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The times they are a-stressful.

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In the punishing 'dog eat dog' Dubai work cycle, the prospect of taking some time off for a bit of 'R and R' may sometimes feel like the quest for the Holy Grail. But when the time does come around when a precious few days are yours for the taking, the break may often turn out to be a disappointment.

Some studies show that around 40 per cent of people are caught in a 'stress trap' which can leave them feeling worse when they're not working, rather than better, and ten per cent are even plagued by physical symptoms like nausea, headaches, dizziness or palpitations. Yet expectations that a holiday will be a 'magic bullet' - an instant antidote to tension and pressure - are increasing, perhaps because, as recent research revealed, we're working harder than ever before.

It's all adding up to a double-whammy of pressure according to Richard Hilliard, director of The Relaxation for Living Institute ( "Not only do people often have huge and unrealistic expectations of a holiday - regarding it as a 'magic bullet' that will make them feel amazing overnight - but it makes them more conscious of the burden on them to make a break perfect for themselves and their family."

Ironically, although the thought of doing nothing is so seductive, Hilliard advises stressed, busy people not to immediately succumb to inactivity. "You can't expect to instantly slow down from 100 miles an hour to zero and feel good. People are so pressured and stressed with the demands of work and family that they're constantly running on adrenaline."

This is commonly called the 'fight or flight' hormone which is produced by the body in times of stress and which we originally relied on in primitive times to help us survive and flee from danger.

"Turning that off is not as simple as turning off a tap. If we've become accustomed to continual - and sometimes excessive - amounts of adrenaline to help us cope with stress, the body will not be able to cope with a sudden shut down, where activity stops dead," Hilliard warns.A "It's like going cold turkey and can leave the body floundering in a stew of stress chemicals. This affects around ten per cent of people so badly they can feel quite ill, and suffering a range of symptoms from headaches, fatigue, and digestive problems."

In fact, what's needed is a gradual adrenaline climbdown. People should prepare themselves for a holiday, in the same way they prepare for work, and take some common sense steps which can minimise problems. For Rania, 32, and a self-confessed workaholic, taking time off has become something she dreads due to her habit of planning everything.

"Whether I'm visiting a city I've been to before or a new place, I am overcome with this need to schedule every waking minute of a day which leads to more stress if I happen to veer off into unplanned territory," she says.A "On a recent trip back home, I was so stressed out about trying to fit in all the people I wanted to see in a short period of time that I actually got this kind of queasiness in my stomach that forced me to spend the day in bed. I was so wound up about not having enough time that I ended up making myself sick."

So if you're planning a short break in the hopes of relaxing, recharging and actually enjoying yourself, you may want to begin slowing down.


If you answer yes to one or all of these you could be suffering from the stress-trap - an overload of pressure and anxiety.

>> Do you spend days-off fretting over work, and often find by the time you've unwound and de-stressed your holiday is over?

>> Do you look forward to breaks but find they're spoilt because you often succumb to niggling ailments like headaches, an upset stomach or a feeling of constant 'butterflies' in the tummy, or back, neck or shoulder pain?

>> Do you look forward to spending time with friends or family but find when you're free you're too exhausted to take part in activities or are irritable and impatient?


>> Try not to overwork in an unrealistic attempt to 'finish' everything in the days before a break. It's not uncommon for people to double their workload before a break which can leave them exhausted, with a low immune system and vulnerable to illness like colds or stomach upsets. Instead, delegate work if possible, and also try to share the work of holiday preparations.

>> Manage expectations of a holiday. The old saying 'it's better to travel in hope rather than arrive' is often very true!

>> Accept that you don't have to be in charge of everything on the break, that it probably won't be perfect and keep a sense of humour if things don't go to plan.

>> At least at the beginning of a holiday, try to have a structure and a purpose to your day. Don't have a lie-in on the first day of the break. Get up at about the same time as you do for work, and have an activity to do that day so there's not a sudden change of pace. Then gradually slow down during the break to acclimatise your body gently.

>> Make time to have fun. Just having a giggle will give your immunity a temporary boost by releasing endorphins which make you feel good, relax and de-stress. Research has shown that even thinking about something funny is enough to bring adrenaline levels down. So go ahead and crack that not-sofunny joke.

>> Pop Mozart on an iPod or personal stereo. Many experts now believe that this composer's music in particular is calming and de-stressing, not to mention, will give you a dose of culture.

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Publication:7 Days (Dubai, United Arab Emirates)
Date:Mar 23, 2008
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