With all the talk of stigma in my article published in August and the feedback from the brothers and sisters who read it, it got me thinking of practical ways to address this as well as the mental health issues that are referred to when we talk about stigma.
We all run from mental health because of the connotations that it has. Typically when we think of mental health, we think of the more extreme symptoms; delusions, hearing voices and a complete lack of contact with reality. But what about the more common ‘everyday’ symptoms; those that I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this has gone through at some point in their life? We all get stressed at times; it’s part of life, part of Allah’s test and in fact, it is said that Allah tests those he loves most
“If God wants to do good to somebody, He afflicts him with trials.” 1
“There is nothing that befalls a believer, not even a thorn that pricks him, but Allah will record one good deed for him and will remove one bad deed from him.” 2
Let’s face it. We’ve all sinned at some point in our lives, so it would be a mercy from Allah to experience something that will ultimately expiate our bad deeds. Hence, to go through stress and trial is nothing to be frowned upon because this is Allah’s Mercy. If only people could view the trials of mental health in this way, then maybe we would have a much better opinion of those going through mental health problems, because Allah loves them and is erasing their sins for what they are enduring.
The beauty of Islam however, is that the Quran and Sunnah equip us with all that we need to be able to cope with such difficult situations and, insha Allah, I will highlight some in this article. I also came to realise that in accepting that we all go through some form of mental health problems at some point in our lives (yes, stress is a mental health problem, and yes, you most likely have experienced it at some point in your life, so yes, you have, at some point have had some experience, however small, of what it’s like to have a mental health problem. If you are one to stigmatize about mental health, then you might even feel insulted by this comment, but if you are able to accept the teaching in Islam regarding mental health, e.g. expiation of sins, then you will feel blessed), reflecting on those times will help you to empathize at least a little with people who are going through more extreme stress and this will ultimately help with acceptance of people with mental health problems because you have some insight of what it’s like to walk in their shoes.
On a different note, you might also then think about how much worse many others have it. Look at our brothers and sisters in Gaza, or in other war torn parts of the world such as Syria, etc., and the stress they go through; forced into being part of a war but unable to escape. The Prophet advised us to look to those who are worse off and this really helps us to appreciate the blessings in our life.
‘Contemplate those who have less than you and not those who have more than you, lest you belittle the favors of Allah conferred upon you’. 3
So, whilst you might have been stressed, there is more than likely someone else out there who is going through more stress than you are and you can be grateful that Allah spared you from such stress. In fact, what you are going through is relatively minor. That said, this is no excuse to play down the experience of stress, however big or small. We all need to know how to cope with it and Islam has the solutions to this.
The first point is that we need to be active in stress management. Whilst Allah is in control of everything and will be the one to alleviate our stress, this does not mean we should sit back and wait for that to happen. We need to actively seek ways to manage our stress.
“Verily Allah does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves” (Ar-Rad, 13: 11)
Keeping in mind that Allah is in control, what we can do is to control what we can, that is, our response to the stressful situation. It is well known in psychological literature that lack of control can be a cause of distress, so by controlling what you can gives some sense of empowerment and feelings of positivity. As Muslims, this should be relatively easy. Keeping on top of our obligatory duties and offering voluntary ones will bring us a sense of peace and relaxation.
“… without doubt in the remembrance (Zikr) of Allah do hearts find tranquility” (Ar-Rad, 13:28)
Medical literature supports the benefits of this with findings that praying and listening to the Qur’an have positive physiological effects in terms of reduced heart rate and blood pressure which are typical symptoms of a reduced level of arousal or stress.
“When prayer uplifts or calms, it inhibits cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine – hormones that flow out of the adrenal glands in response to stress. These fight-or-flight chemicals, released over time, can compromise the immune system, upping the odds of developing any number of illnesses, including heart disease, stroke, peptic ulcers, and inflammatory bowel disorder (IBS).” (Koenig)
In fact, these findings have also been reproduced in non-Muslims also (El Kadi).
“O mankind! There has come to you a direction from you Lord, and a healing for (the disease in your) heart, and for those who believe a guidance, and mercy” (Yunus, 10:57)
“The Prophet once said that in prayer, he would find rest and relief (Nasai). He would also regularly ask for God’s forgiveness and remain in prostration during prayer praising God (Tasbeeh) and asking for His forgiveness” 4
“Allah is sufficient for us, and He is an excellent guardian, and we repose our trust in Allah.”
“Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return. O Allah, I beseech you for the reward of my hardship. Reward me, and compensate me for it with something good.”
A part of the beauty of Islam in this respect is that we are prescribed prayer 5 times daily. So, for 5 times a day, we are obliged to abandon our worldly affairs and the stresses that accompany it and seek solace and peace with Allah in prayer.
Often, we can get too caught up in our busy lives to really take a step back and wonder at Allah’s creation. Taking some time out to really pay attention to what’s around us can have this incredibly relaxing effect. Notice the beauty in Allah’s creation, from the leaves on a tree, the beautiful blossoming flower, the tweeting bird, the sky at night or a beautiful sunset. All of this was created by Allah and is under His control. Allahu Akbar! Be grateful that He gave you the opportunity to view such wonderful things. Just 5 minutes a day is enough to marvel at the creation; it can be incredibly relaxing, especially at the end of a hard day!
These are all very simple, and perhaps obvious stress management techniques, but sometimes, we just need to put these things into perspective and see the positives in our daily stressors and remember the benefits of using Islamic techniques to manage them. These are just a handful, but insha’Allah, next time I will get the chance to offer some more stress management tips.
I will be giving a FREE webinar on stress management in early January (date to be confirmed). If you are interested in attending, please leave your email via the following link and I will get back to you with a link closer to the time, insha’Allah.
I would love your feedback so I can prepare more tips based on that 🙂