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UAE Priory expert shares advice this Stress Awareness Month

Everyone should take the opportunity this April, Stress Awareness Month, to understand the symptoms and take action to overcome work-related stress issues, says a UAE mental health expert.

The rallying call comes as a new study highlights that women, in particular, can be prone to stress-induced mental health issues when faced with consistently long working hours, especially when combined with managing other responsibilities.

While stress at work can be very difficult to avoid, especially if you are stuck behind a desk, the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health  found that women who put in 55 hours or more every week at work had a higher risk of depression. It also highlighted how women often had to juggle work with household duties and caring for family members. Working weekends also increased depression risk for both men and women.

Nadia Brooker, Psychologist at The Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai, says: “We see a significant number of patients at the centre struggling with the impact of increased work-related stress. In today’s fast-paced and competitive workplace where long hours and weekend working has become the norm, no-one is immune and, for numerous reasons, everyone deals with it differently.

“Women, however, are often the lynchpin of the family and as such can take on far more responsibilities as far as the children and running a home is concerned. When you add a full or part-time job into the mix, it’s easy to understand how the associated stresses and strains of daily life can build-up.

“We see some general trends in the differences between how men and women deal with stress as a result of hormonal differences between the two sexes in the fight or flight response. So, while women might be more prone to stress, many tend to reach out to others when confronted with it. They are able to process stress more emotionally and are far more likely to talk to friends or undergo therapy to reduce their anxiety levels. Men, on the other hand, often seek to escape stress by compartmentalising or distracting themselves from it, which can have serious repercussions in the long-term.”

Researchers looked at data from Understanding Society, the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), collected from more than 23,000 men and women.

This also highlighted a few factors that seemed to affect mental health no matter the person's gender. Older workers, workers who smoke, those who earned the least, and those who had the least control at their jobs tended to be more depressed when compared with other workers.

Psychological problems, including stress, anxiety and depression, are behind one in five visits to a GP.

The early warning signs of stress include becoming easily agitated, feeling overwhelmed, low energy, headaches, upset stomach, difficulty sleeping, clenched jaw, racing thoughts, difficulty focusing, changes in appetite and low mood or mood swings. Prolonged stress can have serious consequences and lead to anxiety, depression, and even physical health issues such as lowered immunity and irritable bowel syndrome.

During this month’s Stress Awareness Month, Nadia is urging all employees in the UAE to take a step back and consider incorporating some small, but effective changes into their everyday working lives: “Stress, as with other mental health conditions, needs to be acted upon as quickly as possible to help prevent more long-term issues such as burn-out, depression and anxiety, and to help encourage a full recovery. In the past year alone, a reported 74% of people surveyed had felt so stressed at some point, they had been too overwhelmed to cope with everyday tasks.”

The Priory’s team of experts has provided the following recommendations that employees can do themselves to try and manage their own stress. They can be carried out during the working day, at a desk:

  1. Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) - Repetitive finger tapping can sometimes help to release negative emotions such as anxiety. It has been called a psychological version of acupuncture in that it involves making contact with a number of acupuncture points. The specific points to tap are the end-points of the major meridians (meridians are believed to be channels of subtle energy which flow through our body). So, whilst focusing on your negative emotion you tap on a ‘meridian’ point (the eyebrow, side of the eye, under eye, under nose, chin, collarbone, under the arm and top of the head) three to seven times, repeating your negative thought in your head. After each emotion, take a deep breath and exhale. Continue this until you feel calmer and relieved. When you feel more relieved, repeat the technique whilst you tap through a “positive round”, repeating more uplifting phrases.
  2. Guided meditation apps – Many apps like Headspace offer different types of meditation for different concerns, or simply basic meditation. These typically offer meditation as short as 3 minutes and up to 20 minute sessions.
  3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation – This can also be done at any time during the day. PMR involves tensing and releasing muscles in certain intervals. There are guided versions available online for free on YouTube.
  4. Deep breathing – Take a long deep breath while counting for 5-8 seconds, then hold it for 5-8 seconds. Repeat several times to relieve anxious/stressed feelings. This can help re-centre you during a busy work day.
  5. Eat healthy - Avoid comfort eating and instead choose food that increases your energy and gives you sustainable nutrients to get you through the day.
  6. Prevention is key – Plan out your week or day ahead and create a checklist of things that need to be completed by priority. Give yourself enough time to complete each task and schedule regular breaks to avoid burnout. Reward yourself for completing tasks, even if it’s as simple as crossing it off the checklist.
  7. Changing a difficult situation isn't always possible. So accept what you cannot change and focus on the things you do have control over - such as looking for another job.
  8. Put on headphones and listening to music can have many benefits, such as helping you relax and focus on something you enjoy.
  9. Take a walk - even it’s just to the water station and back to your desk. Ideally, enjoy some fresh air. Changing your environment can clear your mind and re-energise you.