8 Effective Ways to Reduce Stress in Your Life – For Good!
Our daily lives are stressful, work life, home life, relationships, family, but imagine being able to reduce your stress levels in a simple, yet effective way? As busy Muslimahs, we can not always stop stress from entering our lives, but we can deal with how it affects us and learn to take control of it, so it doesn’t impact our health and mental well-being.
Stress triggers our “fight or flight” response, which triggers a surge of adrenaline to “get things done.” This is fantastic when we need that immediate boost of energy, however the constant adrenaline rush will impact our bodies negatively over time and cause us stress and anxiety. Stress is linked to a host of health conditions such as auto-immune diseases, depression, weight gain, heart disease, cognitive function, inflammatory conditions, cell repair and regeneration and mental well-being. These 8 tips will enable you to drastically reduce stress levels from your life. Be warned- these tips are extremely powerful, life-changing and amazingly simple.
1. Go to Sleep Earlier
This small, simple lifestyle change is so powerful in reducing our stress and anxiety levels- yet it is often overlooked.
Many of us can relate going to bed utterly exhausted, crawling into bed and finding ourselves being unable to sleep due to worry or tension. We tend to focus on our problems before we sleep; we fret and worry about them until early hours of the morning. Then when we finally doze off, we awaken just a few hours later finding ourselves still tired, drained and even more overwhelmed than the previous day- leading to a vicious cycle. This cycle impacts: our stress levels; the ability to cope with our problems and our overall health and mental well-being.
In order to rejuvenate, repair and heal our bodies and our minds when we sleep, we need to have an adequate amount of deep sleep. We need to sleep at a set time daily, as our Circadian timer (our sleep clock that our brain controls) functions at its optimal level when it works on a regular time routine. When we have an adequate amount of good quality deep- we will actually wake up feeling refreshed, rejuvenated and full of energy for our day ahead.
Ways to Get a More Restful Sleep:
Imagine waking up each day completely refreshed before your alarm clock? In order for you to have a deep, regenerative sleep, ready to positively face the day ahead, just follow these simple steps:
a. Organise yourself the night before. Get your clothes out, ready and ironed for the next day-it is amazing how this small action will help eliminate the early morning mess before you rush out to work, or when you take the children to school, or the “I have nothing to wear syndrome.” You will find you have a more restful morning and more time if you organise this the night before.
b. Write down anything that is playing on your mind. Write these thoughts down in your notebook and then don’t think about them before sleeping. Writing it down allows your brain to sub-consciously switch off thinking about them, knowing your “problem” is in a safe place that you can return to the next day. Use journaling to neutralise negative thoughts, emotions and problems before you sleep. If you have a problem that you are unable to solve- then tell yourself in order to solve this problem, you NEED to take it out of your head and write down- so that you can solve it with better mental clarity the next day. The process of writing is very important- don’t skip that step!
c. Do not to use any electronic devices such as T.V. Screens, laptops and mobile devices before you sleep. The blue-light emitted from them disrupts our production of melatonin which controls our Circadian Timer (sleep/wake clock) and hinders our ability to settle down into a deep sleep, which is crucial for our body to repair itself. Ensure that you do not look at any of these devices for at least 30 minutes before you sleep, to enable your body to wind down. It also helps to dim the lighting nearer bedtime.
d. Read a book, practice meditation, deep-breathing or pray before you sleep. This allows your body to be in a calm state before sleeping.
e. Have a detoxification bath. This allows the body to relax and wind down before sleep. Add Epsom salts and Magnesium Salts to help the body to sweat out toxins and add a few drops of calming essential oils such as lavender to help clear your mind and calm your body from tension. You will be amazed what a good soak can do for your body and mind.
