Tackling Emotions in Settling Differences

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Maliha had just returned from her 6-years-old daughter Anum’s school. She unfolded the now crumpled report of Anum that confirmed Dyslexia. Anum’s teacher was very caring and reassuring that Anum was an extremely bright kid, who just needed special attention and a different means to learn. Maliha’s child was different. How would she break the news to Ali, her husband? Anum was her father’s apple of the eye, the only child born ten years after their marriage.

Maliha knew this wasn’t the end of the world. But the string of tears just poured, staining her face. She decided to relieve her own pain, so she could be strong later when informing Ali. They could go out tonight to a quiet place, where she could gently explain to Ali all that Ms. Sarah (Anum’s teacher) had talked about. She carefully re-read the information Ms. Sarah had given her. Maliha mapped out in her mind the conversation that she would hold with Ali. She arranged Anum’s babysitting with her grandmother. She planned everything meticulously.

Meanwhile at the office, Ali had a monstrous day. He broke into an argument with his demanding boss. His top of the line worker had an accident and fractured his leg. One of Ali’s important customers filed a complaint about the company’s poor service. It was a trying day, and by the evening, Ali was glad it was finally over. All he wanted to do was go home, play with Anum, have his favourite meal and hit the bed. He had to be in the office very early next morning to prepare a compensation plan for his disgruntled client and present it to the senior management. That required much thinking.

When Ali arrived from work, he looked drained much to Maliha’s immediate disappointment. She suggested that they dine out to relax and change the mood, which was the last thing Ali wanted to hear.  He suggested otherwise. Ali wanted to eat at home and retire early to bed. Maliha insisted that she wanted to eat out without explaining anything. Ali was now very irritated, as he couldn’t understand why. He had had such a rotten day, and it was still not over with Maliha mindlessly nagging him about a stupid evening out.

They both projected what were their positional bargains, their own stances without finding out the reasons, why the other person was disagreeing. Both had valid reasons to differ but never communicated to each other. The hidden intent behind these differences remained concealed, until it was too late. Maliha and Ali, who were already vulnerable and wounded from previous experiences, locked horns and ended up in a battle.

This is what we experience almost daily with strangers, acquaintances and our dear ones – situations in which the hidden intentions are not communicated, assumptions are made at face value, and wrong results are derived from faulty calculations. The art of creating agreements is lost.

Could Ali and Maliha have handled the above situation differently? Maybe. Here is a guideline that “Timelenders” (a management consulting and training firm) offers for tackling emotions in settling differences:

  1. Be calm.

When you sense a disagreement with someone, do not opt for emotional outbursts. This may seem difficult initially but with conscious thought and practice, volatile emotions can be tamed.

  1. Recognize the other’s emotions.

Make a shift of priorities to understand the other person’s sentiments. Sometimes we are so consumed by our own feelings that we ignore the other person’s heartache altogether.

  1. Make your own emotions explicit.

Clarify how you feel, without expecting others to guess or take initiative figuring out your worries. No one is a master psychologist or owns a crystal ball to know what is going on in your life.

  1. Allow the other side let off steam.

If tempers are high, let the other person say what he/she has to. They won’t be listening to you in any case, if you try to out speak them, since they will be wrapped in their own miseries.

  1. Keep an eye on the emotional bank account.

It is easier to settle differences with people you have been nice to. If you have shared positive experiences and had a good relationship with them, there would be no grudges hindering or haunting from the past. Always try to treat everyone courteously, so they remember your past goodness.

A word of caution: possible communication challenges might occur, so:

  1. Keep an eye on the non-verbal communication.

Many people are not effective with words and are unable to explain their actual stance. In such cases, try to follow their body gestures, silence, etc.

  1. Listen actively and acknowledge what is being said.

When they speak, listen intently. Comprehend later. Judge lastly. Do not reverse the sequence. Also, do not multitask during a disagreement in order to avoid further irritation.

