Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fighting summer "cabin fever". Dubai - health in the city

source: April 2010 • Heahhmatters

Dubai - health in the city

The urban phenomenon has changed the way we live, but it can be tough on your body and your mind

Living in a city isn't as easy as it sounds. Large metropolitan areas may have a lot going for them when it comes to entertainment, commerce and culture, but in relative terms, they are still something of an unnatural environment tor humans. After all, it was only really in the 20th century that the United Arab Emirates made the shift away from a nomadic society. Before that, Dubai's harsh environment and unforgiving landscape meant it was only habitable for certain times of the year.

Today, though, it is a very different story. Thanks to the wonders of modern technology and architecture, Dubai is a non-stop city all year round. Due to its vehicle-dominated transport system and the fact that air conditioning can only do so much, however, many of its inhabitants, especially in the summer months, experience a phenomenon that has its origins at the very opposite end of the climate spectrum.

'Cabin fever' is a condition that was first recognised among people living in a completely different environment to Dubai's, but who experienced many of the similar difficulties associated with the modern city. "This phrase came from mountain regions where people would stay for long periods indoors due to cold and snow," explains Jared Alden, a psychotherapist at Dubai Healthcare City's German Center for Neurology & Psychiatry. "As a result they would feel bored and trapped by the weather. In the warmer more humid weather we must spend much more time indoors... so this can happen to us in the summer months."

The problem is often exacerbated by the fact that many people living in Dubai are either still quite new to the city, or have grown up in a totally different environment. It is no coincidence that nationals and inhabitants from across the region tend to fare best in the summer months. It is important that those of us coming from different areas of the world take the time to recognise the impact the external environment can have on health - both physical and mental. "Most of us are coming from other countries and other weather patterns but many of us try and live as we have in our home countries," says Alden. "This can help us feel more settled but we also need to respect the local weather. During a dust storm stay inside. This may seem obvious but I have seen many people jogging outside during a dust storm. This is not recommended for anyone."

Alden recommends that those living in Dubai learn to work with the weather - it is a lot easier than fighting against it, he argues.
"Walk outside in the early morning and late evening.
Join a sports club so you can spend time other than walking in the mall.
Slow down! Put less in your schedule, walk slower and work with the weather."
In fact, he claims that a large part of how we experience the conditions around us is down to our mental approach. After all, hot weather all year round is something that won't grant you much sympathy with friends and family who are stuck in wet and cold conditions. "Brag to your friends back home how hot it is and how high the humidity is, they wont believe you," he says. "Enjoy the experience for what it is."

It is worth returning to your home country for a visit reasonably soon after moving to Dubai, recommends Alden. It helps put the issues in perspective, he says. "Moving to a new country is a great adventure - expect this adjustment to take a year," he says. "The first year you will have many reactions both positive and negative. If you can visit your home country at least once in the first year this will help you adjust. Many times when we are upset with the weather we are really missing our family and perhaps the things that are familiar to us. Don't fight this and allow yourself to be sad and miss home. Emotions that are processed will go away. Remember, what we resist will persist, that includes emotions."

Indeed, cabin fever is not just about the weather and the traffic. Many people have noted the irony that although in a city you are always surrounded by people, you can sometimes feel more isolated and on your own than in any other situation. Aden says it is crucial to realise that you're not on your own. "Most of us are from some place else," he reasons. "Start a conversation with someone - most of us are open and friendly people that is why we moved to a new place. Many of us just moved here a couple of years back so we will remember what it was like for us and will probably be very open to you saying hello. There is no reason to be isolated."

Heat and humidity can mean we spend too much time alone in Dubai, says Aden, but if you take the initiative you will soon realise that there is no need to feel isolated. "If you are looking for a special kind of yoga group or a book club why not start one yourself. Great careers have been started that way. The UAE is a dynamic place that loves change and new ideas. Put those good ideas of yours to good use."

Of course, one of the best ways to break this cycle of isolation is to get involved in regular exercise - especially in a community setting. Kirsty Nelson from DHCC's The Hundred Pilates Studio argues it is the best way to shake off those summer blues. "During the hot and humid summer months, many people suffer from lethargy and that leaves them with less energy and motivation to exercise," she says. "Therefore, without maintaining a regular exercise regime, this саn lead to weight gain as well as increased cholesterol and other problems that regular exercise helps to decrease."

Moving to a new city is a huge process and can lead to vast changes in one's lifestyle. But it is important that individuals make the effort to stay true to the positive habits they had in their previous setting — or, alternatively, they use this as a fresh start when it comes to exercise and healthy living. It may be very different to where you've come from, but, in Dubai, anything is possible. "Compared to my own home country of South Africa, I find that the people eat dinner much later and sleep much later," says Nelson.

"Adding the stress of one's job to that, one needs to be very careful not to 'let themselves go'. Sleep is very important both to rest the body and to allow one to also mentally unwind. Some people tend to get by on only a few hours sleep. But I personally feel that the recommended universal minimum of 8 hours sleep is very much needed. If one does not get enough rest, they will not have the energy to exercise and therefore this can lead to weight gain and other health problems. Exercise is a necessity for everyone and so the amount of sleep you have each night is important in order to maintain an exercise regime that becomes a lifestyle."

Approaching exercise as if it was a job can actually have a negative impact, says Nelson. It might benefit your body physically, but it runs the risk of contributing to some of the mental pressures described by GNP's Aden. That's why Nelson advises those who are feeling the strain of the city take time out, whenever they can, to do as little as possible. "I personally also need my own 'quiet time' apart from sleep," she says. "Sitting alone on my own helps me mentally unwind and 'recharge my batteries' so that I am fresh for the following day. Spending rime on my own also helps me focus better when I work out."

Like living in a city, making time for exercise or reaching out to the community around you both sound easier than they really are. But if you can motivate yourself to take positive steps and learn to live with your surroundings, cabin fever can be a phenomenon that happens to other people.

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