UAE residents gripped by anxiety disorders
Dubai - Stress can cause acne and other skin problems
Stress and anxiety are "common" ailments in the UAE and can have a significant impact on physical and mental health, experts warn.
In an interview with Khaleej Times, Dr Shankar Srinivas Kuchibatla, consultant psychiatrist and medical director of the Dubai-based Lifeworks Foundation, said that "stress levels and anxiety are on the rise globally", including the UAE.
"It is due to the demands put on a person in a 24-hour society like Dubai," he said. "We see a lot of clients with stress and anxiety and there seems to be an increase in cases in the last two years. I would say nearly 20 per cent of the population suffers from some kind of anxiety disorder, which is usually one of the outcomes of prolonged stress."
Dr Kuchibatla added that stress and anxiety can manifest themselves in a wide range of physical symptoms, including headaches, dizziness, muscle tension and pain, palpitations or increased heart rate and pounding of the heart, as well as symptoms related to indigestion, gastric upsets and acidity, and sleep issues.
Additionally, stress can cause acne and other skin problems, increase the risk of low bone density and a weakened immune system, as well as reproductive issues such as irregular or painful periods for women and impotence and low sperm-production for men. Stress and anxiety can also lead to reduced sexual desire for both genders.
According to Dr Kuchibatla, the patients he sees give a number of different reasons for suffering from stress and anxiety.
"Some of the common reasons are threatened job loss, change in role and increased pressure from superiors and inability to cope with schedules, and adjustment issues of carried reasons like migration to a new place, new relationships, and new job," he said.
"Often, the effects of stress and anxiety spills into one's personal life, leading to relationship problems, which in turn leads to further stress and other associated mental health issues," he added.
"Also, financial woes are one of the most common factors leading to chronic stress and impact on an individual's ability to enjoy life."
A "common finding" in Dr Kuchibatla's practice, he said, was that patients use tobacco or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. "In fact, this is a maladaptive coping strategy which does not increase functioning," he noted. "The temporary decrease in stress in an individual shuts them out from their problems, but the stressor maintains its strength of becomes more powerful."
Dr Kuchibatla advised that those who think they may be suffering from stress require a "comprehensive evaluation."
"Risk of depression and severe anxiety is high after a prolonged period of stress and burnout," he said. "Prevention.plays an important role in the long-term outcomes of these conditions." Additionally, the doctor recommended lifestyle changes like regular physical exercise. "Treatment usually depends on the assessment findings."
"For early stages of stress reaction, counselling is indicated. Psychotherapeutic approaches like cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and medications are found to be very helpful for prolonged anxiety and depression. Sometimes a combination of medications and CBT approaches are needed."
Feeling of isolation can be harmful
Being an expat in a city, faraway from one's country of origin, can bring a unique sense of loneliness and lead to stress and anxiety, according to Dr Rasha Bassim of Priory's Wellbeing Centre in Dubai. "Like any expatriate community, moving to a new place without one's family, and, in some cases, friends, can be somewhat lonely. Life, irrespective of where you reside, can have its challenges," she said. "Experiencing these challenges without your backbone support network of friends and family can be overwhelming and lead to a feeling of isolation."
Many people, she added, are too self-critical, and too quick to compare their lives to other people.
"It could simply be everyday issues that are troubling us," she said. "However, instances in which we compare our relationship to others, look at others' social media photos wishing we had that life, or convincing ourselves that we should be further along the career ladder than we are, can be harmful."
According to Dr Bassim, many expats, who are without their traditional support networks, "tend to repress their emotions and push their fears inward until these feelings absolutely overload them."
"Those feelings develop into mental ill health, whether it's stress, anxiety or depression," she said. "Sometimes people are alert to this and do hurry to get professional help, at least in the form of seeking counseling or advice, to nip their problems in the bud and prevent them from developing further."
"Unfortunately, the global stigmas attached to mental health lead to many waiting too long, in denial, or in the hope the problems will fix themselves," she added.
When asked what advice she would give lonely, stressed, anxious or depressed expats, Dr Bassim responded simply that "it is okay to be afraid."
"It is okay to be ill. The most important thing to realise is that feelings like depression and anxiety are eminently treatable."
Smoking breaks during working hours affect mind's ability to tackle stress
Endless ads and health campaigns over the years couldn't place more emphasis on the hazardous impact of smoking on people's health.
Among the myths surrounding smoking is the common saying we hear all the time: "I smoke when I'm stressed!" And more often that not, people take 'smoking breaks' during working hours to exhale their stress away.
However, the body's reaction to cigarettes increases stress levels. Dr Marie Thompson, senior clinical psychologist at Lifeworks Foundation, said that the nicotine reaches the brain in 10 seconds, causing a release of 'feel good' hormones to the nervous system that reduces tension and provides a sense of well-being.
This chemical reaction, though, reduces the brain's own ability to release the hormones necessary in alleviating stress.
"Smoking encourages the brain to switch off its own mechanism for making dopamine so in the long term the supply decreases, which in turn lowers mood and concentration and prompts people to smoke more," said Thompson.
Something initially used to help manage stress, becomes the stressor. Thompson said: "Where initially a person simply had to tackle a difficult situation, they are now left having to tackle a difficult situation and a nicotine addiction."
Aamnah Husain, psychologist at German Neuroscience Centre, said: "The stress that smoking takes away, wouldn't even be there if a person wasn't a smoker."
"When in high concentration, [smoking] leads to significant nervous system activation increasing heart rate and breathing as well as blood pressure. It can lead to experiencing nausea, agitation and nervousness. All of these effects essentially intensify a stressful experience instead of reducing it."
She added that taking breaks to smoke in the middle of important tasks also contribute in breaking concentration and makes it more difficult to get back to being productive, causing procrastination and creating further stress," said Husain.
While studies showed that smokers who quit have up to a 20 per cent reduction in perceived stress compared to those who continue smoking, Husain said smoking just helps reduce the discomfort caused by craving, and not stress.
Know a few tips to beat stress in busy life
1) Exercise: According to medical professionals, exercise is one of the best ways to relax, de-stress and improve your mood throughout the day. At a minimum, 30 minutes of exercise three to five times per week is recommended.
2) Breathe: An easy way to calm down and beat stress is through deep breathing. Try sitting (or laying) down in a comfortable position, closing your eyes, imagining yourself in a relaxing place, and breathing in and out deeply for between five and ten minutes.
3) Eat well: A well-balanced diet with vegetables, fruits, whole grains and lean protein can do wonders for your mood and help keep one energized throughout the day. Don't skip meals - It can contribute to a bad mood and cause more stress.
4) Slow things down: While it may sound difficult for those of us with hectic jobs, find time to disconnect and slow things down. If the amount of tasks you have to do seems insurmountable, try breaking things down into smaller goals that you can take on one by one.
5) Make time for your hobbies: Doing something you enjoy every day - even if it's only for 15 minutes - can help you relax, take your mind off whatever is stressing you, and make you happier.
6) Talk: Talking to friends or family members about what is stressing you out can help take a weight off your mind. They may even be able to give their own opinions on what you can do to help relieve the stress.
7) Be easy on yourself: Lots of things in life are beyond are control, so try your best not to worry about them too much and just go with the flow.
8) Identify the problem: Figure out exactly what's stressing you out. Is it your job? A relationship? Money woes? Once you identify what exactly is causing you to be anxious or stressed, you can begin identifying ways to ease the stress. If it's the workload at your job, for example, you can speak to your boss and co-workers to see whether it might be possible to lighten the load or share the burden.