  1. Speak to be understood.

Don’t mumble, throw jargon, talk sarcastically or in under currents, so as to leave the other person wondering, what you actually meant.

  1. Don’t speak from the gallery.

Do not involve others in the conversation or talk in front of people who have nothing to do with your disagreement. Address only the parties involved.

Following are some non-verbal communication one needs to be mindful of:

  1. Speech pace and pauses
  2. Pitch and tone
  3. Use of space and distance
  4. Body motion and gestures
  5. Body posture
  6. Facial expressions
  7. Gaze
  8. Touch and body contact

In 1967, psychologist Albert Mehrabian analyzed the impact that a speaker’s attitudes and feelings leave on an audience. Following is what he discovered:

Imagine: in a conversation or presentation, visual content (your body language) has 55% of impact on others. Similarly, the way you present your words has 93% of an impact on the other person. If your verbal language and body language is out of sync, you can never be taken as a genuine person. If you want to apologize, your voice and expressions must convey it. If you want to appreciate someone, you cannot furrow your brows and twitch your nose when complimenting. Similarly, if you are concerned about someone, you can’t laugh and look merry about it. Your intentions have to be communicated with actions (co-related body gestures).

Differences and disagreements are part of life. They are natural and set us apart from machines. They facilitate us to mature as humans. They truly bare our soul. In such times, we are tested for our wisdom, grace and character.

Face the Facts

Did you know that our face can support:

  1. 8 positions for brows and forehead,
  2. 17 positions for our eyes and eyelids,
  3. 45 positions for our lower jaw,
  4. 43 distinct and separate muscle movements in the face giving us a combination of 10,000 identifiable facial configurations,
  5. Fleeting facial expressions that last for four hundredth of a second.

Subhan’Allah! If Allah (swt) is the Creator, we are a marvel of His creation.

Sunnah Living is Healthy Living – Gems

sunnah#Gems 1: Holistic food is a natural food which works in a natural manner.

#Gems 2: Human beings are holistic because they have a body, mind and soul.

#Gems 3: God has provided humans with holistic facilities in their surroundings for their survival.

#Gems 4: Natural foods, herbs, exercise and natural therapy can give holistic benefits.

#Gems 5: Religion and spirituality always heal holistically.

#Gems 6: What is a lifestyle modification?

  • Correct eating
  • 6-8 hours of night sleep
  • Stress management
  • Body-compatible exercise
  • Food supplements

#Gems 7: Objective of lifestyle modification -To connect internal environment with external environment or microcosmos (human body) with macrocosmos (universe).

#Gems 8: Health equation:

Food                50%

Sleep               20%

Exercise           20%

Genes              10%

#Gems 9: Fact – Your entire body rebuilds itself in less than 2 years! Every cell in your body eventually dies and is replaced by new cells.

#Gems 10: Everyday is a new opportunity to build a ‘new body’.

#Gems 11: You need to focus on food if:

  • food is not natural/ processed foods
  • mindless eating
  • no food timings
  • difficulty in controlling the food quantity
  • have food cravings
  • specific food addictions
  • indifferent to various food groups
  • you are struggling with your wt/ health issues
  • your disease is not under control
  • sleep less than 6 hours at night/ poor quality
  • suffer from hyperactive mind syndrome
  • mental aging
  • find peace in smoking, sedatives, sheesha or alcohol
  • not happy with life
  • have fears, guilt, insecurity or inferiority complex
  • no morality, can do negative deeds freely
  • behavioral disorders
  • faith confusions

#Gems 12: Healthy food becomes holistic

If the source of food and medium of cooking is natural, method of cooking is simple and is body-compatible, you are able to digest, assimilate, utilize and eliminate the holistic food fully.

#Gems 13: Good nutrition isn’t just about what goes into the body, it’s about everything that flows forth from heart and soul, and how we feed and nourish the world.

#Gems 14: What are junk foods?

