Gradually, cautiously, the UAE is beginning to relax the restrictions imposed because of Covid-19 but there’s no denying they have taken their toll. People have felt under emotional strain for a considerable length of time and tempers are short.
If the cracks are starting to show in your household, be assured that this is perfectly understandable and normal. Dr Marta Ra, chief executive of Paracelsus Recovery, an international mental health and addiction clinic, tells you how to navigate stress and stop things escalating.
Adopt code words
The virus outbreak is making many of us feel vulnerable and anxious, with stress manifesting itself in sleepless nights, irrational fears, excessive symptom-checking, comfort eating and irritability. To avoid negative effects on relationships at home, you might want to adopt code words or ask for a time out. That means your family chooses a special word for when tensions are too high and an argument is clearly on the horizon. You can bring some humour into it; make the code word an inside joke to lighten the mood and inject some intimacy when you need it most.
Take a time out
If you are feeling overwhelmed, take some time out of your day to do something by yourself. For example, slip into a relaxing bath, watch your favourite movie or dip into a book that’s been sitting on your shelf for a while. The key is to avoid doing chores or catching up on work when we are feeling anxious. Time out means time away from your responsibilities and worries, so make sure you do something that will ease the load and make you feel better in that moment.
Beware unhealthy habits
Many of us are feeling afraid, bored and lonely and it’s during these times of isolation and uncertainty that unhealthy habits can really take hold. If you are suddenly smoking more (or you’ve started smoking or taken it up again after having stopped) or if you notice you’re consuming more junk food or anything else that’s harmful, you may be using them as a way to cope with stress. Remind yourself that relying on these toxins to feel relaxed in the short term only worsens overall health and wellbeing.
Create some rules to curtail potentially addictive behaviors. Try to stick to three nutritious meals a day and try not to indulge in unhealthy snacks in between. If you would usually have a coffee at particular moments during the day, try keeping to that routine rather than upping your caffeine intake. This way, you’re starting to put boundaries in place, which will make you feel more in control. When you feel bored or anxious, try something creative; try out a new recipe or meditation or get started on that online course you’ve been meaning to do.
Be proactive with loneliness
Take comfort in the knowledge that you are not the only one feeling lonely. Try to reframe your thinking and look at self-isolation as an opportunity to contact people beyond your inner circle. From those university friends you lost touch with to the mother of your daughter’s friend, reach out to your extended community. For instance, you could make a commitment to contact one person per day who you know is alone. In so doing, you will feel more connected and introduce new experiences into your days. While we cannot embrace each other physically, the sound of your voice on a call or an unexpected text message will touch someone wherever they are.
To combat fear of the future, we need to feel hopeful. To strengthen hope, we must show gratitude. When we are considerate of each other, we feel supported and appreciated, which improves resilience and optimism. For example, if somebody prepares dinner for you, don’t just thank them for the meal, but also for being thoughtful. When we acknowledge the qualities we appreciate in others, it makes us all feel more loved, supported and positive. Also consider limiting your news intake. Stay informed, but avoid excessively checking the news because it will only heighten your anxiety.
Take it one day at a time
When it comes to money worries, try to take it one day at a time. Focus on the day ahead, not the years to come. If you have experienced a loss, it is crucial to be mindful of your response. Financial concerns can have a profound impact on our mental health and lead to depression, anxiety or harmful habits. Watch out for any warning signs and take action early. If you are struggling to cope with either financial loss or the fear of it, reach out to loved ones, friends, family for emotional support – and also to doctors, if you need to.
- Dr Marta Ra Ph.D. is chief executive of Paracelsus Recovery the world’s most individual and discreet addiction and mental health service, with 15 staff focusing exclusively on one client at a time. Originally based in Zurich, services are now also available in London. For more information email [email protected].