When people go to the doctor complaining of headaches and other ailments, chances are the doctor will ask the inevitable question: Are you stressed? Although many will admit to having stress, few will admit openly that they are not dealing with it well.

Dr Haney Shafey, a Canada-based psychiatrist practising in Saudi Arabia, told Gulf News that a stigma surrounds mental problems, which includes stress. He added that although the stigma exists in the West as well as the Middle East, it is more pronounced in this region.

He said he has seen patients go to extreme lengths to cover stress-related cases, especially if it involves suicide attempts. He said some suicide attempts are just a ?cry for help?.

?Some of them take an overdose of pills, but their families keep quiet by saying nausea or abdominal pain. The cry for help goes unnoticed,? he said.


He said people who worry that they are suffering from unmanageable stress can take a stress indicator that measures the stressful events in a person?s life.

Developed by Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe, psychiatrists with the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, in 1967, the Social Readjustment Rating Scale, or the Life Events Stress Test, rates 43 life events that have proved to be extremely distressing to people.

On top of the list is the death of a spouse. Other stressors include divorce, marriage, changing residences and changing jobs. Each event has a stress number attached to it, and people who have suffered one or more of the events within the last 12 months add up the numbers to come up with a total. Based on the score, they can find out if they have a low, moderate or high susceptibility to stress disorders.

Ways of coping

Dr Hussain Ali, a psychologist with Dubai Community Health Centre, said most people who are stressed do not seek professional help. Instead they try to cope with the problem themselves. He said trying to find ways to cope with stress on one?s own was not a concern unless the way was unhealthy and has negative repercussions.

?In dealing with stress, people have to find the one outlet that helps them to cope. Positive methods are ones that affirms positive values that affect them on an intellectual level and helps build character,? he said.

Some positive examples include exercising, reading, taking a bubble bath and playing with their children. He added that the activity should occur daily and become part of a person?s routine in order for it to work.

Psychiatric drugs can be used to treat stress and anxiety, although they cannot be considered a cure, said Dr Shafey.


?Wrong treatment can be dangerous. Valium derivatives can cause more anxiety because they are highly addictive,? he said.

Some negative ways include substance abuse and smoking, which are addictive. He added that cognitive therapy, or changing the person?s way of thinking to think positively, was the best method to deal with stress.

?People have to learn to compartmentalise to deal with stress,? he said.

Dr Ali agreed. ?It?s hard to learn life skills to cope with stress (when one abuses substance like alcohol and drugs). Substances don?t de-stress in the sense of getting rid or reducing the stress, it?s just escaping from the environment. People come back to the same situation,? he explained.

However, the challenge that many people face in dealing with stress could be related to the makeup of the society in the UAE.

Social situation

Dr Ali said the social situation in the UAE, which is mostly made up of expatriates, made it hard for some people to manage their stress. Many of them are here alone, without their family and friends.

?A lot of people feel living here is like being in transit. They are here for a few years, then they leave,? he said.

He said this affects people?s social networking abilities and makes it harder for people to make long-lasting relationships and friendships, which help diffuse tension and decrease stress. ?Socialising is one of the ways of releasing stress,? he said.