that the person asking may truly care and want the best for you, they don’t actually know what is really best for you. They know that the status quo of life can lead you to success – but is this your path to success?

For a long time, I did everything that was socially perceived as right: I got good grades, I went to a good college, and I even had a good paying job. But I didn’t feel successful or even fulfilled. In fact, I was incredibly anxious and deeply unsatisfied pretty much all the time. A few years ago, I had a breakthrough that led me to stop doing what others expected me to do and it was then I decided to do things for myself.

Part of my personality is to do things spontaneously, so I started to back in 2019. I spontaneously went to Korea a month before my wedding. I left a job for another company to work on projects I had minimal experience in. I started making cute wellness art on a digital platform that I’ve never used before and sharing it on social media. I did everything I was taught not to – and this newfound energy felt exhilarating. And, moreover, it was incredibly freeing.

Of course, people were curious and asked me why I did all these things. I gave somewhat mediocre answers at the time, because I really wasn’t confident in what I was doing either. I just knew deep inside my intuition said I should. Looking back, if I had the confidence, I would have gently asked, “Why not?” and actually be honest about why I was doing all this. It wasn’t for money or for my career, it was for me and my sanity. 

In my mental wellness journey, I’ve learned to not sugarcoat things anymore. I know us women in particular make up stories or excuses to not hurt or make the other person feel bad, as a way to protect them. We tend to fall in this endless sugarcoating cycle and not really admit why we are or are not doing something. Sometimes, we can’t go to an event because we are actually really tired and need a mental break from work and people for a moment. 

So, I’ve been trying lately to be more upfront about my feelings and being more confident speaking about why I do or don’t do things. It is hard to tell people my real reasoning since I’ve been suppressing this from others and sugarcoating it for so long, but I take baby steps when I can. With mental health slowly being more socially accepted, I don’t fear the backlash as much as I did before. In fact, people are willing to share their own struggles if you are honest with them about yours in the first place.

I hope the conversations about mental health become more normalized and we don’t have to hide and suppress our mental struggles from others anymore. Don’t sugarcoat it. In fact, coat it with everything you have. 

Good luck!

Live Lightly to Live Fully

I have felt the heaviness too. The pressure to meet my Asian parents’ escalating expectations, the societal weight to be a strong yet never an inconvenient female, and the mental load to be normal and sane throughout it all and everything in between.


It’s lot to carry, I know. But for a long time, I kept carrying this weight. I didn’t actually realize how much of this weight was holding me back from being myself. And gradually, the weight was getting heavier to hold and after years of accumulated weight, I couldn’t hold it anymore.


At first, I was scared my biggest fears and worries would all come to fruition when I started to let go, but they never happened. When they didn’t, I simply stopped trying to live up to what my parent’s and society wanted and started to live life for myself. As I slowly started to mentally take the weight off, I instantly felt lighter and feeling the mental “weight” off my shoulders. I felt the freedom to do whatever I wanted. After 30 years, I finally felt the permission to be myself and live life on my terms. 


What I have learned is that a lot of this weight was mostly in my head. Sure, my parents would constantly remind me to get good grades and succeed, but they would still love me even if I messed up. Maybe part of it was also the constant drilling (and even borderline brainwashing) from school learning and society’s image on what it means to be a female, but I have chosen to un-learn this and, instead, learn to be more outspoken, to take up space, and to be brave about being unapologetically myself.


This is what I think it means to live fully: to be able to live truthfully and authentically as your truest self. I believe you can do the same by living lightly and slowly taking the mental load off of your mind. It’s okay to have a bit of pressure, as long as it comes from you and nobody else. Have the courage and willpower to live on your own terms, so you can achieve more, do better, and dream bigger. 


I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. I would have been stuck at a dead-end job with a toxic manager, my crippling anxiety would take a greater control over my life, and I would continue to live life on other people’s terms. I wouldn’t have started sharing about my journey on this blog or created art for healing and positivity.  


So I encourage you to live, like really live. You can start by taking the mental weight and pressures off in your mind. In reality, nobody is really pushing you to do something. There’s always going to be external voices and opinions, but you should quiet those down and listen to your own internal voice instead. Your internal voice is the one that matters anyway. And I totally get that your inside voice may consist of self-doubt and worries, but I believe that just being aware of those feelings can really help you start the process of building confidence and uncovering who you are truly meant to be.


Living lightly has given me the opportunity to live fully. I am in a much better headspace than ever before and I live life everyday doing things I love. Even when things go wrong during the day, I don’t sulk too long and I do my best to move forward, as this is all part of the human experience anyway. 


