The 21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 11: 3 books that have helped me understand the human mind a little better

I am a voracious consumer of books and I particularly enjoy those that explore human psychology using evidence-backed data, culture, and a healthy dose of fascinating storytelling. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. The man who mistook his wife for a hat-Dr. Oliver Sacks tells the stories of his patients who suffer from neurological illnesses- some with memories gone and cognitive functions disfigured- and how they survive in the face of adversity.           “If a man has lost a leg or an eye, he knows he has lost a leg or an eye; but if he has lost a self—himself—he cannot know it, because he is no longer there to know it.” 
  2. Mind change-Dr. Susan Greene describes the effect of modern technology on our brains and how we can harness the power of technology to make our brains, and therefore our lives, better. A particularly riveting chapter for me was “How the brain becomes a mind”.
  3. Think fast, think slow-This award wining book by Nobel winner Daniel Kahnemann and Amos Tversky explores the human irrationality or what they call ‘the systematic errors of thinking of normal people’.                                                           “The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectations about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.” 
photo of head bust print artwork
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The 21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 10: Children’s books recommendations to help understand and cope with those yucky feelings

If you think dealing with emotions is difficult, imagine how much more difficult it is for kids.

It’s important to acknowledge children’s feelings and to help them make sense of them in a way that empowers them to be emotionally intelligent.

Here are some books that we enjoy reading at home.

“Everybody feels sad!” by Moira Butterfield, “”I’m feeling scared” by Lisa Rogen, and “Lots and lots of feelings” by J Moore-Mallinos and G Mazali are all excellent books. They have really helped me understand negative feelings from the perspective of a child, and they have helped my own children open up about their own negative feelings. They offer excellent advise on the best way to deal with yucky feelings, how to express them constructively, and who to open up to.



“Sad Book” by Michael Rosen is the author’s own autobiography on dealing with sadness from the death of his son. Told in a simple language that is addresses the emotional  heaviness of loss, this book is perfect for little ones for understanding not only depression, but how to be resilient in the face of tragedy.


Dawn Hewitt’s “When Someone Dies” is an excellent resource for children who have had to deal with death in the family (including beloved pets). It takes the child through the life cycle and helps explain what death is in the context of life. The book describes what death is and goes through funeral ceremonies among different cultures and religions. I really appreciate the fact that the author addresses grief as a long term feeling “You may still miss someone who has died long after the funeral” and offers fond memories as a powerful antidote to loss. The book also includes helpful notes at the back for parents and teachers, as well as suggestions for extra activities to help the child explore his/her thoughts and feelings.


“Daddy’s getting married” is the story of a young girl whose daddy is getting remarried. She goes through all different stages of grief- anger, denial, bargaining, acceptance-to finally appreciating her daddy’s wife as a positive addition to her life:

“When I’m alone, I think of the family I have now and feel happy. Mum and Dad will always be my parents and nobody could ever replace them, bu it’s nice having Cindy around…”


What are children’s books do you find helpful in cultivating positive mental health in your own family?

The 21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 9: Ground yourself in NOW

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“All negativity is caused by an accumulation of psychological time and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence…..Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life”
― Eckhart TolleThe Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

The 21 Day Mental Health Challenge, Day 7: How to kill an ANT

People with basal ganglia problems tend to be pessimistic and are driven by fear. They often prone to experiencing anxiety and panic attacks  (hello!**points at self**). They may experience muscle tension and soreness, and they have a hard time relaxing. They also have chronic irritability and have OCD tendencies.

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In his book “Change your Brain, Change your Life”, author Dr. Daniel Amen provides steps on how to heal the basal ganglia by providing behavioral prescriptions that focus on mastering emotions and taking control of negative thoughts, or what he calls ANTs (automatic negative thoughts).   Whenever you are feeling anxious or tense, try the following steps described in the book. I’ll also practice them for future flying trips (I get really anxious in planes).

