Slow down and enjoy the ride

Television host Nikki Muller says she’s evolved from just wanting to be fit and strong to taking better care of her emotional health.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Television host Nikki Muller says she’s evolved from just wanting to be fit and strong to taking better care of her emotional health.

Nikki Muller simply lights up the room. It is impossible to dislike the Fly Entertainment artiste who beams with so much positive energy and warmth. Arriving at our photo call, the TV presenter and host greets everyone with big hugs and strikes up lively conversations as her hair and makeup are being done. When she’s all dolled up, she exclaims in wide-eyed wonder: “Thank you so much, guys. I feel like a princess!”

Hardly the happy-go-lucky, freewheeling celebrity, Nikki is the typical modern woman with deep commitments to work, family and friends – and trying to juggle it all while staying sane. As a presenter on Fox Sports Asia, she’d sometimes work up to 16 days at a stretch without taking a rest day.

Last year, on top of her Fox Sports Asia work, Nikki co-hosted the Formula 1 Singapore Grand Prix and SEA Games on TV, as well as hosted The Food Files, a series about the real health benefits and risks of our favourite foods, on Nat Geo People.

“I never really rested. I would work myself to the ground so that by the time I got home, I’d just sleep,” she says. The strain and stress got so bad that she found herself crying on public buses or at lunch, and even in between her many appointments and shoots.

It was only on her 31st birthday earlier this year that Nikki asked herself: “What’s the point of working so hard? I thought I’d be married by now. I thought I’d have my own show full-time.”

While she’d made a checklist of short-term goals – including quitting her job at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2011, where she coordinated high-level global seminars and produced training and promotional videos – to move to Singapore to work in TV, and to do more live shows and theatre work, she didn’t have any big-picture, long-term goals.

Overwhelmed and exhausted, Nikki hit the reset button. She saw a trained therapist, who helped her make sense of her emotions and learn how to deal with them, as well as figure out what would truly make her happy. “It was like sitting in an interrogation room,” she says of being in therapy. Her therapist helped her identify her pattern of committing to unproductive relationships and setting overly high expectations of herself.

Finally, Nikki emerged with a new outlook: to be happy, she needed to pursue the things she truly valued instead of blindly subscribing to society’s definition of what was important. And that’s when the real change began.

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Nikki's Top Tips To De-stress

1 Take Three Slow Breaths When you start to feel upset, close your eyes and take three slow breaths. Listen to the sound of your breathing without letting other thoughts interrupt you. This will help you let go of what you are feeling. If you are not able to focus, try this again later.

2 Take Long Walks Walking gives you alone time to reflect. Block out thoughts about everything you need to do and pay attention to your movements and breathing, and the sights and sounds around you.

3 Meditate Daily Find a quiet space where you can sit comfortably. Close your eyes, let all thoughts that enter your mind pass and focus on each breath you take. You can count beats and recite a simple mantra to keep your mind from racing.

4 Book A Reiki Session Reiki is an energy healing therapy that helps to restore balance in the body, mind and spirit. Private healing sessions are guided by a Reiki master, who helps to channel and remove negativity stored in different parts of the body. It puts you in a state of deep relaxation and reduces anxiety.

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“When we are so focused on doing instead of being, we stop paying attention to our inner self.”

Career success is not happiness

Nikki realised she’d pushed herself to the limit where work was concerned, but that didn’t make her any happier. “So many people define themselves by their work even when it doesn’t make them happy,” Nikki observes.

“In reality, many of us value other aspects of our lives – family, hobbies and passions – just as much as work, if not more so.” To minimise her stress, she decided to give equal attention to both her personal and professional life.

Busyness is not happiness either

It’s easy to believe that being busy all the time is a sign that you’re leading a fulfilling life. “This mentality is so ingrained in us,” says Nikki. “The idea of multitasking is celebrated when, really, all it means is that we are not fully present in any one moment or action.”

In fact, having a scattered mind can reduce the quality of your work. She says the better approach is to work towards producing something you can be proud of. “If it feels good in your soul, it was fruitful,” Nikki says. Now, she pushes herself to produce work she feels proud of and that takes her out of her comfort zone.

Reflecting on YOUr values

“To figure out how to be happy, you have to know what makes you happy in the first place,” Nikki says, adding that she took a good, hard look at what she valued and why. It’s also good to look at what you actually spend your time on to help you identify periods that could have been spent more meaningfully, and to show you the changes you need to make.

Even spending just 15 minutes a day talking to your parents on the phone or reading a good book can make a difference to your well-being, says Nikki. As her mum is based in the UK while her dad lives in the Philippines, she now takes time to travel with them one-on-one.

Listening to your intuition

Nikki lets herself yell and cry when she needs to in order to process her emotions and thoughts better. She recalls crying on an airplane before take-off, without any idea why. It was only 10 minutes later that she realised it was the first time she would be back in Zurich since her late grandmother had lived there.

Likewise, Nikki says your body and mind will give you signals when you are unable to cope with your work, such as the feeling of wanting to cry, or your muscles tensing up. “When you’re constantly irritable, when you find you haven’t eaten or aren’t eating healthily – these are all signs, too,” she adds.

Many people tend to ignore these red flags, especially when they appear at an inconvenient time, like when deadlines are looming or when work is piling up. In the end, one becomes overwhelmed. “When we are so focused on doing instead of being, we stop paying attention to our internal needs,” Nikki explains. Slow down and tune in to your inner self, she says. Besides helping you to be more productive, it also helps you better care for those who depend on you.

Making time for your own thoughts

Nikki sets aside alone time every day to enjoy her own company. Her favourite pastime is to spend half an hour in the pool as she believes in exercise as the perfect outlet for anxiety. “It’s the one place where nobody can bother me,” she says. “And no one has ever regretted a good workout.”

During her me-time, she goes through a self quiz of sorts. “Ask yourself how you are doing and what you are feeling. If you find there are certain negative thoughts that bubble up, sit down and write them out. This helps you to transcribe your thoughts as they come, so that you keep track of the worries and the tough questions before they get buried in your mind.” Once Nikki is able to acknowledge her emotions, she says it becomes much easier to deal with them.

Being kinder to yourself

Give yourself more credit for what you’ve achieved in life so far, says Nikki. “We need to be kinder to ourselves,” she reflects. “I have a sign next to my bed that reads: ‘Consider how far you’ve come’. I have actually come a long way from quitting my job in 2011 and coming to Singapore with nothing but two suitcases in hand. So I think, ‘Stop beating yourself up. Look at what you’ve done, it’s pretty darn cool.’” SH