Q: Many of the restrictions have been eased in Dubai, for which I’m grateful, but I am really struggling with the idea of venturing out. Every time I try, I become overwhelmed by panic and I worry I’m going to become trapped in the house. Can you help?

Let me reassure you, you’re not alone in feeling this. We have been through challenging times, battling an enemy that we cannot see, and it is quite normal for you to feel affected by this.

During the peak of this pandemic, the sources of anxiety have been many. Naturally, we have been worried about our own health and that of our loved ones. On top of that has come the sense the outside world was a threatening place to be and as such home has become even more connected to a feeling of safety. Finally, to compound all of this, there is that gnawing sense of uncertainty about when it will end and what will happen next. It is no wonder there is a pervading caution borne of anxiety.

The first thing I would counsel is to be easy on yourself. Of course, I totally understand that you don’t want this feeling to turn into something that permanently restricts your freedom, but I advise small steps towards a new normal. Panic is a reaction that takes hold of us and makes us feel out of control. It sets up the fight-or-flight reaction and your instinct is to (metaphorically) ‘take flight’, by locking yourself away in your ‘safe place’. Panic does not operate like a light switch. It isn’t something you can control and turn on and off. In fact, when you’re experiencing an attack, it controls you. Thankfully, there are a number of strategies that can help you find a way turn things around.

Knowledge is the key to unlocking everything. I suggest you plan your own pathway. The most important thing is to fully acquaint yourself with all of the safety measures laid out by the government. Next, planning is imperative. Develop a routine around keeping safe when you venture out. What will you do before you leave the house? What measures must you take while you’re outside and will you add anything to give you an extra sense of security? Once you are set on a practical level, the next thing to do is set yourself an initial goal. I mentioned small steps and this is how you should view it. To start with, decide on a short familiar journey out of doors in the open air. Perhaps to a local park you know well and perhaps no further than half an hour away. Part of overcoming anxiety is to accept that you are going to feel anxious, but also to learn to ride that feeling until it passes.

On your familiar journey, plan small milestones, where you can stop and just breathe calmly and feel motivated to reach the next one. This will add a positive and purposeful dimension for you to focus on. As you walk around, keep giving yourself positive messages. What are you enjoying? What are the benefits of being in the fresh air, the sun on your back?

If you start to feel the panic rise. Find a safe place, away from others and start to breathe. Take a long slow breath in through the nose, hold for the count of three and then exhale through the mouth in a slow and controlled manner. Keep repeating and focusing on the breaths until you feel your heart rate come down to a normal level and the panic begins to subside.

Alongside this, it’s worth keeping a journal to record how you feel each day. Not only will this have a cathartic affect, it will also allow you to chart your progress and review any panic triggers that occur, so that you can think more deeply about the underlying reasons.

Take it slow until you gain confidence. You might do the same journey for a week or even two, but once you feel ready, extend it. You could add 10 more minutes or a whole new journey to another place and begin to go out more frequently. You don’t mention whether you have family or friends, but I would urge you to share how you are feeling with somebody you trust and who can encourage your efforts. I would also urge you to seek professional help if you still find yourself overwhelmed even after taking these measures.

Most of all, be kind to yourself. This has been a difficult time for the whole world, accept that it will take time to heal, but hope and optimism will triumph in the end.

Russell Hemmings is a Dubai-based lifecoach and cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist, and author of The Mind Diet and Active Positive Parenting (russellhemmings.co.uk). Got a problem? Our fantastic panel of renowned experts is available to answer all your questions related to fashion, well-being, nutrition, finance and hypnotherapy. Email your queries to friday@gulfnews.com.

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