We Spent a Day Working Through Stress and Anxiety in Dubai

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"If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” - Lao Tzu

When a one-day retreat by wellness company H Retreats promises to help “conquer anxiety, manage stress, and work through depression”, it’s hard not to sit up and take notice. Because, seriously, who amongst us hasn’t fallen prey to what starts out as a few negative feelings then spirals out of control and into a full-blown mental health concern?

Within the intimate group of women – yes, all women, which says a lot – in attendance, the collective suffering makes for an accurate picture of the human condition. Some are dealing with grief and panic attacks, while others are tackling PTSD, relying on unhealthy coping mechanisms, confronting unresolved childhood trauma, and acknowledging strained family relationships. I couldn’t but notice that within the room were women of different ages, races, and backgrounds – mental illness obviously doesn’t discriminate.

It’s a desire to help people heal from such illnesses that led to the birth of H Retreats, which brings together certified therapists, healers, doctors, and fitness professionals to curate wellness programs both in Dubai and overseas. Past ‘Wellness Saturday’ editions have covered topics such as body perception, postnatal care, and holistic healing, but this particular one feels especially inclusive. Here’s what it entailed.

"Release Tension and Stress"

Saturday starts with 60 minutes of hatha yoga led by Eva Kirdyapkina, who sets the tone for the day ahead. This session isn’t about contorting into oblivion nor pushing one’s body past its limits. Instead, Kirdyapkina encourages participants to de-stress, breathe deep, and surrender to their own abilities.

She’s also a sound healer and conducts a 30-minute sound bath that manages to block out the contrast of birds chirping and relentless drilling outside. The presence of gongs, triangles, and Tibetan singing bowls takes over the room, their vibrations silencing my mind, which is currently obsessing about everything from last night’s dinner to backing up my phone.

Key takeaway: Sound meditation can help enter a theta state of very deep relaxation, so it’s an excellent first step in the healing process.

"How to Conquer Anxiety and Negative Emotions"

Things transition rather seamlessly to the next session with psychologist and mindfulness trainer Briar Jacques, who starts off with a quicksand analogy – the more you panic, the deeper in you go. She tackles the stigma around anxiety and depression, teaching participants how to create mindful relationships with negative thoughts and talking them through the six key processes of psychological flexibility.

These include looking directly at your thoughts rather than through them, living in the present, knowing and accepting what is real, evaluating your deepest-held values, and committing to taking action accordingly. Lastly, it’s crucial to understand that you are not your thoughts – you are the thinker of your thoughts. You are not your feelings – you are the feeler of your feelings. Mastering this will allow you to merely observe the big picture without needing to be in control every step of the way.

Key takeaway: If you have a tendency towards avoidance coping, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) comes highly recommended as it’s rooted in mindfulness.

memory past photo album laura fuhrman 696993 unsplash
Photo: Courtesy of Laura Fuhrman

"Releasing Anxiety, Stress, and Fear"

Things get real – fast – in the final session of the retreat, which is hosted by a NLPEA coach and mindfulness therapist by the name of Dr. Hanan Selim. She has been dubbed a “pharmacist of the future” as, despite her background as a clinical pharmacist, she prefers a more holistic and preventative approach to healthcare.

The tail end of the retreat is all about exploring what exactly from the past is weighing participants down and, through a handful of memory exercises and forgiveness techniques, answers are revealed sooner than expected. We’re asked to reflect on who has wronged us, explore what we like and dislike about ourselves, assign colors to our emotions, and more. This gentle hypnosis leaves the group feeling equally vulnerable and empowered by new insights. Dr. Selim wraps things up by assigning homework that includes keeping a gratitude journal, practicing the 666 breathing technique, and counting backwards from 100 first thing in the morning.

Key takeaway: Experiment with alternative healing before resorting to medication – both breathing techniques and counting backwards have been proven to increase alpha brain waves, which stimulates creativity and minimizes depression.

The next one-day retreat by H Retreats will focus on mindful pregnancy. Find more details and book here.

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