Ways we can relieve stress in our daily lives to be more Mindful Muslimahs.
Many of us, do not actually realise the havoc stress causes on our health. We may feel stressed in our daily lives but it’s not usually until we get to a breaking point, or a health or mental illness we realise we need better strategies to cope with our stress.
Unfortunately, by that point, it has already had a detrimental impact on our health and well-being. I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to look after yourself and learn different strategies for coping with stress. After all, stress is inevitable in our lives, but it is how we cope with it that matters.
Being a mother of three children, having a very busy life and at times stressful work and a husband who is super busy, I have had to learn to cope with stress as I recognise the detriment it can have on our bodies. I have had to work through health conditions and treat them naturally, instead of ending up on medication for life. So, if you are reading this, and feeling stressed, you need to realise that it has a detrimental impact on your body and you have to cope with it in the right way for you.
Deep down you know you are stressed, but feel that you can’t get rid of your endless obligations, especially as so many people rely on you. After all, as a Muslimah (Muslim Woman) we juggle family, work, children’s activities, housework, shopping and so on. Then you compare yourself to your mother’s generation and think, well, they did it, so why am I finding it so hard? Or compare yourself to the perfect lives of those on social media, and feel inadequate and wonder why you feel so stressed?
Stress is a reality in our everyday lives, some things we are able to control what happens in our life, to limit stress in our lives but then there are other times when we can’t actually control what is going on in our life. At this point, we must realise that we may not be able to control our situation, but we CAN control how we can cope with the stress in our lives.
It is important to have coping mechanisms to help us cope with our daily stresses, and one-size doesn’t fit all, different strategies may work for some people and not others.
What happens to our bodies when we internalise stress?
We have to really understand that prolonged stress in our bodies causes havoc. It adversely affects our health and mental well-being.
Stress can be caused by internal factors, such as illness and surgery or external factors, caused by environmental and sociological factors.
If people internalise stress, for prolonged periods of time, and do not effectively manage stress, this may lead to many physical symptoms, such as:
Some of the major physical symptoms of stress are:
- High blood pressure
- Hormonal imbalance
- Heart disease and cardiovascular problems
- Digestive problems
- Tension and migraine headaches
- Digestive distress
- Blood sugar levels
- Nerve issues
- Digestive issues
Not to mention mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and suicidal thoughts.
How to manage stress?
When we are aware of symptoms of stress and what triggers our stress and learn more about coping mechanisms, we are in a better position to help ourselves.
When you are in the midst of a stressful situation, use the flowchart to effectively manage stress. Memorise this chart and ask yourself these questions every time you feel overwhelmed by a situation or various factors.
In order to have good health, we must effectively manage stress in our lives. We cannot control everything that happens to use but we CAN control how things affect us.
Chart from idealhealthandfitness.wordpress.com
We should realise that there are two different ways we process stress in our lives:
- Internally – this is where we try and manage stress within ourselves, by sweeping things under the carpet and not really acknowledging the issues, nor focusing on them, trying to effectively block out the problem. Over time, this internal stress usually builds up until it eventually erupts, though break-downs or anger problems, constant irritability, depression and so on. It is important when we feel stressed, to acknowledge the reason behind it, so we allow ourselves to heal. Prolonged internalised stress causes havoc with our health.
- Externally – this is the best way to manage our stress: to acknowledge the issue and try and find a solution. If we cannot find a solution and are unable to change the situation, then we can externally work on things that help us cope with stress, in order to minimise the impact on our mental health and health.
Ways to control stress in our lives:
- Regular exercise – Plan to exercise three times a week, fit it into your schedule as a priority. It helps to join a class to keep you motivated. Yoga also helps to relax. In addition, low estrogen levels are thought to be a major reason contributing to depression and anxiety. Essentially anything that keeps the stress hormone cortisol down helps to keep this in check. Exercise also releases the happy feel-good chemicals such as dopamine, estrogen and serotonin. Having a regular sauna, also helps to release toxins through sweat to keep us healthier.
