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First Quarter 2000

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Has Stress Taken Over Your Life?
What Can You Do About It?

Much of the stress in our lives results from having to deal with daily hassles pertaining to our jobs, personal relationships, and everyday living circumstances. Examples of daily hassles include commuting to work in heavy traffic, disliking ones fellow workers, having only a small amount of control over ones daily work activities and working conditions, being very busy yet having important deadlines to meet or having little time to finish all tasks, receiving a poor evaluation by a supervisor, having a difficult or non-supportive boss, threat of failure or personal humiliation, etc.

However, there are other sources of what can be described as chronic stress. Examples are: death of a spouse, divorce, loss of a job which is associated with unemployment, financial hardship, and poverty, especially having to fend for a large family. Others include conflicting roles of, for example, women - having the multiple demands of their roles as a parent, worker and wife, the problem of accommodation, and generally, all those things that we place value upon with which Allah says we shall be tested (Q2:155). To a large extent, the amount of exposure people have to daily hassles is strongly related to their daily mood. Thus, the greater their exposure is to hassles, the worse is their mood.

A person who is stressed typically has anxious thoughts and difficulty concentrating or remembering. A stressed person is often erratic, easily annoyed by people, grumbles and complains a lot about virtually everything – including life and living. For someone feeling frustrated at the lack of control over certain variables in one's life, stress has been known to be a contributing factor in a wide variety of health problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure), narrowing of the heart’s arteries, gastrointestinal disorders (such as ulcers), chronic pain problems and many other health disorders.

Coping with stress means using thoughts and actions to deal with stressful situations and decrease the intensity of one's automatic defense responses. People who cope well with stress usually make more positive statements about themselves, resist frustration, remain optimistic, and persevere even under extremely adverse circumstances. Such people have confidence and trust that life and its trials have greater meaning, and have confidence in their ability to responsibly handle any situation that arises. They also believe that the hard work and any hardships endured in the way of pursuing an honourable goal are never in vain. Conversely, people who cope poorly with stress tend to have somewhat opposite personality characteristics, such as lower self-esteem, a pessimistic or deterministic outlook on life, and little faith that there is any point in striving beyond an apparent obstacle and learning from it.

The following tips are recommended by Muslim scholars for adequate stress management:

Engaging in religious meditation, remembrance of Allah as well as recitation of the Qur’an, which all have a way of calming down and soothing the disturbed heart. (Q13:28,29).

Maintaining a consistent exercise routine which has great benefits for physical as well as mental health.

Restructuring the way you think (ie. changing your perspectives on events and yourself) so that life will not seem so threatening or stressful. For example, a stressful experience is not the end of the world but may just signal that it is time you changed gears in life, or that you may need to rethink the method of attaining a particular goal, or that you may need to develop more patience and humility.. There is always a beneficial lesson that may be gained from any difficult experience to help achieve a sense of balance and redirect you towards a healthier lifestyle.

Becoming more "proactive" or taking charge of the responsibility for one's own happiness and sense of fulfilment. Things are only a disaster if you let them take over your life, squash your goals and destroy your happiness. Moreover, conquering a difficult period in one's life provides you with psychological strength and greater confidence in your own ability to handle certain situations.

Trying to be clear about your work roles, duties, responsibilities and expectations as a worker, family man, housewife, or student etc can help minimise the stress of confusion and possible conflict through not fulfilling any of the above.

Lastly, training yourself to manage your time effectively. It is compulsory for a Muslim worker (either employer or employee) to be punctual, fulfill all obligations (Q5:1), and conscientiously discharge his duties. Truth and fidelity are essentials of religion. Likewise, take time out for yourself and your own personal growth, as well as for those activities that make one comforted from a long hard day out - spending time in recreation at home or at another pleasant environment, with one's loved ones. "And among His signs is this, that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in relaxation/tranquility with them." (Q30:21)

 

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