f. Exercise during the day. This helps your body to produce endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain that act like natural pain killers. Exercise improves sleep, which often gets hindered by stress, depression and anxiety. These endorphins not only reduce stress levels- which in turn improve the ability to sleep and in turn again the reduce the anxiety/ stress cycle. If you really don’t feel like doing exercise one day, then try one of these alternatives which also help your body produce endorphins: massage therapies; meditation; deep-breathing and acupuncture. Note- they shouldn’t be used instead of exercise but as a complementary therapy or when you can’t exercise.
g. Set Written “To Do” Lists
Every morning reflect and focus on what you have to do that day. Write down your goals for the day and things you want to accomplish. Try not to include too much in your list for each day. If you have too many items on your list, then prioritise the top 5 items of things to get done each day and move the rest to the following day. Tick off the items you have achieved that day and move items you haven’t achieved to the next day, so you don’t feel disheartened for not achieving everything that day. By habitually doing this, you will sub-consciously notice yourself becoming less stressed, more efficient with tasks and time management and more in control of our life. It will also leave you more free time for you to focus on other passions and hobbies that may interest you.
2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Don’t worry about things that aren’t in your power to control. Train your mind not to worry about things that are out of your control. Worrying doesn’t help the situation, yet it has a great negative impact on your time and also on your health. When you think more and more about a problem you can’t control, the little problem becomes exemplified and more arduous to cope with. Instead of dwelling on the problem, divert your thought process to finding solutions- look at the problem from different angles. Don’t wallow in self-pity, nor think about how hurt you feel, instead focus on how the problem can help you; how you can learn from it; how you can solve it and how you can grow from it and move on. Don’t allow negative thoughts and problems to fester in your mind. Control your negativity by journaling- for every negative moment/emotion, write three positive events or feelings of gratitude or compare yourself to others in worse off situations. By writing this habitually, you will start to automatically do this in your head- but initially, you will need to write them down, as a way of teaching your mind.
3. Know your Limitations- Learn When to Say “No”
The people that are the kindest and helpful are usually the ones, later on in life, who reach a breaking point. It’s ok to say “no”. Don’t spread yourself too thinly, you will be the one that ultimately only suffers. Value yourself, your time, your body and your health first. This is not selfishness because once you can look after yourself, you will have energy, positivity and vitality to help others. Empower yourself by learning to say “No!” Your body will thank you for this and so will others around you.
4. Don’t Get Distracted by Time Vampires
Much of our time gets wasted by people around us and by social media, leading to negating things we need to get done in our day- which then leads to frustration, anger and stress. It makes us feel overwhelmed that we have so much to do in so little time. However, the actual reality is that we DO have enough time, but we just mismanage our time. Recognising and dealing with these ‘time vampires’ will help us to feel in control of our lives, get things done and feel less stressed. Reflect on your past day and think about how you spent your time. Are there distractions that could be avoided? Do you spend countless hours on Facebook, Instagram, Snap Chat scrolling through social media, or on news posts? Are these really helping you in your life to achieve your goals or making you feel stressed?
Keep a daily track for a week of how often you use social media applications and approximately how long daily you are on them. If you are checking every few minutes, then you really need to take a step back. Have certain times during the day when you check your social media and the rest of the day just resist temptation. When you begin to do this in your life, you will realise half of what you see isn’t really relevant and is actually a major distraction in your life. Detaching from the virtual world will actually make you feel like focusing on yourself, your life and your hobbies. In addition, don’t check the news every hour. Most news is bad news, depressing news, which can lead to pessimism and a negative mindset. If you must read the news or watch the news regularly- always ensure you read something positive too, this will immeasurably help your stress levels.
5. You Are What You Eat- so Eat Well!
Eat to live and don’t live to eat! A poor diet and nutrition make it harder for the body to cope with stress and anxiety. Make yourself a goal of clean eating and try to avoid processed foods. A healthy body and a healthy mind go hand in hand.
Drink lots of water to eliminate toxins and to avoid dehydration which impacts the body and brain function negatively. Aim for the 8 x 8 rule: drink eight 8-oz glasses of water daily, which equates to 2 litres. Eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and healthy fats in your diet. Try and eat organic as much as you can for optimal health. Get into a habit of soaking your fruit and vegetables in water before consuming and scrubbing or peeling- to get rid of the pesticides.
