A reader asks: In 2012, I got divorced after 15 years of marriage filled with verbal, sexual and physical abuse. Last year I won custody of my two daughters back in India and now they are being taken care of by my mother.
My past is seeped in rejection and the feeling of being unloved when I was a child, teenager and even as a wife. I don't come from a financially sound family and also lost my house in the divorce so I basically have nothing.
I tried getting a better job in Dubai and more salary so at least I could get out of debt and that would ease my tensions. But after going for repeated interviews I did not get a good pay packet so remained in my current job.
I thought I was fine, but now for the last two weeks I am stressed, can't breathe, feel like screaming, can't sleep, just keep eating all the time. I used to smoke and drink but I stopped since I realised they were just addictive but no permanent solution.
Please tell me how to feel happier and more peaceful. I tried prayer, meditation and yoga but am not at peace at all. I have devoted all my money and energy to provide for my kids and my old mother. I also wanted to get into a relationship, but nothing is working out. I go out with friends and I feel even more alone so I started staying at home.
What should I do? Sometimes I feel like dying and can't stop crying for hours. The tears just keeps flowing.
Linda Sakr, licensed Counselling Psychologist, Dubai Community Health Centre, answers: First and foremost, I’m sorry to hear that you’re enduring the very precise pain of rejection and feeling of being unloved. Nevertheless, I’m glad to hear that you managed to get out of an abusive marriage and that your two daughters are in good care.
Stress can be defined as the way you feel when you’re under immense pressure. It sounds like your divorce, your financial situation and being away from your family are contributing to your stress. Excessive or prolonged stress can lead to illness and physical and emotional exhaustion.
When you are stressed you may experience many different feelings, including anxiety, fear, anger, frustration and depression. These feelings can feed on each other and can themselves produce physical symptoms, making you feel even worse. Extreme anxiety can cause giddiness, heart palpitations, headaches, stomach disorders or as you describe the feeling of not being able to breathe.
When you are stressed you may behave differently. For example, you describe not wanting to go out with friends as well as feeling tearful all the time. An important step in tackling stress is to realise that it is causing you a problem. You need to make the connection between feeling tired or ill with the pressures you are faced with. Do not ignore physical warnings such as tense muscles, over-tiredness, headaches or migraines.
If you find yourself becoming angry or upset you may find it helpful to take time out, even if it’s only for five minutes, for example, talk a walk until you feel calmer. If you notice you are becoming stressed, try to relax your muscles and calm yourself down by slow, deep breathing. Start by taking a deep breath, hold this for a count of three and then slowly breathe out. Continue this slow breathing until you feel more relaxed and then go on with what you were doing.
Once you have recognised you are suffering from stress, try to identify the underlying causes. Sort the possible reasons for your stress into those with a practical solution, those that will get better anyway given time, and those you can’t do anything about. Try to let go of those in the second and third groups – there is no point in worrying about things you can’t change or things that will sort themselves out.
Once you’ve started to deal with the immediate causes of stress, try to review your lifestyle. Are you taking on too much? Are there things you are doing which could be handed over to someone else? Can you do things in a more leisurely way? You may need to prioritise things you are trying to achieve and re-organise your life so that you are not trying to do everything at once.
You can help protect yourself from stress in a number of ways. For example, healthy diet will help prevent you becoming overweight and will reduce the risks of other diet-related diseases.
I’m glad to hear that you cut out smoking and drinking as you said they don’t solve problems. They may seem to reduce tension, but in fact they can make problems worse. You may also find it helpful to reduce the amount of coffee you are drinking, as the effects of caffeine on the body can be very similar to the effects of stress and anxiety.
Physical exercise can be very effective in relieving stress. If you are feeling angry, for example, it can be really helpful to play a game of squash in which you take out your anger on the ball (but not on the player). Even moderate physical exercise, such as brisk walking, can help.
Take time to relax. Saying ‘I just can’t take the time off’ is no use if you are forced to take time off later through ill health. Striking a balance between responsibility to others and responsibility to yourself is vital in reducing stress levels. Relaxation classes can help you learn how to control muscular tension and breathe correctly. Alternatively you could try to spend more time on leisure activities such as sports, hobbies or evening classes. Sleeping problems are common when you’re suffering from stress, but try to ensure you get enough rest.
I picked up on the fact that you mentioned you have devoted all your energy and money on your children and aging mother. One of the best antidotes for stress is enjoying yourself so try to bring some fun into your life by giving yourself treats and rewards for positive actions, attitudes and thoughts. Even simple pleasures like a relaxing bath, a pleasant walk, or an interesting book can all help you deal with stress
I noticed you mentioned that sometimes you feel like dying. I assure you that is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Try to keep things in perspective and don’t be too hard on yourself. After all, we all have bad days.
Do not be afraid to seek professional help, such as talking to a counsellor, if you feel that you are no longer able to manage things on your own. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), in particular, is known to help reduce stress. Many people feel reluctant to seek help as they feel that it is an admission of failure. This is not the case and it is important to get help as soon as possible so you can begin to get better.
If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of psychiatrists are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.