The Year That Was: Dr. Saliha Afridi, Co-Founder And Managing Director, The Lighthouse Arabia

Like pretty much everyone else in 2020, Dr. Afridi is choosing to spot the silver linings this year presented, and use that to guide her decisions in the year ahead.

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The importance of mental well-being has probably not been discussed as much as it was during 2020, and for people like Dr. Saliha Afridi, who co-founded The Lighthouse Arabia in Dubai as a community mental health and wellness clinic in 2011, this was a topic around which a conversation should have probably happened much earlier in the Middle Eastbut then again, better late than never is perhaps the mantra to take to heart here.

The Lighthouse Arabia
Dr. Saliha Afridi, Co-founder and managing director, The Lighthouse Arabia

“A highlight for me professionally, which felt a bit bittersweet, was that governments and companies were finally paying attention to mental health and emotional wellbeing as an agenda item,” Dr. Afridi says. “This has been a personal and professional mission of mine to destigmatize mental health, and work towards a preventative model of mental health; however, I am just sad that we had to hit a place of total fear and desperation before that happened.”

But like pretty much everyone else in 2020, Dr. Afridi is choosing to spot the silver linings this year presented, and use that to guide her decisions in the year ahead. “One of the highlights for me personally was that life was less hectic, even though it was busier, there was less moving around, and the village became smaller, as we socialized with only those who were nearest and closest. Since there were less social dinners and extra-curricular activities, we started eating dinner as a family, and that grounded us all so much. I am grateful for this time with my family, and I plan to continue it way beyond COVID-19.”

Related: The Year That Was: Shaima Saleh Al-Husseini, Managing Director, Saudi Sports For All Federation

Time for introspection: Dr. Saliha Afridi, co-founder and Managing Director, The Lighthouse Arabia

1/ Your relationship with yourself is critical “Life was always uncertain -and always will be- COVID-19 just shattered the illusions of control and certainty. And if the outside world is so uncertain, the only thing I can control is how anchored and grounded I feel on the inside. People are spending a lot of energy on the wrong things, they are fighting for some level of certainty, or fighting to be happy, or fighting to stay positive, and I believe that isn’t the fight we should be fighting. Life has its ups and downs, and we must trust that if it is happening to me, then it’s happening for me. Instead, use your energy to take care of your physical body, use your energy to discipline yourself, use your energy to love those even when it feels inconvenient or effortful.”

2/ Mental and emotional health is going to take a whole lot more effort as we move forward “During the COVID-19 crisis, it became easier to be with my family, to develop certain habits like daily exercise, or eating healthy, or going to bed at the right time, because there were not that many distractions or choices. When things opened up, now it had to be a conscious and willed decision to tend to those habits. The world we live in is not conducive to mental health. The news is getting more sensational, social media is becoming more consuming and addictive, shopping and other ways of distracting ourselves are becoming more accessible. We are going to have to really make a commitment and engage our willpower to have good mental and physical health.”

3/ Relationships are the truest indicator of happiness, but we take them for granted “Technology has aided us in many ways to stay connected with those who are far, but it has become a thick veil between those who live close. We take our family and friends for granted when we don’t enjoy the moments that have been granted to us. Those who do have the chance to spend time together, have dinners and lunches, or holidays together, have a phone in between them, documenting the moment, rather than living it or enjoying it. But I believe, in the end, the only thing that will matter is how much you loved, and how loved you felt- and that is antidote to loneliness, and the biggest mitigator of stress and mental health problems: how much love you gave and received from those in your life.” 

Related: The Year That Was: Sacha Haider, Principal, Global Ventures

Aby Sam Thomas

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Entrepreneur Staff

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.