Dubai: With the long-awaited cooler weather in Dubai, it has become more tempting than ever to take advantage of it and enjoy some time out. The other day, while riding my bike through the city, I noticed that the beaches were starting to fill up again, parks had children enjoying time outside and there were a lot more cars around.
Neighbourhood eateries are starting to thrive again as well, as people who spent the most part of this year eating at home are now venturing out with a newfound appreciation for life and food, while staying safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
UAE has strict guidelines in place to ensure the safety of the residents and citizens amid the global outbreak. Private gatherings and parties are still restricted, wearing a mask and maintaining social distance is mandatory, and businesses have been given stringent guidelines to ensure social distance and safety of the public. With these clearly defined and executed, the country has slowly started opening up more avenues for residents to safely enjoy some time out.
Most of the population in Dubai have, slowly and safely in accordance with these rules, started returning to do the things they used to, with a bigger appreciation for all the things that were missed during the strict work-from-home phase.
UAE has, with its quick and effective sterilisation period at the beginning of the outbreak, been able to control the spread of the pandemic. Even with the shorter restriction period, the country has maintained one of the lowest positive cases to tests ratio. The death rate is also one of the lowest globally. As of November 23, UAE has conducted over 15.8 million tests and has just 9,923 active cases.
As can be expected, restrictions and stay-at-home requirements, have made people in the city feel moments of loneliness, depression, and a craving to be back in their routines again.
“Everyone went through a dopamine detox,” explained Sneha John, a Psychologist at Camali Clinic, to Gulf News. Dopamine plays an important role in how we feel pleasure. It is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter found in our bodies. The body produces it, and the nervous system uses it as a chemical messenger to send messages to nerve cells.
So when you feel these happy feelings, normally experienced through the stimulation of the life around you - going out to a party, going with your family to the desert, or lying on the sand by the beach, you get a surge of dopamine. And humans love dopamine.
“Dopamine release in your body is usually triggered by a range of external stimuli. Especially stimuli that are somehow associated with reward,” she said. So when we were at home for months, those feel-good hormones weren’t there anymore. But today, now that we’ve experienced being home for so long, our urge and desire to experience external stimuli and being in the outdoors is more powerful than ever.
"Honestly, I miss my old life," Dania Salaheddine, a Dubai resident said to Gulf News. "I am definitely not opposed to going out. On the contrary, I find myself making plans weeks in advance, so I don't end up staying home alone, as I live by myself."
Getting back out there
It will be very very tempting to rush out of the house and experience as much as you possibly can at once. “Don’t do that,” Sneha advises.
Make a list of the things you really want to do, and plan ahead so you can do those in a socially distanced and safe manner. Don’t do everything at once, tackle your list one by one, so you can fully enjoy every single thing after getting out of self-isolation, and the less you are exposed within a day, the better. Get your activity in doses and gradually, rather than an intense night out or a full day out.
As much as you think you might not want to remember this stay-at-home time, try to keep the essence of what you’ve gone through, like the structure and discipline of self-isolation, and bring them into your post-coronavirus life. Certain routines that you are doing at the moment, like sitting together, cooking together, making puzzles, you should try and keep some of the positive parts of self-isolation in your new normal life.
"Now that we are living the new normal, I don't let this virus stop me from living my life," Noura Karim said to Gulf News. "In fact, I think we have become more appreciative of our newfound freedom and I really wouldn't want to let it go."
I'm not just hungry... I am starving
By Yousra Zaki, Assistant Editor Features
It was not a tough decision for me to leave the house. During home quarantine, I grabbed every opportunity I could to visit the grocery store, as it was my only way to safely have some time outside. In Ramadan when we were allowed to leave the house without a permit, I had iftar at an empty restaurant with my parents. When the gym opened up, I was one of the first to work out there.
Staying home was definitely good for my soul. I spent 3 months letting go of my FOMO (fear of missing out). I focused on growing out my hair, taking care of my skin and I made my first puzzle, but as soon as it was time to get back out there, I did so with open arms with safety measures in place.
Staying home actually makes me nervous and uncomfortable. I hate feeling like I am missing out on life. So I make as many weekend plans as possible and on days where no one's free, I spend the day at the beach by myself, reading a book. I find it so important to switch off from work, as it has become even more entangled with my personal time now, due to the fact that we still work from home on some days.
Going out is soooooo good for my soul. As long as I exercise precaution, I don't see why I shouldn't be enjoying my life.
Like the wise Drake once said... You only live once, that's the motto, YOLO.
So are you hungry to go out?
Making plans to go out has allowed me to regain control of my life
By Jennifer Barretto, Assistant Editor Features
I am hungry to go out, but not because I have grand social plans. It’s more of a need to get out of the house and get on with it. The pandemic has taken away a sense of control over my life, so the act of dressing up and getting out feels like a positive step.
I don’t think people are going out now more than ever; if anything, there are fewer people overall. But people are going out for sure – just look at the malls. Humans are a social species, whether we like it or not, and we want to see our friends and families, go to the cinema, go to the beach etc.