- Eat a healthy and balanced diet – to ensure your body gets the nutrition you need to cope with the extra stress and to stay healthy and keep your immune system working well. Needless to say, stay hydrated and drink plenty of clean, filtered water. For higher progesterone levels, which also go alongside estrogen levels certain foods help such as eggs, dark chocolate, salmon, nuts, spinach, asparagus, avocado, legumes and nuts and to take a good probiotic supplement or drink kefir, which you can buy or make at home.
- Sleep well – and wind down before you sleep by having a warm bath with perhaps Epsom salts and a relaxing essential oil such as Lavender oil. Trust your body and give it the appropriate amount of sleep time. Turn off electronic devices at least an hour before you sleep, as the artificial blue light that is emitted from devices such as mobile phones, laptops and televisions, used during the evenings, makes it harder for people to fall asleep easily. Using these devices prior to sleeping effects your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and suppresses the release of the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.
Using such devices before sleep delays your sleep and also the onset of REM sleep, which is the sleep you need to rejuvenate and heal your body. Instead of reading on a tablet, use a Kindle Paperwhite (not the Kindle Fire) as it doesn’t emit the same type of blue light that a tablet or mobile phone does, or even better, use a book! Turn down your lights during the evenings and at night, have dimmer switches, or use side lights to help your body adjust.
- Stop worrying – This is much easier said than done, but refer back to the flow chart above and always keep that in mind. Memorise the following words and imprint them in your mind:
Worrying doesn’t change anything, other than depleting your time, your energy and your health
- Learn to meditate/ pray and do dhikr. By meditating, praying or doing some dhikr provides time for your peace. It allows you to connect to the Creator who can help you with your problems and give you inner peace to deal with the stress in your life. It allows your mind to switch off and become more mindful. When you feel in a helpless situation, who better to turn to than your Lord who created you? Many a time, the problems we face in our lives are because The Almighty wants us to ask Him, and draw closer to Him. Everyone will have tribulations at some point in their lives, but The Almighty does not burden anyone more than they can bear. So remember, whatever you are going through, you will get through it and this time will pass.
- Get out into the sun– We need sunlight to increase our serotonin levels which help make us happy. Vitamin D from sunlight also helps against depression and anxiety, aids bone strength and contributes to a variety of factors for good health. Many South Asian or African people living in countries such as Britain do not get enough Vitamin D from natural sunlight as darker skins absorb less. It is important you then supplement with a good Vitamin D supplement. Dosage may vary from person depending on skin type. It is useful to check the Vitamin D Council website to see how much vitamin D you should get be getting daily. During the autumn/winter times, many people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and this is due to the lack of sunlight, it may be worth considering buying a SAD lamp to help. Click here to find out more.
- Plan your day and manage your time – Plan your week and day ahead, into manageable chunks. Write a list of things you want to accomplish that day and tick them off, in order of priority. Look over the list before you sleep and things you may not have completed, move to the next day. Do not set too many tasks that overwhelm you but have a good balance. Anything that is on your mind before you sleep, write it down. This helps you forget about it and sleep properly knowing you have noted it for the next day.
- Meal plan – As a Muslimah (Muslim woman) who may also be a mum, I cannot emphasise how much meal planning helps. Plan your meals for the week. I usually just jot them down on my phone as find it easier when shopping than in my planner, which I may not always have with me. Meal planning helps to ensure you and your family are getting a balanced diet. When you are stressed, good food and nutrition are important to help you cope during this time. As mentioned above foods such certain foods help you cope with stress.
I tend to make my meal plans very basic, I plan one week in advance and write what I am going to cook so I know in advance what ingredients I need for the week. As mentioned above, certain foods help your body cope. I also use the Pressure King Pro, which has helped immensely in cutting down cooking times and I can leave it when I have to run for the school, or even leave it on most of the day when I am out as it goes onto keep warm mode (as long as you have sufficient fluid inside). There is even a timer you can use to start cooking later on if you are out or at work and want the meal hot and ready for when you return home.
It helps immensely if you plan ahead, rather than rushing to cook and finally settling for a takeaway or a quick frozen meal or fish and chips, or wondering when you are tired and getting hungry, what shall I cook today?