There is no real need to carry all this heavy weight anymore. Slowly let it go and you’ll find yourself so much lighter and feel so much fuller than ever before. Good luck!

Happy Ending: Finding Yourself and Crafting Your Dream Life

From the outside, it seemed like I was living the dream life. I got a graduate degree, I had a decent paying job, and I was part of many social circles. Based on society’s and my Asian parents’ standards, I did everything right by achieving academic, professional, and personal success throughout my 20s. I followed a path like many others had done before me and I thought this was the ideal life I was meant to be living. At the time, I assumed my personal well-being didn’t matter, even as my anxiety levels and my mental state were getting progressively worse, since in the external world, everything else was going fine.   

As I was achieving success, I was going so fast and nowhere at the same time. I felt empty, unhappy, and unfulfilled. The two years of graduate school in another state put a strain on my long-term relationship. I loathed the job I was in after graduate school and I became incredibly anxious and depressed working with a toxic manager. I went to every social gathering to show my support to my loved ones and friends, but I wasn’t really present when I was physically there.

For so long I assumed my happiness would positively correlate with all the things I have done right in life by being a good daughter, a good student, a good employee, and a good partner. I just accepted things as it came to me and obediently stuck to my lane. I never did anything to step on anyone’s toes or out of my comfort zone. But I was nowhere near happiness and I was getting further away from being my authentic self. I was slowly disappearing and I couldn’t admit this to myself because I was too scared to face my own troubled mental state. I used other things like work, social gatherings, and other “busy” distractions to keep me from ever confronting my mental health. I thought my worries, anxieties, and fears would just eventually go away if I kept going with the flow of life. This was the ideal life anyway, so this would work itself out right? 

It didn’t. The cracks of this seemingly ideal life started to crumble into noticeable pieces. I was in a terrible mood a lot of the time, I was in a constant state of worry, and I was exhausted from meeting everyone’s expectations. My relationships soured, my work suffered, and my mental health declined. I was losing myself and I didn’t know what to do. 

In 2019, I didn’t have a breakdown, but I had a breakthrough. For the first time in my life, I made the decision to start doing things for myself, not just to please my parents or to impress an employer. I started to work on projects I liked and enjoyed. I went on trips for myself, not for social obligations. I was rediscovering who I was and finding out who I really wanted to be. For once in my life, I was finally taking ownership of my life. I left the toxic workplace for a new one with a position I wanted and a salary I negotiated for. I improved my communication skills with my partner and fostered stronger relationships with friends. I even started a side business of designing and selling cute greeting cards. I was making things happen my way and was finally becoming myself again.

As I gained confidence to do the things I loved, I gained the courage to confront my mental health and took action to do something about it. I started meditating, slowing down, stretching, and experimenting with all sorts of mindfulness activities. I read books and listened to many hours of podcasts related to self-help topics. After putting in “self-work” consistently, the results were magical. The newfound clarity and sense of calmness was incredibly freeing. For a person who had experienced a lifelong crippling anxiety, this felt like a dream. And this new dream became my new reality. 

I am starting to live my dream life now. I am learning to be my authentic self and I am so much happier than ever before. I live fully with less anxiety and do things I love without anyone else’s permission. As I gain more courage, I am able to take risks and try new things, like taking a real hard look at my finances and my unhealthy lifestyle, and making changes that I have avoided for so long. Interestingly, the more I give back to myself, the more I am able to give back to the world at a much greater capacity than ever before. I am continuously using my creativity and art to help others heal and began their journey of self-discovery, while staying true to myself and my values.  

I am sharing my story so one day you can find yourself and live your dream life too. You have the right to live happily and make your dreams happen, no matter what age you are. Be willing to let go, take up space, and live authentically. It does take real work, time, and consistency, but I guarantee that it is incredibly rewarding, feeling this other way. This may make other people uncomfortable at first, but realize you need to put your own life above others’ expectations. By the end of it all, you have lived your life, not someone else.  

A happy mind is a happy life. You deserve to be happy and live your dream life, so go make it a happy ending.

(And here’s a free mood tracker I made to start. Good luck!)

Have an Ox-cellent Lunar New Year 2021!

When asked in an interview of how she felt when she lost the 1998 Olympics Gold medal, Michelle Kwan said, “I still won the Silver.”

You can still win, even in the most unlikely of circumstances. In 2007, my team and I competed in a college-wide dragonboat championship and our team didn’t even make it to the final top three. But I still won a first place medal that day with half the team that wasn’t our own.

