We don’t know who needs to hear this, but, it’s ok not to feel ok. Just know that things will get better.
Thursday 10th October is World Mental Health Day, which gives us the perfect excuse to reach out and check on you.
Dubai is often portrayed as a playground, a land of opportunity bathed in golden sunshine. And it can be that. As with any home away from home, it can also feel isolating for expats who leave long-established family, friends and support networks behind in their home countries.
That sense of being alone can be compounded with dips in mental health. One in four of us is struggling with a mental health disorder—with the two main issues being Depression and Anxiety.
If you’re experiencing major changes to your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. If the negative thoughts are persistent over time, and are impairing your personal and professional life, it’s likely you are suffering from a level of depression or anxiety.
The good news is, there are quick wins that will have a noticeable impact almost immediately. There are also rigid frameworks, that we can point you towards, that are proven to have dramatic and lasting positive effects on mental health.
We spoke to Dr. Saliha Afridi of LightHouse Arabia to set out some sensible, proactive, effective advice on how to feel good.
Let’s start by covering the basics. You might be aware of these facts, you might not, but what follows is a checklist of environmental factors that have a significant contribution to our overall mental wellbeing. Keeping these elements of our lives balanced, can help prevent the onset of anxiety and depression.
Is the single most effective thing you can do for your brain and body. Guard your sleep and make sure you have as much of a consistent routine as possible. Anything less than seven hours is considered sleep deprivation. People who are sleep deprived not only suffer physically, but are more emotionally and mentally vulnerable.
Turn it off
Our brains are overwhelmed with the amount of information they have to process. They are constantly on, and consuming content which is creating a ‘money-focused mind’ and an overwhelmed brain.
Invest in your tribe
The most significant predictor of happiness is whether you have close, intimate relationships in your life. These do not have to be family members or people you are related to. Build a community of like minds or shared pursuit followers and invest in that with your time, energy and attention.
Eat unprocessed & unfried food
Up to 90 per cent of our serotonin (one of the most important ‘happiness neurochemicals’) is produced in the gut. If your gut is happy, it’s a lot easier for the rest to follow.
We’ve always known that physical exercise is good for the body, but now we also know that it is good for the brain and your emotional health too. When we get busy, stressed or feel like we’re hitting a slump, exercise can be one of the first things that’s dropped from the schedule, but this is always a mistake. Even one hour a week of aerobic exercise has been shown to improve symptoms of depression.
The first steps to feeling better
If you’re already suffering from a period of poor mental health, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has proven to be the most effective therapy for reducing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact in almost every study conducted, CBT has proven to be many times more effective for treating anxiety and depression, than conventional medication.
And it gives us great pleasure to tell you, you can start that journey here. Now.
First, it’s important to understand that everybody experiences negative thought patterns at some point — but people who have anxiety or depression tend to fall into these thinking traps a lot more. Learning about your negative thinking patterns will give you the power to identify them and challenge them as they arise. Some common thinking traps include:
- Personalisation: attributing personal responsibility to things that are not in your control
- Magnification: blowing things out of proportion
- Arbitrary inference: drawing conclusions when there is little or no evidence
- Minimisation: downplaying the positive while focusing on the negative
- Overgeneralisation: making sweeping conclusions based on one event or incident
Tackling anxiety head-on. Eventually.
Trust us, the worst thing you can do for your anxiety is to avoid the anxiety-provoking situation completely.
Instead, expose yourself to your stress factor in small doses, at a distance, and then steadily increase the intensity and proximity levels. This will help you build the mental muscle to manage the anxiety.
For example, if you are scared of dogs, you might first look at pictures of dogs, then go to a pet store and look at small dogs, then go to your friend’s house who has a dog, but have it in the other room, before graduating to having it in the same room and so on.
Keeping a thought diary
Eh we know, sounds kind of corny, but it can have dramatic results. One of the main premises of CBT is that your thoughts result in your feelings and your behaviors. If you change your thoughts, you will change the way you feel.
People who are anxious or depressed tend to have more negative thoughts, and they also tend to not be aware of their thinking patterns. When a person is faced with a triggering situation, the goal is to tune into the running tape in their head of thoughts—most of which will be catastrophising.
Then once you have written all the thoughts down, you challenge each thought by asking questions like ‘how likely is this to happen?’ “what would you tell your friend or your child if they came to you with this thought?’ By looking at thoughts in a balanced and more realistic way, you are able to reduce your anxiety or depression.
If you’re suffering from an intense mental health crisis. You might not want to leave the house. You should, it does help, but we understand it’s not always possible. To help you on your way, Dr. Afridi has recommended her top three help-from-home books.
Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks : A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety by Gillihan, Seth This book is a good choice for people who don’t want to start off by seeing a therapist or cannot afford one, but they still want a treatment plan. AED 50 ish on Amazon.ae.
The Anxiety and Worry Workbook: The Cognitive Behavioral Solution. Clark, D.A., Beck, A.T. This book is co-authored by the founder of CBT. The exercises and tips in the book will not only help you manage your anxiety, but also your depression. AED 73 on Amazon.ae
Mind Over Mood, Second Edition: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think, Greenberger, D., Padesky, C.A. An oldie but goodie, CBT book for non-clinical people. From AED 95 on Amazon.ae
All three books are available INSTANTLY on kindle, either for your tablet or your phone.
The best and most efficient route to feeling better permanently, is sitting down with somebody who has studied this subject academically. Someone that’s gained, experience from dealing with every imaginable example of negative thought patterns. Someone that’s dedicated their lives to helping people feel better.
Fortunately, we have LightHouse Arabia here in the UAE that has countless success stories under their belt, and a range of consultation options to suit most budgets.
- Individual therapy with a licensed professional – this is when a person works one on one with a psychologist to address the root thoughts and beliefs resulting in anxiety or depression and learn ways of managing and coping with difficult emotions.
- Group therapy with a licensed professional – a person does the same thing as they would in individual therapy for anxiety or depression but with a small group (no more than 12) lead by a licensed professional. This can often be better than individual therapy because these illnesses can be quiet isolating and knowing that you are not the only one struggling can alleviate a lot of the shame and guilt that often accompanies these illnesses. And it is obviously a lot more affordable so the barrier to entering treatment is lower.
- Workshops for self-compassion, dealing with perfection, and learning meditation – these are ways of being that will make a person more psychologically robust so they are able to be resilient in the face of increasing stress.
- Mental Health First Aid course– With the prevalence of mental illness being as high as they are and rising –Every adult and teen should be able to detect the signs and symptoms of the common mental illnesses and be able to respond and get the person to the right help.
As a society, we need to look after mental health better. For the sake of ourselves, our loved ones, and those most vulnerable to periods of ill health. We’d like to see 24-hour helplines, free access to crisis councilors and more open discussion more often, but we can start here. Check on your friends. You might just be able to make the most important difference a human can make. And if you’re suffering. Don’t suffer alone.
The LightHouse Arabia Centre for Wellbeing can be found at VILLA 1 ,AL WASL RD ,AL SAFA 2. 04 380 9298.