Social distancing
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With major restrictions to movement in place due to the fight against coronavirus, UAE-based youngsters have had to face a significant change in lifestyle and here’s how they are coping.

One of the biggest change youth in the UAE had to get used to is the lack of social interaction they were used to on a daily basis.

Raya Khaild is a business development manager based in Dubai who describes herself as an “extremely extroverted person” and being confined to her house for most of the time during the day has been a challenge.

“From the moment I start my car in the morning, I start meeting people. I use a drive-through to get my morning coffee every day, and I am used to greeting the workers. I am used to greeting the security guards at my office’s building. I am unable to do any of that anymore,” the 24-year-old said.

But the Iraqi national said that she is using her time at home productively.

“Since I am such an outgoing person, I used to spend my time socialising and would keep things I needed to do at home aside. Now, I can do those things,” she said.

Khalid said that she has spent time spring cleaning and organising around the house. “I have also started cooking and taking online workout classes,” she said.

Change in routine

Fabiha Chohan is a 17-year-old student living in Dubai and she shared how she is coping with recent changes in lifestyle.

Schools moving everyday classes to online learning has been the biggest difference in her daily, Chohan said.

The Pakistani national said that going to school was not just about studying but it also meant spending time with friends.

“Although we have adapted to online learning very well, I miss the classroom setting,” she said.

She also admitted that going to school put in her in a mind set to study but staying at home has made her a little “lazy”.

No more ‘hangouts’

Natalie Verghese is a 24-year-old account executive based in Dubai who enjoys food blogging as a hobby.

Since her hobby revolves around going into restaurants and reviewing not only the food but the ambience too, it has come to a complete halt.

“I can no longer go to the new restaurants with my friends,” she said.

Verghese, like other youngsters Gulf News spoke to, highlighted that youth in the UAE are generally very used to going out and socialising, sometimes more than those who live elsewhere.

“The lifestyle here is centred on going out with friends and having a good time, so it is a big change for young people living here,” she said.

John Paul, a 17-year-old student living in Dubai had similar remarks.

“I am used to going out on Thursdays with my friends and choosing to stay home on the weekends was a major difference in my life,” the Indian national said.

Both Verghese and Paul said that they have been compensating for the missed times with friends by video calling them and having “virtual hangouts” instead.

Moreover, Paul said that the restrictions in movement have taught him to cherish everyday life.

“I have learnt to be grateful about life in the UAE, which people might not have in other countries. In this city [Dubai], things are so easy. Once this is over [coronavirus pandemic] I will enjoy everything to the fullest,” he said.

Family connections

In retrospect, youngsters realised the importance of practisng social distancing and staying home in curbing the spread of coronavirus.

“It bothers me that I cannot go out to catch up with friends or even go watch a movie or go shopping, or how I know people have had to cancel their weddings,” she said.

“But I’m most worried about transmitting the virus to my parents, therefore I am taking this quarantine seriously,” said Mashaal Amir, a 25-year-old tax associate based in Sharjah.

Amir said that she is using different ways to spend her time and make the most of the recent changes.

“Spending more time with family, using video calling apps with friends in the UAE and overseas. We have also engaged in playing online games with friends online, and of course, watching TV shows,” the Pakistani national said.

How to deal with fewer social interactions?

Gulf News spoke to Dr Mrabet Jihene, Assistant professor and Director of the Office of counselling and disability at the American University in Emirates about how people should deal with fewer social interactions.

She highlighted that people in isolation can suffer from stress.

“Psychological studies on the consequences of confinement in China show very high levels of anxiety, difficult emotional regulation and many cases of post-traumatic stress when confinement exceeds 10 days,” she said.

Jihene said that students from the UAE have contacted her, expressing distress over staying at home.

“Many of my students contacted me asking for help because they could no longer bear the thought of being confined to the home. Some say things like ‘I spend my days going around in circles and I am bored’ or ‘I can no longer control my emotions, I become more and more irritable’,” she said.

But Jihene believes that staying at home does not mean that people limit their social interactions.

“Physical confinement is an imposed preventive measure but staying in emotional confinement is a choice to be avoided,” she said.

Here are some strategies Jihene recommends to youngsters to cope with staying at home:

“Several tips and strategies for dealing with stress and anxiety have been shown to be beneficial and it is for this reason that we are sharing them here to encourage their application by everyone, adults, adolescents and children,” she said.

1. Maintain a daily life routine:

Maintaining planned activities in our days at home allows us to keep our minds oriented towards action rather than overhauling negative ideas, which reinforce the stressful situation. This avoids binge watching and cognitive slowness. Getting up at the same hours, dressing like a day at work, imposing working hours for yourself and for your children allows you to instil a feeling of control which the pandemic situation dispossesses us. 

2. Exercise regularly:

In order to guarantee proper physical and mental functioning, the human organism needs a minimum of movement, stressing our respiratory and cardiac systems. Exercise also helps reduce body fat, reduces the risk of diabetes, boosts mood, improves memory, strengthen bones, decreases stress and boosts immune system.

In order to do that we have to adopt some habits such as cleaning more frequently and practice stretching movements at least 15 minutes a day.

3. Maintain social relationships:

Regulating our emotions first means being able to recognise them and then use them in the service of a better relationship with others. Connect and communicate often.