– when we change the structure of a natural food, it becomes junk

– foods which are made with white flour and hydrogenated oil are called junk foods

#Gems 15: Processed or dead foods –

  • long shelf-life foods
  • fortified foods
  • junk foods
  • GMO foods
  • scientific foods

 

#Gems 16: 8 genetically engineered foods you should avoid* –

  1. Soy
  2. Corn
  3. Cottonseed (used in vegetable cooking oils)
  4. Hawaiian papaya
  5. Crookneck squash
  6. Some varieties of Zucchini
  7. Canola (canola oil)
  8. Sugar (from sugar beets)

*Eight foods you should almost never, ever eat by Dr. Joseph Mercola (May 5 2011)

#Gems 17: Junk foods – Cookies, crackers, baked goods, bread, chips, snack foods, fried foods, etc.

#Gems 18: Artificial manures lead inevitably to artificial nutrition, artificial food, artificial animals and finally to artificial men and women.

– Sir Albert Howard | English agronomist (1873-1947)

#Gems 19: Food for thought: How can science-designed artificial foods really benefit us over God-designed natural foods?

#Gems 20: Artificial foods/ diet can lead to animalistic behaviour and eventually to major crimes. Hence we find today, in the history of criminals that they had bad/ artificial diet in their past.

#Gems 21: SLP (Shagufta Liver Program) | 8 rules of diet correction –

  1. Selection of natural foods
  2. Food preference
  3. How much to eat
  4. Correct food timings
  5. Correct food combinations
  6. Food rotation
  7. Food temperature
  8. Correct water intake

#Gems 22: Placed within a spiritual context, the ultimate goal of any dietary philosophy is to take us fully into the body, and beyond the body.

#Gems 23: #FoodMyth – Excess water is good for skin and kidney.

#Gems 24: #FoodMyth – For weight loss, we have to eat less and follow low-calorie foods and heavy gym.

#Gems 25: What are the first steps?

  • replace white flour with whole wheat
  • replace packaged milk with organic
  • replace white sugar with ‘shakar’
  • eliminate cooking oil; use mustard oil, white butter or desi ghee
  • replace broiler chick/ eggs with organic
  • replace processed salt with natural
  • eliminate bottled water with fresh water

#Gems 26: Call a cease-fire on the war against your own body, your weight.

#Gems 27: Stop complaining. Appreciate your body and be happy – it is a creation of Allāh (subhānahu wa ta’āla)!

#Gems 28: Recommended book: Living as Nature Intended (by Dr. Shagufta Feroz).

#Gems 29: Good habits are as addictive as bad habits, but much more rewarding!

#Gems 30: Some tips to reduce radiation emission with cell phone use:

  1. Use a headset
  2. Use speaker mode
  3. Hold phone away from your body
  4. Text more, speak less
  5. Call only when signal is strong
  6. Limit children’s phone use
  7. Skip the ‘radiation shield’
  8. Use a special phone case like Pong
  9. Put your phone on ‘airplane mode’ when your children are around
  10. Keep your phone away from your room when you are asleep

#Gems 31: Do not turn on A/C immediately after entering your car.

#Gems 32: How to relax your eyes while studying or working on a computer?

Relaxing eyes is very important as it not only relaxes your eyes but also takes away other health problems such as headaches, eye strain, poor vision, migraines, etc. and hence it should not be underestimated.

  • Palming is a good relaxation technique. In palming you simply warm up your hands by rubbing them and cover your eyes for a few minutes everyday
  • Looking at a wide picture stress the eyes. Healthier option is if the eyes focus on a centralized portion of the picture
  • Look away every 2 minutes for 4-5 seconds and then get back to work
  • Get up every hour. Take a 5-minute break every hour.
  • Wash eyes with cold water frequently
  • Try to take Vitamin A and C
  • Blink your eyes every few seconds. It relaxes them by giving moisture to the eyes
  • Apply two moist cotton balls that are squeezed in milk to your eyes

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Fighting Stress with the “Four A’s Rule”

stress

A problem recognized is a problem half solved. When we find ourselves under mental pressure, we interchangeably call it anxiety, depression or stress. It is important to identify these as three distinct aspects of mental pressure, which impact our moods in different ways and, therefore, have to be addressed by appropriate kinds of treatment.