Here’s my story: I was a freshmen in college and this was my first ever college dragonboat championship. There was a women’s division round and my team actually didn’t have enough women to participate. Our team, made up half men and half women, just had barely enough people to make a full boat. Interestingly, another college team also didn’t have enough women to participate either and were in the same boat as us too (pun intended). It was suggested that we pair up – half of the women from our team and half of the women from the other – to compete in the women’s round.

It was a crazy idea to be in the same boat with women we barely knew and most likely trained with different paddling styles. The odds were against us too, since we were going against teams with women who trained with each other for months and probably even years. But we decided to go for it anyway. Once the race started, I gave it a 120% and just kept paddling forward, no matter how wet or cold I got in the wintery day. I remember I instinctively didn’t want to let this group of women down, even though half of them were strangers. So in the midst of the loud cheering, screaming, and shouting during the whole race, I kept charging forward. And we won.

You can think that we were unlucky to compete with women we barely knew. Or you can think we were the luckiest group of women to be on the same team together and win first place that day. So, when you see the glass half full or half empty, it’s up to you. I believe you can have an ox-cellent year if you open your perspective and figure out how to keep going.

You still gained something in the end, like work experience, new colleagues, and maybe finally figured out how to use the office printer properly. Or you realized you had a terrible boss, a shitty job, and didn’t even like the work to begin with. Losing a job or a chunk of your salary doesn’t mean you lose everything. It may feel like it initially, but remember that you still have control over your life. You can figure it out and eventually things work out. Everything is figureoutable.

I hope you carry this mindset with you in 2021. Have the willpower to move forward, do bigger and be better. You can still win and the year is just beginning, so get MOO-ving!

My 1st place medal that was achieved in the most unlikely of circumstances

Take a Mental Break Before It Becomes a Mental Breakdown

driving-photo

At the start of the week, I had not one, but two deadlines due the following day. One was a Photoshop rendering perspective for a project I never worked on and another was to make minor updates to a re-submittal construction document package for a project I loosely worked on. I also did not have a full two days (16 hours) to work on them since both were given on short notice. I was notified about the rendering at 11:00 am with a noon deadline the next day and the other with a similar notification time that was due later in the afternoon the following day. So, in reality, I only had about 11 hours to complete both – 1 hour lunch not included. Mondays are a buzzkill, amiright?

On the same Monday, I also had planned on doing a quick run to the office during lunchtime to grab a couple of drafting supplies I have been running low on, as we were on the 9th week of quarantine. For me, I personally see driving – not commuting – as a therapeutic way of relieving stress and anxiety. There’s something about driving at my own speed and pace that is mentally soothing and relaxing. I also enjoy driving on my own from time to time and, plus, the freeing ability to unashamedly blast selected K-pop songs on repeat in my old SUV.

Others may view this little errand run an as an interruption to workflow and productivity, but I believe this was a good “mental break” for my mind. Not working on those deadlines and doing something mentally calming was more productive than me sitting anxiously in front of the computer and most likely wasting half an hour mulling on the fact that I had two deadlines with no game plan in sight. While driving, I unconsciously came up with a bunch of ideas on how to plan the rendering quickly from scratch during the 40-minute drive to and from the office. If anything, the scheduled office run worked in my favor and quite possibly prevented me from having a mental breakdown by hour four of the deadlines.

Deadlines happen all the time and never at the moments you ever expect. But lately, I have been seeing the glass half full than empty when it comes to such realities. Nothing I do will change this reality, so I find it helpful to accept it, move on, and focus. Like really concentrate on the task at hand for a couple of hours with a few breaks in between. I also choose not to worry about those two deadlines outside of working on them. Instead, I find something completely opposite to occupy my mind with for the latter part of the day. Even knowing fully well I had two deadlines the next day, I slept well and not a single thought about either projects entered my mind that night. It was tomorrow’s problem, not tonight’s nightmare.

The remaining four to six hours left of the deadlines consisted of intense focus. And yes, I did finish the rendering in the nick of time (ok it was really only 10 minutes over). I also did monitor the clock a few times that morning, but I did not panic or dwell into worry. I was already in my work groove, so I just worked a bit faster and kept going. I also made my second deadline by 2 pm.

The familiar saying “Whether you can or can’t, you are right” rings true here. If we were really being honest, I actually did not think I would make the deadlines. Turning a blank page into a manager approved, client-worthy product in a small time frame felt very nerve-wrecking. Though, in actuality, it was the fear of not getting it done in time that caused me more anxiety than actually doing it. When I was in full concentration mode, my willpower to finish and rendering skills somehow combined to work magically and produced magical results. It is astonishing what your mind can do in just little time.

