Mental health tips for those living abroad – four things I have learned

Living in Dubai has helped Orla Carlin to boost her well being

Belfastwoman Orla Carlin is currently in Dubai  where she works here as an educator and freelance writer

Belfastwoman Orla Carlin is currently in Dubai where she works here as an educator and freelance writer

 

Orla Carlin lives in Dubai where she works in education and is a freelance writer. She is studying for an MSc in mental health and well-being

I am from Belfast and moved to the UAE in 2014 to work as a teacher. Now I write for different international magazines and spend my time working on my distance learning Master’s in Well-being.

Earlier this year it was suggested that the south of Ireland would have a tsunami of mental health needs arising sometime after the initial pandemic peak and that situation will persist for months, possibly years. In 2018 it was found that the North of Ireland had the highest prevalence of mental illness in Britain. With this in mind and the continuation of the pandemic, I decided to take a rain check and leave.

Since moving abroad to the middle east in 2014, I have been grateful to explore other countries and their cultures. Dubai is an international hub and because of this I visited countries that to be honest I had never had any desire to see.

Living in the UAE has enabled me to see the other Gulf countries, the greater middle east region, the Balkans and even Uzbekistan. Admittedly, no place is perfect and everywhere we venture to come with its pros and cons. The pursuit of happiness can be tiring no matter where you live or work and this is evident in the rates of depression worldwide, which increased by 18 per cent between 2005 and 2015.

I have decided to stay in Dubai, but as much as I love the sunshine and the exciting lifestyle, I can still find myself wanting what I don’t have

I have decided to stay in Dubai, but as much as I love the sunshine and the exciting lifestyle, I can still find myself wanting what I don’t have. I know this is human nature as anytime it rains here, it’s delightful to see the students run outside screaming rain day, much like a snow day in Ireland. We adapt to new environments so much so that after sometime we can forget to see their beauty.

After getting through the lockdown, I was motivated to study the science of well-being and this helped me to simply look around. I started to notice the little things that others do here in the desert to make themselves happy. I decided to be a bit more experimental.

Here are four things I learned about well-being in the melting pot that is Dubai:

Befriend others that don’t drink alcohol
I know in all corners of the globe there are people who drink and those who prefer not to. I have found it easier to meet people who abstain from alcohol here, perhaps because of their culture or religious values. Either way I learned a lot from it. In Holly Whitetaker’s book Quit like a Woman, she brings attention to the fact that between 2002 and 2012 rates of alcohol addiction among females rose by 84 per cent. Perhaps the shocking statistics catapulted me to do other things at the weekend.

I feel that in many parts of the world it is culturally acceptable to get drunk and wake up with a damaging hangover.Yet we know that even the smallest amount of alcohol disrupts our sleep, fuels anxiety and makes us age faster. I started spending my Friday nights eating Arabic cuisine and going to restaurants as opposed to clubs. Enjoying the hummus, falafel, tabouleh, and kibbeh with water instead of wine made it all that more splendid.

When I watched my friends dancing sober when their favourite songs came on in restaurants, I realised that is actually more fun. The next day when I woke up, I had no anxiety, lots of energy and more money; plus my confidence dancing grew.

Switch your snacks for sunflower seeds
I have taught high school students in local schools here. Sometimes as a teacher I would walk into the room to see tables filled with sunflower seeds and shells. It was rather refreshing to see young people so ecstatic about snacks that didn’t involve crisps and chocolate bars or typical junk food. I remember a friend once told me when she was helping her son with homework, she would eat the seeds because cracking the shells is satisfying and helps her remain calm when the homework session is not going to plan.

There seems to be a love for these seeds in the middle east. Some say they boost immunity and have anti-inflammatory properties and lots of vitamin E. Anytime I am tasked with doing a tedious task, I snack on these delicious treats and when people are around me, they join in too.

Take moments of pause daily
The call to prayer can be heard five times a day in Dubai, it catches my attention during early morning, midday lessons and evening meals. Sometimes when I have to catch a taxi, the driver asks politely if he can take a break and pray. I sit in the back and watch as he blissfully takes his mat out of the boot and strolls off. I take my yoga mat with me everywhere I go now,. Maybe he inspired me in a roundabout way.

I can hear the melody coming from the local mosques. I think the call is relaxing and rather powerful as it captivates the ears of many. In Ireland, the one-minute Catholic reflection on RTÉ known as the Angelus is a daily reminder for people to stop and reflect too. I think there are similarities which can be drawn between both in the sense that we should take some time out daily to pause and pray.

I don’t think we have to be very religious to do this though, but when I hear the sound it does help me pause and gain clarity. I might take the time to write down some gratitude statements, meditate or practice breathing exercises. The key to better well being is to find a balance between activity and inactivity. Here new ideas can come to the forefront, as well as opportunities to get through daily challenges.

Learn a language
Studying a new language can deepen connections and help create new relationships without putting a foot out the door. Ultimately learning a language can improve well being while alleviating negative thoughts. I spent the first two years here teaching in a monolingual classroom. I heard the same sayings on repeat in Arabic but they never bored me. Rather they ignited my interest.

The word love in Arabic can be said in many different ways and some of them are rather poetic and enticing. Arabs use love in their vocabulary daily and it’s not just reserved for romantic relationships. I think this is just a constant reminder to tell people how much you love them. The lesson here is that even though I can’t have a conversation, hearing the phrases motivates me to play songs on You Tube daily, helping me to explore the Arabic language in an easy and fun way. I think languages can tell us stories about others which helps us feel more connected to them.

When I finally return home I will take the lessons with me but for now it’s Ma’a salama from Dubai.

If you live overseas and would like to share your experience with Irish Times Abroad, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and what you do

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