Needless to say, try to avoid certain types of foods, such as processed/fast foods; artificial flavours or colours; artificial sweeteners and sugars. It’s impossible to do this all the time, hence ‘try’ your best and don’t worry about your lapses as long as you are moving towards a healthier diet. Think of sugar as an addiction, try and avoid sugar as much as possible. Try and avoid foods that are cooked or fried in processed oils such as vegetable or sunflower and use more organic cold-pressed oils such as coconut oils, clarified butter/ghee from grass-fed cows and oils such as organic olive oil. By clean eating, you will have a healthier mind and more clarity of mind.
6. Smile Even When You Don’t Feel Like It
Smiling throughout the day actually relaxes the body as it releases endorphins that counteract stress hormones and lift your mood. Research carried out by T. Kraft and S. Pressman at the University of Kansas actually showed that holding a smile on one’s face during periods of stress, lead to lower heart rates of those involved in the study. Teach yourself to smile, even when you feel down- to counteract any sadness you feel. You will be surprised how your mood easily changes, without much mental effort.
7. Enjoy the Great Outdoors and the Sunshine Vitamin
Widespread research shows that people who are always inside offices or homes and don’t enjoy the great outdoors, are more likely to be stressed and suffer from depression. Sunlight is important for Vitamin D and the lack of it leads to a whole host of health problems such as bone pain, muscle weakness and also leads to increased anxiety and depression. A study published in the Journal of American Medical Association in 2006 stated that even Multiple Sclerosis is reduced by optimal Vitamin D health. So, if we don’t even know why we are anxious or stressed, it could just be a lack of Vitamin D. Ensure you are getting daily sunlight- as well as regularly eating Vitamin D rich foods such as Salmon, Sardines, Egg Yolk and so on and take a good quality Vitamin D supplement. A high proportion of Muslim women do not get adequate vitamin D needed, due to a variety of factors, it could be diet, or linked to less time outdoors, or covering. Skin colour also impacts how much Vitamin D is absorbed by your skin, so the darker shade you are the more time in the sun you need to absorb more Vitamin D. It is much harder to get the sufficient dose of Vitamin D needed in colder climates, or where there is less sunshine throughout the year. Hence a good quality, natural supplement would be a good idea. It’s worth referring to the Vitamin D council website for information on dosage needed.
8. Meditate and Pray
Meditation and prayer are scientifically proven to help with stress and anxiety. We know as Muslimahs that in times of hardship and comfort we should always pray. Who else can help you with your stress and your problems than your Creator, except the One that knows your innermost thoughts and feelings? Waking up for Tahajjud and sincerely praying and making dua is extremely beneficial because you are sacrificing your sleep to get up to pray. There are numerous of hadith and verses that stress the importance of this prayer, “The Lord descends every night to the lowest heaven when one-third of the night remains and says, “Who will call upon Me, that I may answer Him? Who will ask of Me, that I may give him? Who will seek my forgiveness that I may forgive him?” (Bukari, Muslim). Meditation can be any dhikr that reminds you to be God conscious, even sitting on a pray mat reciting the Kalimah, or the salawat on the Prophet (saw) or astagfirullah is extremely beneficial. When we do dhikr we should not be thinking of any worldly thoughts, but be in the present moment and focus on the dhikr and its meaning, focus on breathing deeply from our diaphragm and think about the immensity of Allah (swt). Focusing on the positive aspects and blessings in your life creates gratefulness and eases stress and anxiety. We should never compare ourselves to others, as everyone has their own journey and struggles and although we may feel that grass is greener on the other side, it rarely is.
By implementing these 8 small, steps habitually in your life your stress levels will be reduced, manageable and they will no longer have a negative impact on your health and mental well-being.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to a less stressful life. Peace & Salaam x