It always helps to take a mental break, even when the odds are stacked against you. Luckily for me, driving was the mental break I needed, even though it was probably the last thing I would have done in such a time-sensitive period. This fortunate incident reminded me that it is okay to take a step away from the screen and to calm the mind before diving in too deep into the work. A refreshed mind can really turn seemingly impossible tasks into very real, tangible possibilities.

Self-Care Activities I Now Have Time For

 

white and purple flower plant on brown wooden surface
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It is quite the luxury to feel un-rushed now. Before the shelter-in-place order, I was incredibly busy with my new job during the weekdays and attending social activities on the weekends like baby and bridal showers, brunch dates, and obligated family gatherings, which pretty much occupies most weekends for a woman in her early 30s. Now, with all the time in the world due to the shelter-in-place order and working remotely from home, I can finally do things I wouldn’t normally do if we all weren’t on house arrest (or at least it feels like one).

This new temporary norm was definitely an abrupt lifestyle adjustment at first, but after four weeks in, some of these activities could permanently fit into both my current and post-quarantine schedule. Best of all, they take thirty minutes or less and can also positively contribute to your overall health and well-being. Nothing is sweeter than a double dose of goodness.

1. Take an outdoor walk with a household member.

Instead of normally commuting back home after work, I now replace the time with a 30-minute evening walk with my sister, who I currently live with. After 5pm, we take a walk around our hilly neighborhood and pretty much talk about anything and everything. The latest updates on COVID-19 and the virus’s impact on our work and overall economy have certainly been our main discussion topic, but it is nice to be able to talk to each other about our feelings and thoughts about current issues, un-judged and unfiltered. At the end of our walk, both of us feel relieved getting stuff off our chest with each other and we get an easy, short workout while doing so. Plus, we get to see cute, neighborhood dogs from a distance during our walk.

We have never done this before the quarantine. But with this shelter-in-place order, we have adjusted our lifestyle around it and managed to find a way to have a deep conversation, in between binge-watching Netflix shows and baking. Actually, this is more like triple dose of goodness because this lets me spend more time with a tolerable family member, unload my unrestricted opinions on this person, and meet my 5,000 steps goal on my Google Fit app every day, all at once.

2. Perform a cooking challenge during lunch hour on weekdays.

For the past five years, I have been mostly eating microwavable food and leftovers for lunch at work. Don’t get me wrong, I like convenience and I still do, but the ability to cook a fresh meal at home beats a mildly warm leftover fried rice at the office any day. Lunch is now a plethora of hearty choices using whatever is available in the fridge and pantry, along with a handy kitchen gadget and clean cookware.

There are lots of healthy recipes that take thirty minutes or less to prepare, and I use the remaining time left to watch an episode of Kim’s Convenience. Lately, I have been doing a personal challenge of figuring out recipes and methods to cook a rainbow plate of delicious food, which consists of vegetables, healthy carbs, and lean meats, using the least amount of time and cookware possible. So far, I have really enjoyed making tasty, colorful lunches for the past several weeks and found myself being more productive and less sleepy on the latter half of the work day. Win-win.

3. Treat myself to a spa and relaxation session.

Before the state-wide lockdown, whenever I did a face mask, I would also be doing something else simultaneously, in order to save time. Now that there is no rush to go somewhere or meet someone, I have some extra time to do a face mask while relaxing my mind and body. It is still multi-tasking in a way, but in a good way. I can lay on my bed with either a cool face mask or mud mask and listen to soothing music without much interruption – outside or mentally. My thoughts are not consumed by the next task, but just being in the moment and actually meditate a little bit.

This has probably been the best treat I have given myself while staying at home. It is free, takes only half an hour, and, at the end of it, my face is brighter and my mind is clearer. For somebody who rarely goes to a spa or let alone even pay for one, this is the next best thing to the real thing. I also never would have thought of doing this in relaxation mode, without doing something productive at the same time. Having time for yourself and performing a self-care routine was considered a luxury to me and I now do both simultaneously on a regular basis. I can even do this on a weekday and not need to wait until the weekend to do this.

Self-care has usually been something that I needed to squeeze somewhere in my busy life and kind of doing it half-heartedly when I did find time to do it. Recently, it has gradually cemented into my not-so-busy schedule and paved itself as a necessary activity for benefiting my overall mental health, improving my mood, body, and mind. Self-care is not selfish, because if I strive to live with a healthier mind and body, it benefits everyone else around me and the work I do. I can have better relationships with people, improve work productivity, and be more creative with a calmer mind. The important thing is to start now, when you now have the time to do it.