- Wake up earlier – Try to wake up early so you don’t have to rush, and get your clothes and your children’s clothes, ready the previous night. Having a stress-free and non-rushed morning helps you through your whole day and brings more barakah (blessings) into your life.
When we are stressed, we tend to have a less rejuvenating sleep and tend to sleep later, try and have a relaxing bath and wind down before bedtime, to ensure you can wake up earlier and have a more restful sleep.
The Early Bird Catches the Worm
- Switch off work – If you work in a 9-5 job or online, set a certain time for work then after that just switch off. You are responsible for looking after your mind and your body to give it the justice it deserves.
- Prioritise self-care – Just like you prioritise things in your life, such as the kids, shopping, work, cooking, husband etc., also prioritise yourself. Actually, schedule in self-care 2-3 times a week. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, just maybe a hot bath with relaxing essential oils, or a dinner out with friends, or time for a book, a regular sauna and some exercise. But also try and indulge in other self-care and treat yourself once in a while, such a massage once in a while. The more you can switch off at other times, the more your body recuperates from the stress of work and the more productive and creative you will become. Prioritise self-care
- Try journaling – when you feel hurt by people, or upset and angry, journal your emotions. It actually helps to address how you feel and deal with your emotions so you are able to heal from them. Don’t dwell on negative emotions too long as this won’t help you heal, but acknowledge them and how you feel, then forgive and remove that negative energy and move on.
Use it as a tool to forgive others. Allow yourself to acknowledge you feel hurt, or betrayed by the person but then let it go. Don’t let it burden you, and do not let it make you bitter.
Learn the lesson then move on. Don’t let other people’s actions make you lower your standards. Remember that the way people treat you is a reflection of them, not you. Keep asking yourself, will this matter in 4 months, 4 years etc? Life is too short to be consumed about things that eat away at our inner peace. Also go back to your childhood and forgive anyone that caused you pain or hurt, and move on from anything that effects that inner peace.
- Control your thoughts and think positively – when we think negatively it gets us into a vicious circle of negativity and pessimism and takes us on a downward spiral. When we actively make a conscious effort to focus on the positive, we attract more positive things in our lives and more barakah (blessings) by acknowledging the good things in our life.
In 2005, The National Science Foundation published an article regarding human thoughts per day. The average person has 12,000 to 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 80% are negative and 95% are exactly the same repetitive thoughts as the day before. The studies reveal that the quality of our state depends on our internal and external communication. It also reveals how our bodies respond to the way we think, feel and act, known as the “mind-body-spirit-connection. ”
We are essentially spiritual beings if we develop high blood pressure, or a stomach ulcer, it could well be to do with a prolonged stressful situation. Our spiritual problems affect our mind, will, emotions and also out a physical body. When you start with positive affirmations about yourself, and your well-being this will start to have a positive impact on your body too. The more we think negatively the easier it is to think like this as this is how we have hard-wired our brain, but the more we start to think positively, the easier this will become, Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to actually reorganise itself.
A healthy body = a healthy mind but also a healthy mind = a healthy body
- Do things that make you happy– laugh and enjoy yourself. By doing things that make you happy, encourages endorphins and serotonin release.
Laughter is the best medicine
- Smile even if you don’t feel like it – moving your facial muscles into a smile releases endorphins, which trigger happiness and feeling positive. The more you smile, and trigger this chemical, the happier you will feel, so smile, especially when you least feel like it. When endorphins are released, they actually increase blood flow and lowers blood pressure, which means you have a lower risk of heart disease and cardiovascular health problems.
- Hug people dear to you – your spouse, your children, your family members, your friends. Just by hugging someone you trust for 30 seconds helps relaxation.
- Accomplish something – even small, like a project, or goal, it doesn’t even have to be a big one. As busy Muslimahs we all have something we need to get done, even if it is getting to the bottom of the laundry basket. Doesn’t it make you feel good to get there? Having a sense of accomplishment or finishing somethings gives a sense of high by releasing Dopamine.
