Moving can be a scary - if ultimately rewarding - experience. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dear doctor,

I have just moved to Dubai and I am scared of living alone – I’ve never done it before. I spend nights awake scared of the noises in my apartment, about my neighbours and about life in general. Have I made a mistake? Can I get over this fear and be happy here?

- A reader who wishes to stay anonymous

Answered by Dr Maida Kajevic, Clinical Psychologist at German Neuroscience Center:


Dear Reader,
Throughout our lives we face changes; some of them are small, some of them are major. Every change, even a small one, no matter how good it is, is difficult. When moving countries, we must leave behind one set routine and suddenly adapt to another. It can be overwhelming - crowded places, empty apartment, noises and loneliness. The way you feel is completely normal.

Relocating is a stressful situation, and it can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce physiological and mental changes. A stressful situation (or our thoughts about how something dangerous can happen) can make the heart pound, breathing rapid, muscles to tense and sweat to break out. You may find yourself sleeping less. This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the "fight-or-flight" response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people to react quickly to life-threatening situations (or situations that we perceive as dangerous).

But before you occupy yourself with irrational thoughts and additional fears about how you feel and what will happen in the future, and before rushing to make important decisions, consider some benefits of changes:

New beginning

Moving to a new city means a step into the unknown. Instead of this movement being something to fear and be frustrated about, try to look at it as a new beginning. Not everyone gets the chance to improve his/her lifestyle, to create a new self, and become a person that they always wanted to be. When you live for a long time in the same place you develop a network of friends, family and connections, but you can also become trapped in a routine and get bored. And that is not something that is useful for your mental health. Going out every day to the same grocery or coffee shop, meetings with the same people, going to the same office or mall – all of this after some time can become boring or even burdensome. Try to explore your new city – a new salon, new library, new fitness center, parks, beach, cinema or a new restaurant. There are many opportunities for discovery in a new place.

New place brings new people and new opportunities

Meeting new people and making new friends will have a positive effect on your mental health such as increasing cognitive abilities and bettering your mood and energy increment. It will also take you out of your comfort zone – and that’s a good thing. These meetings will show you different perspectives and offer you new avenues for growth. So go out and connect with people and places. Dubai is unique in the sense that is a multi-cultural city and creates a perfect environment for people to experience and enjoy diversity.

Relocation brings new perceptions of the world

The place we live in makes us who we are and in a certain way defines our personality. If relocation means radical change such as moving from a small and rural place to big city like Dubai, that would affect your lifestyle and habits. That is a great example how environment change is an active factor in personality development.


Relocating as a lesson how to overcome stress

The way you find to organise yourself in a new situation and adapt to changes are milestones in personal development. Planning and organising will teach you how to act in a crisis and teach you which problem-solving approach is the best for you and how to face life challenges in the future.

Relocating is a chance to meet yourself.

In a modern and fast world, when our days zip by at work, we rarely have a chance to slow down and spend some time to introspect. When we are relocating, our whole routine changes; before we settle into another one we can take cognizance of what is and what we want there to be. Movement is one type of psychological milestone (turning point) because it encourages self-examination: who we are, how successful we are, are we happy, what are our habits? Which kind of relationships do we have and with whom? What are our fears and wishes? Maybe we will be surprised by answers and in the end we may try to make some important decisions such as changing a job or career, getting away from toxic people and finding new hobbies.

If we find enough time to understand ourselves, we can use that valuable knowledge to develop a better life and healthier mental health.

Fear is not a bad thing - in moderation

Fear or even anxiety in these situations can be helpful, as it can push our mechanisms to adapt better.

Be kind to yourself, the way you feel is expected and it is just a phase, so give yourself time. Remind yourself why you wanted to come to Dubai. Think of what you like to do and try to some of those things here.

Some other practical things to do are:

Try to include physical activity in your daily routine. Try to walk every day for 30 minutes, as it will increase blood flow and blood circulation to the brain and the body, which will help boost your mood. Walking calms the nerves and makes you feel less stressed- it will improve your sleep. If you walk outdoors, you give yourself a chance to explore the environment, meet the neighbours and you might be surprised by how many things you have in common with people around you. Physical exercise combined with positive social interactions can improve negative moods, self-esteem and ward-off anxiety.

Do not forget to eat healthy. A healthier way of eating will improve your body's ability to cope with stress and potentially provide you with more energy that you can use to exercise or change your lifestyle in other ways.

Do not blame yourself for not being able to sleep. It would just be because of a rise in the level of anxiety, which has physiologically stopped you from relaxing. Instead, try deep breathing exercises or imagine some calming scene.

Before sleeping turn on your favorite music, call your friends or family and talk to them or read a good book (the best way to fall asleep). Redirecting and occupying the mind with simple actions such as reading a book can help.

Write down your thoughts. Organise your new apartment; adding decoration and colours you like, and make one spot for relaxation. That will help you feel more comfortable inside the apartment.

By making decision to move from your comfort zone you already showed you are brave and ready for a new chapter, so give yourself a chance and time to adapt.

If you have questions that you would like answered by a mental health professional in the UAE, please write in to Also, please let us know if you'd rather stay anonymous.

Disclaimer: This blog is a conversation and is not an alternative for treatment. The recommendations and suggestions offered by our panel of doctors are their own and Gulf News will not take any responsibility for the advice they provide.