Anxiety is a generalized mood condition that can often occur without an identifiable triggering stimulus. Anxiety is related to situations, which are perceived as uncontrollable or unavoidable. disorders are characterized by a sense of doubt and vulnerability about future events. The attention of anxious people is focused on their future prospects and the fear that those future prospects will be bad. For example, how will my children turn out to be? What will be Karachi’s law and order situation? Will my future husband help me practice Islam?

Depression differs from anxiety. Depressed people are not preoccupied with worrying about what might happen to them in the future. They think they already know what will happen, and they believe it will be bad, just like the current miserable state they are in. They start believing in things like “I can never save enough for Hajj” or “I am not capable of learning Arabic”. The key symptoms of depression include:

  • Feeling sad and/or hopeless;
  • Lack of interest and enjoyment in activities that used to be fun and interesting;
  • Physical aches and pains without physical cause and lack of energy;
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering and/or making decisions;
  • Changes in appetite and weight;
  • Unwelcome changes in usual sleep pattern;
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.

Stress is completely different from anxiety or depression. Stress can be defined as a state we experience, when there is a mismatch between perceived demands and perceived ability to cope. Whether we feel stress or not depends upon the balance between how we view demands, and how we think we can cope with those demands.

Strategies for Fighting Stress

There is a “Four ‘As’ Rule” for fighting stress in our day to day life.

‘A’ for Avoid

“The greatest prison that people live in is the fear of what other people think.” (David Icke – English writer, public speaker and former professional footballer.)

You are responsible for what is in your head. Remember! A negative mind cannot have positive thoughts. If you are told that the food you are about to eat is poisonous, you would choose to be hungry than eat the poison. Similarly, if you know that a certain situation, person or experience can cause stress, don’t take the chance of digesting this psychological poison. Be wise enough to remove yourself from places and situations that can be stressful. For instance, if you have to go shopping and you know that you can miss your Maghrib prayer, don’t go shopping at that time or go to a mall that has a prayer area. Similarly, if spending too much on unimportant things will drain out your budget and you fear you will not be able to pay Zakah, control your desires, and avoid excessive shopping.

One of the reasons we find ourselves trapped in stressful, useless commitments is our fear of saying ‘no’. Saying ‘no’ is not rude, especially if you are avoiding a stressor. The way you say it has to be gentle, wise and accommodating. We don’t always need to shout, offend or abuse, while saying ‘no’. It can be said with a graceful smile.

Try to have clear priorities in life and avoid all distractions that come in your way to achieve your goals. For example, if you are asked to attend a late night party a day before your child’s exam, try to call, congratulate on the occasion and tell the host your reasons to miss the occasion. You can visit the host prior to the event or at a better time with a gift to compensate for the absence.

There are numerous incidents from the life of the Prophet (sa), which illustrate how he said ‘no’ without hurting anyone’s feelings. One of them is mentioned in the following Hadeeth:

Abu Dharr (rtam) narrated: “We fasted with the Messenger of Allah (sa) in Ramadan and he did not lead us in praying Qiyam until there were seven days left in the month, when he led us in praying Qiyam until one-third of the night had passed. Then he did not lead us in praying Qiyam when there were six days left. Then he led us praying Qiyam when there were five days left until one-half of the night had passed. I said: “O Messenger of Allah! What if we spend the rest of this night praying Nafl?” He said: “Whoever prays Qiyam with the Imam until he finishes, Allah will record for him the Qiyam of a (whole) night.” (An-Nasai)

Note the Prophet’s (sa) response to Abu Dharr (rtam). He did not reply ‘no’ to his question though his answer implied this. He simply informed him that if he follows the Imam, it will be as if he spent the whole night praying Nafl.