- Use aromatherapy – A nice relaxing or invigorating sense actually helps release endorphins that can help mask physical and emotional pain. Use can use aromatherapy in diffusers or candles or mix in carrier oils apply to your body or put a few drops in a bath. Good essential oils for relaxation are: Lavender, Bergamot, Ylang Ylang, Frankincense, Rose, Vetiver and Chamomile.
- Spend time in the company of people you love- family friends, children, spouses etc. and remember that if you die tomorrow what will really matter? Use your time wisely. Connect with people, helps than being in solitude. Connect with people- make a conscious effort to go out and meet friends, even if you don’t feel like it. Go out for dinner, try a new experience with them, they will help you get through it and you will feel supported. Laughing and joking with friends, relieves stress.
- Focus on gratitude – by focusing on being grateful and positive things, you are attracting more blessings into your life. By truly, being grateful you feel a sense of peace and not wanting and are happy in your present state.
- Spend time in nature – Go to the beach, the sea water helps health and well-being by allowing you to just relax and the sea air contains negative ions, from the crashing of the waves (which are good for you). Walk barefoot in nature, on grass (this helps de-stress as grounding helps you absorb the negative electrons through the soles of your feet from the earth).
Therapies to cope with stress:
If you feel you need more support for coping with stress, you should consult your GP or a counsellor.
Other alternative therapies may help, such as:
Craniosacral Therapy – this form of gentle therapy uses a gentle touch to the joints of the cranium and also the practitioner may also apply light touches to the patient’s spine and pelvic bones. It is believed that the touch regulates the flow of the cerebrospinal fluid and aids in primary respiration.
CBT therapy – cognitive behavioural therapy, a course with a therapist of usually 12-20 sessions works for problems including depression, anxiety, phobias, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder
Massages– helps you to de-stress and cope better. Physical touch helps our bodies to relax. There are various forms of massages such as a Deep Tissue Massage, or a Hot Stone Massage, or Lymphatic Drainage massage or Tuina massage. It is best to choose a massage that suits you.
Acupuncture – helps relieve tension in the body and pain and promotes healing through the practitioner sticking tiny needs into meridian points to promote relaxation and self-healing.
Reflexology– helps by massaging the feet and pressing certain pressure points to help your body self-heal and it is amazingly relaxing.
Indian Head Massage– this also is extremely relaxing but also helps you de-stress and your body repair itself.
Chinese alternative medicine– we usually rush to the doctor for medication, which we may end up being on for life. It is worth visiting alternative health practitioners and nutritionists such as a good quality Chinese herbalist.
EFT therapy – you can do this on yourself and it is an easy technique to learn. Emotional Freedom Technique which involves tapping near median points to manage tension and anxiety in the body. All emotions and thoughts are forms of energy (positive or negative) which have real physical manifestations and affect functions of the body. EFT is a tapping method, where you tap certain points of your body and acupressure techniques to combine mind-body medicine.
The body possesses its own natural healing potential if we allow it to do so. Stress and emotional problems block our self-healing mechanisms. People who use EFT techniques, find it helps focus and clarity of mind and improves their attitude in a positive way to help them deal with problems they are facing.
Cupping– hijama (wet or dry cupping) there are various benefits of hijama to encourage stagnant blood flow. Wet cupping also removes blood from various parts of the body and is Sunnah. It is important to use a qualified therapist preferably one who is a medical doctor for this.
“Cupping is the most helpful procedure for human beings to cure themselves” hadith (saying) of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh)
You need to feel empowered to take control of how you are feeling. If you feel that you cannot do anything about a problem, the stress you feel will worsen. Feeling you are unable to control the situation you are in makes you feel unable to cope. So the best way to deal with the stressful situations, if you are unable to change them, is to focus on coping with the stress, to eliminate its negative effects on your body. This, in turn, will make you feel more positive.
And remember, we cannot control everything that happens in our lives, but we can cope with how we deal with stress and how we can stop letting it affect us. We also turn to the One who is in control of our affairs to pray and help us through our difficulties. We should get into a habit of realising when we are stress and what triggers it off and focus on ways that help minimise and control it from affecting us in our lives.
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