Not going home for the holidays? You’re not alone.

I know I’m not the only one feeling sad, lonely and anxious right now. In fact, many international students who study abroad just simply can’t see their loved ones as much as they want to. Airplane tickets are expensive when your family doesn’t live in America.

Holidays are a time of joy and celebration and when you feel sad and lonely you’re made to feel guilty about it.  

I thought I would write a blog post sharing my experience on how I deal with the holidays and how I overcome the sadness and guilt for not being with my family. This is not the first Thanksgiving break without my family. I’ve probably gone through this season for 4 years without having family and I’m doing ok.

The holiday season often invites unwelcome guests.

For me, the holiday season triggers many emotions. I call it emotional overload because for some reason many of the big changes in my life occurred during the holidays and that’s why I can’t help but look back and reflect on it.And when you live alone all that voice in your head just amplifies up and it feels like you can’t escape! 🙁

But I want to let you know that you can overcome the holiday blues and be thankful for what you have. Don’t compare your holidays with the one on TV where you see that big family eating together and buying nice gifts for each other.

Just don’t compare yourself to other families! All families have their own problems even if they look like they’ve got everything.

I don’t know how many times I’ve cried in the past wishing that my holiday sadness and grief would go away only to see it pop up again during this time of year. It can be hard when your friends are with their loved ones and you are left to spend thanksgiving break alone.

My first thanksgiving was with a vending machine in the basement of my dorm room in New York City. I didn’t even know it was thanksgiving and I was supposed to do something. Most of the students were away and I felt like I was the only student on campus. That day wasn’t a good day and to make matters worse, I got into an argument with my father because I had to drop out of Sarah Lawrence college.

Every year I’m reminded of that incident and all the other not so happy memories that happened to me. Sure, it could be the weather because the days are getting shorter and it’s getting colder outside. The weather has such a big influence on your mood. It may seem like I’m victimizing myself but I am not. I still haven’t forgiven my father and I’m just trying the best that I can each day to get by and process those unresolved feelings. Thankfully LA has great therapists 😉

Each year it doesn’t get easier but I get better at handling the holiday blues. I know what to do when a bad feeling comes up. And I am proud of myself that I can do this all alone. Calling my parents and talking about my “feelings”  is not an option  so I came up with ways to combat it on my own.

So how do you find joy and comfort in the holidays when you’re studying abroad and living alone?

Here is a list of things you could do to help you overcome the holiday blues while living alone.

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Do you ever feel like your mind goes in circles and can’t stop racing? It feels so repetitive, fast and you feel like you can’t stop your excessive thoughts?

I’ve had this feeling for a while now. Probably because I just moved into my new place and I feel like there is so much I have to do and so little time.Overthinking leaves me feeling frustrated and burned out. Not only is it emotionally draining for me but I’ve seen it show up physically on my body. Stress causes me to feel aches on my lower back, shoulders and even weight gain 🙁

In the past, I never cared so much about my thoughts. I was the kind of person that just assumed my thoughts would just go away naturally. But as I dig deeper into my childhood and think about why my mind was always so high strung I begin to understand why I’ve always been like this for all of my life.

A bit about my childhood and how my anxiety and overthinking began:

  • I grew up in Vietnam, in a household where my feelings, my sensitivity, my expression for love was suppressed.
  • Because I didn’t receive love and kindness in return, I felt anxious and kept thinking to myself “well what did I do wrong to deserve this?” It was so hard for me to figure out and I had no one to talk to about it because in Vietnam you don’t  share your family’s issues to your friends 🙁
  • Since I had no one to share this with I was so alone in my thoughts and kept overthinking and overanalyzing things in my life.

This pattern followed me ever since. But now that I’m older and I’m away from my parents I’ve realized a lot of things –

#1 My parents will never have the capacity to acknowledge me in the way I would like them to see me. They will never change their values and I’ve learned to be okay with that.

#2 I can take care of myself. I have my own values and I can give myself the love and care that I so desperately wanted as a kid.

NOW,  I don’t want you to think my parents are bad and malicious people. They gave me a great life and because of them I am here in LA. But let’s just say that my parents and I have very different values.

You don’t need to be a therapist to see this but anxiety and overthinking is related and rooted in your upbringing.

Off course when you’re feeling stressed and high strung you’ll blame it on external factors but if you take a closer look at how you were raised, I think you’ll be able to identify a lot of things that might surprise you.

Now that I live alone and abroad I understand the importance of self-care. This is how I keep my sanity intact and it allows me to take my power back whenever I feel sad and lonely in my thoughts. I feel happier, at peace with myself and less stressed when I take the time to care for myself. That could be reading, exercising, cooking, learning a new skill,  sleeping and doing nothing. That counts right? 🙂

Each day, at my own pace I take action to reduce my anxiety.  The goal for me is not to get rid of all my thoughts but to note it and acknowledge it. When you’re anxious and high strung it’s impossible to get rid of your thoughts. The best you can do is to learn how to calm yourself.

If you watch this video you’ll understand what I mean.

I highly recommend downloading Headspace btw! This app really sets the tone for my morning. I never walk out the door without meditating at least 3 mins now! Headspace has every possible scenario under the sun for you to listen to whenever you get nervous.  My favorite is the “feeling overwhelmed” and “frustrated” meditation. You need to try it! You feel very zen afterwards 😉

Also don’t be afraid to get help. Ever since I moved to America I started doing therapy and it has helped me release all my emotions. Therapy has been such a great outlet for me; to be able to say everything even the things I couldn’t express as a kid, and to say it out loud to someone that has the knowledge and expertise to help me heal…wow, it feels great! But therapy comes with a price and in the beginning I couldn’t afford it. That’s why I work part time jobs to save up and go when I can. To me health is always a great investment.

It will take time and it will be difficult at first, but if I can do it, so can you. It took me 3 years to realize that I have anxiety problems because so much of my life I was in denial. I thought my level of anxiety was normal for someone who was a perfectionist and always wanted to excel. But when it took a toll on my health thats when I decided it was enough and I was going to do something about it.

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Do you care what other people think of you?

Do you sometimes wonder what the person right next to you might think of you? Or even the stranger you just walked past by?

We all do.

But to a certain extent.

For me, caring what others thought of me consumed me for most of my life.

I grew up with a very well known figure and that person happens to be my mother. I get compared a lot to her and you can imagine how frustrating it can be when people don’t recognize you for who you are and your accomplishments.

And it doesn’t help when your mom works in an industry that praises looking good 24/7.

So you could imagine how sad and insecure I felt when standing next to her at movie premieres or events…

That sort of comparison ruined my self esteem. It really hurt me when people would say things like: “Oh you’re not even as pretty as her” or “how come your mother is so pretty and you’re so fat?” I was a big kid growing up. Tall, chubby and socially awkward. I was taller than the rest of the guys in my class but who doesn’t look like sh*t when they’re going through puberty? But after that awkward puberty phase in my life…luckily miracles did happen to me! Haha!

In the past I cared so much to the point that it costed my health and sanity.

  • I cared about how I look and would buy unnecessary materialistic items keep up with my so-called  friends
  • I cared about what a stranger right next to me might think of me as I am lined up to buy pizza and junk food (true story)
  • I cared about what people might think of me if I gained weight
  • I cared about winning my dad’s approval for being the best and perfect daughter. I even went into real estate so we could both have something in common to talk about but afterwards I quit because it didn’t make me happy…

All of this caring was so unnecessary and vicious just because I wanted to feel validated. I wanted to be the kid that was cool, the chosen one, the it girl that everyone would talk about and make my mom feel proud of me but all it did was make me more miserable inside.

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