After a great response to my previous article, I would like to continue to share some more stress management information with you all as promised.
I’d like to begin by almost taking a step backwards, looking at stress management from a proactive point of view. There are a couple of important reasons why I think it’s important to address stress from this angle. By now, we’re getting the hang of managing stress in a reactive way; that is, learning to respond to stress in the most positive way after a stressful situation has occurred.
Now, what we need to learn is how to take care of psychological well-being to avoid even falling into a negative stress response to begin with. Now, don’t get me wrong; naturally the experience of stress has an important function in preparing us for the whole fight or flight response, preparing our bodies physically to escape danger or fight it. It is well known however, that too much stress can have detrimental effects on both psychological and physiological functioning. Taking care of our psychological well-being can help us to manage stress effectively and avoid such effects.
In addition to this, ask yourself how often do you genuinely think about taking care of your psychological health? We are forever bombarded with messages from medics and in the media to take care of our physical health by exercising, eating well and avoiding bad foods and sedentary activities. Of course, as Muslims this IS important to us and we are obliged to do so by our Creator in taking care of what He has entrusted us with.
We need to realise however, that this is not limited to taking care of our physical health, but our psychological health also, because this can affect our physical health if we are not careful. How many times have you thought about taking care of your psychological health? How many times have you felt that you had so many tasks to get through that there was just no time in the day to take some time out just to relax, and instead have prioritized ensuring all the chores were completed or you completed that assignment or task? It’s time to be kind to yourself and factor self-care into your daily routine to maintain healthy levels of psychological health.
These techniques won’t eliminate stressful situations arising, because they will, that is all part of Allah’s plan and we shouldn’t even wish that these situations would not arise because as we learned the last time, Allah will test those He loves most.
“If Allah intends good for someone, then He afflicts him with trials.” 1
It is up to us to control our response to such situations by taking care of our psychological health. Maintaining yourself in a more calm state of mind, you will be able to manage them more appropriately and effectively. By proactively taking care of your psychological health, you are effectively putting yourself in a better situation to manage stress when it arises.
How many times have you responded angrily in a situation taking stress out on those close to you and then, when you’ve cooled down, felt bad and totally regretted what you said?
How many times have you responded angrily and then upon reflection, in a calm state of mind, wondered why you got so stressed about it in the first place when it was something so minor and unimportant?!
In a healthy state of mind, it’s easier to think straight during potentially stressful situations and respond more appropriately and calmly and perhaps, not even view the situation as stressful anyway. Something seemingly stressful in a poor state of psychological health can be relatively minor when in a healthy form of mind. I’m confident every single one of you can look back and identify at least one time in your life when you have gone all out in stress mode over something relatively minor, potentially hurting at least one person close to you, and once you have cooled down, looked back and felt bad for getting stressed about something so irrelevant and feeling regret and remorse for your actions and ingratitude. It is exactly for this reason why we need to ensure that we are psychologically fit to face stressful situations that are an inevitable part of life.
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods, lives and the fruits (of your toil) but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere. Those who, when misfortune strikes them, say: ‘Indeed we belong to Allah and to Him is our return. Those are the ones upon whom are blessings and mercy from their Lord and it is those who are rightly guided.” (Sûrah al-Baqarah, 2:155)
I’ve outlined here the importance of taking a proactive approach to ensuring psychological well-being and there are a number of ways in which we can do that. For this article, I will begin by highlighting some methods in general that we can turn to and insha’Allah over my next articles, I will go into more depth of how to implement some of these practices into your daily life in a way that is compatible with Islam.
There are many things we can do to take care of our psychological health with some of the simplest ones including:
- Ensuring you get sufficient sleep
- Engaging regularly in social interaction with family and friends
- And of course taking care of your physical health.
Such examples might sound so simple and obvious but we really do need these reminders sometimes, much like we do to look after our physical health. Other techniques include time and work management skills, relaxation exercises, cognitive restructuring exercises and reflection and self-awareness exercises.
You may find different times and different stressors call for different techniques, e.g. if you’re feeling over aroused and irritable, a more relaxing technique is usually best, or if you’re feeling more withdrawn and isolated, then a more active approach would be best like going for a walk. Sometimes, we need time alone and sometimes we need social stimulation. We’re all different, some more resilient than others and some techniques will work better for some than others and others will experience a different reaction to stressors and cope in a different way, so we all need to go away and look closely at ourselves and work out a plan that is best tailored to our unique needs.
I have only briefly mentioned some of the many techniques available for now, but insha’Allah by now you will realise the importance of self-care in ensuring psychological well-being that will ultimately help you to function more effectively and make fulfilling our purpose in life, to worship Allah, a whole lot easier. Insha’Allah over my coming articles, I will cover some of these techniques in more depth. If there is any in particular you would be interested in learning more about, please let me know in the comments below.
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- Sahih Bukhari, 5321 ↩