By: Hanan Dover
“Our beliefs create the world that we live in, and our beliefs and thoughts therefore also create the stress we experience. If we think something is safe and possible to conquer, then it is. But if we think the opposite then that will be our experiences”
– Janice Calnan, Psychotherapist
Importance of Understanding Stress
Stress is a response to any demand (real or imagined) on the body to adapt or readjust. Stress can be beneficial in our daily life as it adds challenges, opportunities, and colour to our lives. Without stress, life could be boring, unexciting, and dull. However, there is a danger in experiencing too much stress because it can seriously affect your physical, spiritual, and mental well-being. If you are considered to be a “stress-head” where you regularly feel stressed all the time, it can often lead to problems in social and personal relationships, academic and work performance, decreased self-confidence, self-doubt, and self-defeating behaviours. It is important for your physical, spiritual, and mental health, that you find the optimal level of stress that you can learn to manage the challenges of day to day life effectively.
It is important to note that stress is unique to all of us. What is considered relaxing for one person may appear stressful to another person. It depends on the perception of the individual on their personal evaluation of an event or circumstance. The key to stress reduction is to identify strategies that fit you as an individual.
Activate Cognitive Spirituality
Every time you have any incoming negative or unhelpful thoughts, recite “A’uuzhu billahi mina Shaytan-a rajeem” to minimise and cease the effect of the whispering of the Shaytan (waswas). More importantly, it will automatically give rise to the consciousness of Allah, Most High. This phrase aids conscious awareness of wanting to seek refuge from waswas and will help in ridding the progressive development of mental ailments. Most importantly, pray and perform supplications, as Allah, the Most Merciful, is always near.
Narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If anyone continually asks pardon, Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress, and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide for him from where he did not reckon (Abu Dawood).
Activate Helpful Cognitions:
Being relaxed is the key to being able to activate the mind’s problem-solving skills. The best solutions come into our thoughts after being calm, relaxed, and when fully aware of ourselves and surroundings. Taking action after being calm and relaxed is powerful and usually most helpful.
Replace the habit of worrying and feeling stressed, with the positive habit of challenging unhelpful thinking patterns that are maladaptive or self-defeating. Worrying about trivial matters has no benefit, is a waste of time, and only increases stress levels that can lead to more pronounced psychological issues. It is important to remember that most all of what you worry and fear will happen, never actually occur. Worry is something our mind creates out of fear or waswas, not reality.
Don’t carry worries for a long time because it is mentally draining and heavy on the mind. Accept the worry for a short while if you have to, then you have to let it go. Don’t hold onto excessive and unnecessary worries that are beyond your control or influence. If there is a situation beyond your control or influence, learning to just relax and let go. Letting go and even the process of forgiveness is one of the most important skills we can ever learn. Address your concerns and worries, and learn to give up your worries to Allah, Most Compassionate.
Learn Relaxation and Diaphragmatic Breathing
Diaphragmatic exercises activate the immune system of the body, and healing begins (there are many internet links about these exercises). You can substitute the counting of numbers whilst inhaling and exhaling (“in, 2, 3 – out, 2, 3, 4,” by the inclusion of dhikr. For example, when inhaling, recite in a rhythmic fashion, “Alhamdullilah” and then “Subhan’Allah” when exhaling. This will aid the belly movements. You can also use words such as “relax”, sleep”, “stay calm”, etc as your body will respond to those words provided you are thinking about what they mean as well.
These relaxation exercises can assist in many areas of one’s life, including trying to recover from an illness. Breathing rhythmically has healing properties.
Note: Do not use long phrases whilst doing the breathing exercise to aid the rhythmic process of the inhaling and exhaling at a steady pace.
Ensure that your chest is not moving up and down whilst inhaling or exhaling. Most of the movements must be made with your belly, otherwise you will feel worse.
Activities to Release and Reduce Tension
There are many ways to release and reduce tension. Good examples are to exercise (very important as it releases natural endorphins from within the body), take a quick nap, sit with your eyes closed and visualize peaceful images that will calm you, admire nature (especially nature’s green), spend time with a loved one (or with animals), meditate, practice yoga, get a massage, supplicate, prayer, read Quran, make yourself a cup of herbal tea, release incense (lavender is considered highly effective for stress-relief), etc.
All of the above will release tension, and even assist your body produce healing chemicals. When you are relaxed, healing interleukins are released into your bloodstream. Interleukins are a part of the immune system that can heal illness and infection within the body. A healthy immune system makes the body less susceptible to mental health issues and physical illnesses.
One of the most effective ways to assist in reducing the physiological effects of worry and stress is to pull yourself and move your body.
It does not necessarily have to be rigorous exercise, but engaging in rhythmic activities like walking or cleaning, can be healing and therapeutic exercises – as your body gets into your own bodily rhythm, you can let your mind go and problem-solve, or even just daydream for awhile. Just remember not to reinforce your worries via constant reminders.
Ask for support
It helps to have a friend, family member, Sheikh, counsellor, or colleague to talk to for support. Knowing there is someone you can talk to can often make it easier to release your worries in the form of a cathartic response, or a healthy emotional release.