Before COVID-19, I was a certified homebody. But now, since I’ve been mostly working from home, I’m bored with my surroundings and the routine. The urge to see familiar faces and be around humans is hard to resist – but of course, I try to be as careful as possible. Whether it’s going for a walk below my building or going to a socially distanced restaurant for dinner with a friend, it’s important to still be vigilant and constantly sanitizing everything.
Hungry to step out, but safer to stay in
By Alex Abraham, Senior Associate Editor
I never thought I would say this, but the past few months of being cooped up at home has made a huge difference. I am just fed up of sitting at home.
There was a time when I used to look forward to the weekend. That was when I would spend long hours at work, come home exhausted and then do the same thing the next day, and the next.
I still look forward to the weekend. But while I would earlier hope to spend some quiet time with my family at home, now I just wish I could go out with them. But is it safe?
Two weeks ago we went for a drive to Khor Fakkan, enjoying the new tunnels on the way and stopping by to see the Rafisah Dam. But this is not possible every week. When we do go out to a mall, even with safety measures, we begin to wonder if we have made the right decision. After all we do not have a cure for COVID-19 and a vaccine is still some way away.
It seems there are more people like us who are just tired of sitting at home. The frustration is beginning to show. While people were cautious and preferred staying indoors a few months ago, a sense of ‘we can tackle the virus’ is creeping in, which can be dangerous in these times.
The constant news of a spike in COVID-19 cases in Europe and the US is there at the back of my head and I hope it will not find its way here. WHO warnings have not helped calm my fears.
But what do I do about a mind that does not seem to relax? Moving to the living room to work and then to the bedroom to sleep does not seem to help. It’s part of the new normal. Work and home all rolled into one. Working from home has made me want to go out more, but with close friends battling the virus, I will play safe and wait for some more time.
A parent’s dilemma: How do you teach physical distancing to a social toddler?
By Huda Tabrez, Living In UAE Editor
It is 7.30am on a Friday morning, just a nip in the air as we sit on the beach – a quiet patch on the border of Sharjah and Ajman. We are here this early because it is my two-year-old’s favourite new word – “beach”.
Back in June, she had celebrated her second birthday at home, with just a handful of family members singing along as she tried to figure out what the whole ‘blowing the candles’ business is. After months of ensuring she stays safe and mostly at home, I and my husband started hunting for outdoor places that would be fun for her, but not too busy. Like many other families, we too decided to balance caution with the need to return to normalcy. But it is a tight rope to tread for a parent – how do you ensure your child gets to experience all the activities that make life fun, and aide their development at that age, and also follow social distancing and regular hand sanitisation. More so, how do you teach the concept of physical distancing to a social toddler? Someone so eager to socialise that she waves and chirps “Hi!” to every passer by on a jogging track?
For us, what worked was finding these hidden gems around the UAE, like a secluded family beach. Another option that worked for us was visiting the more popular places at times when they were not crowded. A visit to the Dubai Safari Park on a weekday, for example, was another lovely experience for our family, as the toddler got the chance to see all the animals live and also the free space for a child to run around the park, with fewer visitors than on a weekend. Her excitement on seeing her favourite animal – the elephant – made the trip for us.
And, if all else fails, we always have that much-loved long drive – hop into the car and drive down to Ras Al Khaimah or Khorfakkan. There are times when we don’t even step out of the car, on most days just the sights and sounds of city life from the car window are enough of a break for the little one. The new normal of COVID-19 has been interesting to navigate, especially as a parent. But even as we manage the toddler’s energy with the need for restraint, we can’t help but feel lucky to live and work in a place where these moments of joy are accessible.
Clawing back a semblance of the old life
By Omar Shariff, International Editor
When the seriousness of COVID-19 first sunk early this year, and effective measures were put in place to deal with the deadly virus, I shuttered myself in. The only solace was mindlessly watching automotive videos on YouTube late into the night.
Quickly, I realised that WFH was definitely not for me. I felt disorientation and tiredness in the early days. Had never thought I’d miss the office and colleagues so much. And I also really began missing things we did routinely as a family.
Going out to restaurants twice a week, once with my wife and kids, once with friends. Off-roading, barbecuing, and camping near Fossil Rock with the family, next to a bonfire in the middle of the desert late into the night. Driving the rocky trail from Wadi Aasimah to the wonderfully desolate village of Al Ghail in Ras Al Khaimah. Early morning fishing expeditions to Ajman with friends.
But, slowly, as the restrictions were eased, I tried to get as much of the old life back as I could, given the new rules. With the deserts, beaches, restaurants, picnic areas and malls reopening, I made the most of it - while exercising safety measures like wearing masks and gloves and maintaining physical distance from other people.
Like most people working from home, I feel my workload now is more than what it used to be, as there is no clear division (office and home). Also, WFH for four days a week has meant that I react with a vengeance come weekend. And yes, it starts off on the evening before the beginning of my weekly off, often with a socially-distanced dinner with old friends or a late-night trip to the desert.