  1. Write down the event that is causing the anxiety, for example, having to get up in front of people to give a speech.
  2. Notice and write down the automatic thoughts that some into your mind. Odds are, when you are anxious, your thoughts are predicting a negative outcome to the situation. Common anxiety provoking thoughts include “They will think I am stupid. Others will laugh at me. I will stumble on my words. I will shake and look nervous.”
  3. Label or identify the thought as a fortune telling ANT. Often just naming the thought can help take away its power.
  4. Talk back to the automatic negative thought and ‘kill the ANT”. Write down a response to defuse the negative thought. In this example, write something like “Odds are they won’t laugh and I’ll do a good job. If they laugh, I’ll laugh with them. I know that speaking in public is nerve-racking for many people, and probably come people will feel empathy for me if I’m nervous.”

Do not accept every thought that comes to your mind. Thoughts are just thoughts, not facts. As such, when they are based on basal ganglia anxiety, they are often inaccurate. You do not have to believe every thought that comes into your mind. You can learn to change this pattern and help your basal ganglia cool down by predicting the best things.

What kind of ANT will you practice ‘killing’? I would love to hear about your experiences. 


The 21 day Mental Health Challenge

Hello friends and (after a long absence), welcome back to Chai Chat!

For the next twenty one days, I’ll be doing a mental health challenge and writing about my experiences and reflections here (and my FB page). The reasons for this are quite simple: I want to be be healthier and I want to do my bit in promoting mental health.  Regarding the former, I want to develop healthier habits through consistent practice and planning (I am a firm believer in pre-meditated happiness) and about the latter, I want to explore issues surrounding mental health today.

What will the challenge look like? I’ve broken down the challenge into key focus areas:

Physical: building physical strength, increasing levels of endorphins

-eat greens every day in form of a salad, smoothie, or in stir fries/steamed veg

-drink 1.5 L of water

-exercise, including 30min of yoga daily, walking 7000 steps, and 20 min strength training/HIIT exercises every 2 days

-getting enough sleep (aiming for 7 hours)

Spiritual: surrendering to a greater power than myself

-reading Quran for 15min every morning, every day

-I already pray consistently (5 times a day) but I will incorporate a meditation practice for 5 min after every prayer

Psychological: building emotional and psychological resilience, being more organised

-writing in my gratitude journal every night

-writing 3 goals for the next day every night, no matter now small they may seem

-switch off from Facebook and Instagram by 8pm every night to quiet the chatter

-read every night before bed to help me relax and unwind

-doing something new or different every week

-writing in my blog/FB every day to track my progress. This is also an opportunity for me to write more consistently (and hopefully, more fearlessly with time)


Social: leaning in on others

-reaching out to family, friends and professionals for advise or help

-volunteering once a week in any capacity as time permits

I’ve already created my daily template in my trusty bullet journal to help visualise my ideal day and I will be breaking it down as I progress with each day, inshallah.

Thank you for coming on this 21 day journey with me and as always, please do feel free to chime in at any point along the way.





You are loved

don’t let anyone change you
turn you into a bitter,

don’t let the hurt get to your innocence;
the kind that is pure
and untouched
and holy

don’t let those words
pierce your heart, my love
you see-you are enough


are extraordinary

if it’s empathy that you need, show it
if it’s courage that you want, grow it
if it’s compassion that you seek, give it

afterall, isn’t this the irony of life?
to be broken over and over again
so that the cracks can let light in,
and rebuild us
from something to nothing to something

just remember.
that through all the aches and the pain
the dark days that seem never to end
the betrayals, the disappointments and misunderstood sentiments.

you are loved.
you are loved.
you are loved.




The Craving for Wholeness That Drives Our Actions — zen habits

By Leo Babauta There’s a sense of incompleteness in our lives. We have felt it since adolescence, at least, if not since early childhood — it’s a feeling that something is wrong with us, that something is missing, or that we’re missing out on something in the world. It’s a feeling of disconnection or loneliness…

via The Craving for Wholeness That Drives Our Actions — zen habits