‘A’ for Alter

Avoiding is not always possible. In cases, when complete avoiding is not a good choice, you can alter the situation to have a pleasant and agreeable setup. Remember: our decisions are very important for us, but we need to show concern and respect for our family and friends, too, which is a very important characteristic of a Muslim.

A Hadeeth states: “…friendliness toward people is half of (one’s) intelligence.” (Bayhaqi) Here friendliness is considered to be intelligence, because it helps a Muslim be sociable and stay out of fights, abuses and trickeries, which can only be done by intelligent minds.

Alter situations to avoid confrontations.

If your husband does not like your cooking, try to see what you can do to alter that. Request your mother-in-law or sister-in-law for recipes that work. At times, it is only a matter of adding a few spices or getting rid of some. By doing a thing as simple as that, you can have a pleasant, joyful dining experience with your spouse.

If you find yourself spending too much time on maintaining your house, shift to a simple lifestyle that will give you relief from maintenance and a lot more time for studying religion and enjoying with family.

Another Hadeeth says: “The believer is one who is sociable (with others), and there is no good in one who is not sociable (with others), nor in one who is not met sociably (by them).” (Bayhaqi and Al-Hakim).

You cannot and should not avoid people, but meet them in a way that is best in Islam.

Abu Burdah (rtam) narrated: Abu Musa (rtam) said: “I was with the Prophet (sa) when he was encamping at Al-Jaranah (a place) between Makkah and Madinah. Bilal (rtam) was with him. A Bedouin came to the Prophet (sa) and said: ‘Won’t you fulfill what you have promised me?’ The Prophet (sa) said: ‘Rejoice (at what I will do for you).’ The Bedouin said: ‘(You have said to me) rejoice too often.’ Then the Prophet (sa) turned to me (i.e. Abu Musa (rtam)) and Bilal (rtam) in an angry mood and said: ‘The Bedouin has refused the good tidings, so you both accept them.’ Bilal (rtam) and I said: ‘We accept them.’ Then the Prophet (sa) asked for a drinking bowl containing water and washed his hands and face in it; then he took a mouthful of water and threw it therein saying (to us): ‘Drink (some of) it and pour (some) over your faces and chests and be happy at the good tidings.’ They both took the drinking bowl and did as instructed. Umm Salamah (rtaf) called from behind a screen: ‘Keep something (of the water) for your mother.’ So they left some of it for her.” (Bukhari)

Again, note the Prophet’s (sa) response to the Bedouin to whom he (sa) had promised something but could not ultimately deliver. He told him kindly to rejoice but the audacious reply of the Bedouin ended up enraging them. He did not, however, make a mountain out of a molehill. He did not reply in kind. He applied the “alter” principle and directed the attention of those present to something else entirely different.

‘A’ for Adapt

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Just accept that you can’t always be the wronged one. Self pity and blaming everything on others is a full stop to progress. There are things in life that you can control and change through proper planning and time management. For instance, if you are always late for Salah, see how you can adapt your lifestyle to be punctual. Plan your activities such that they do not fall into Salah time. Stop all work with the Adhan. Get up and perform Wudhu. You can even switch off your phone. Likewise, if you are always late for work, maybe you can wake up a little earlier or use a route with less traffic. Try to adapt to situations that cannot be avoided.

The following incident from the life of Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah (rtam) illustrates how the Companions of the Prophet (sa) used the ‘adapt’ principle instead of stressing about things (or people) they could not change.

The Prophet (sa) once sent Amr ibn Al-As (rtam) to Dhat As-Salasil, Syria, on an expedition. When he arrived in Syria, he noticed that the enemy was great in number. He sent a message to the Messenger (sa), asking him for reinforcements. The Prophet (sa) then sent Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah (rtam) with a unit, comprising some of the early Muhajirun, including Abu Bakr (rtam) and Umar (rtam). Abu Ubaidah (rtam) was the commander of this unit.

Before dispatching this unit, the Prophet (sa) instructed Abu Ubaidah (rtam) that he should not differ with Amr ibn Al-As (rtam).

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) left with his unit and when he reached Dhat As-Salasil, Amr (rtam) told him: “You have come to reinforce my army and I am its commander.”

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) replied: “I remain in my position as you remain in yours.” (This meant that he would lead his unit while Amr (rtam) would lead the rest of the army.)

Amr (rtam) insisted: “No, you have been sent to reinforce my army.”

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) responded: “O Amr! The Messenger (sa) told me that the two of us should not differ. So even if you disobey me, I will obey you.”

Amr (rtam) said: “In that case, I am your commander and you are reinforcing me.”

Abu Ubaidah (rtam) agreed. Amr (rtam) stepped forward and led the prayer. After the expedition was over and the Prophet (sa) was informed about this, he said: “May Allah have mercy upon Abu Ubaidah bin Al-Jarrah!” (Ibn Katheer)

In the process of adapting, you may find the following tips useful:

  • Always keep ‘time buffers’: a certain amount of extra time in your schedule for dealing with circumstances beyond your control. For example, instead of running to catch a plane at the eleventh hour, leave a little early for managing the traffic jams. If you reach early, you will be less hassled and more relaxed.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle for managing your level of stress. Make sure that your routine includes exercise, healthy food, leisure activities and time for family.
  • Try to decrease competition and sense of time urgency in life. Keep your cool and show your strengths only when required. Your softer side should be prevalent.
  • Also remember that we have to understand the Islamic perspective of challenges and hardships. These may be:
  • Mismanagement: Not using Allah’s (swt) blessings properly means paying a hefty price. This includes our time, money, health and all forms of Rizq.
  • Punishment: Sometimes, it is our own evil that is coming around. A thorough repentance and mending relations with blood relatives is a very important remedial. During times of trials, along with repentance, try to give Sadaqah (charity) as well.
  • Blessing in disguise: When you find yourself buried under layers of darkness like Yunus (as), follow his example: remember the Creator of that darkness. Some lessons are learnt only the hard way.
  • Try to improve your life by identifying major causes of stress, which may be:
  • Love of the world: Controlling our reactions is crucial. Equally important is the need to take a closer look at our lifestyles. Too much love of worldly possessions creates fear of loss and depression. Limit your wants by knowing your needs. Avoid indulgence.
  • Lack of proper nutrition: Eating inorganic, fast food and lack of routine in proper eating habits spoils the mood. If one does not eat at proper intervals, or if one starves for too long only to fill up the stomach with junk food, then the brain is confused to the extent that it treats hunger as stress. The body responds to hunger not by eating (because it is not trained to), but by shouting, screaming and showing irritation.
  • Lack of proper sleep: Agitation is also a common reaction to sleep deprivation. A healthy, sound sleep makes us happy and relaxed. By staying up for too long, we become irritable and angry.

One more important factor keeping people away from emotional stability is uncontrolled thoughts. Have you ever noticed that your last thought before going to sleep is the first one that you have when you wake up? For the entire night, our brain is engaged in thoughts. So make Dua, thank Allah (swt) and think positively, as you lie down to sleep. Avoid horror movies or late night talks.

‘A’ for Accept

For circumstances beyond human control, we need to accept the situation and place our Tawakkal (reliance) on Allah (swt). This means that you should trust and depend on Allah’s (swt) will without complaining. “Nay! Verily, man does transgress all bounds (in disbelief and evil deed, etc.). Because he considers himself self-sufficient.” (Al-Alaq 96:6-7) If harm touches us, and we are not able to solve it through Halal means, then we should accept it as a decree of Allah (swt) and hope for good times to come in the future. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “So verily, with hardship, there is relief. Verily, with hardship, there is relief (i.e., there is one hardship with two reliefs, so one hardship cannot overcome two reliefs).” (Ash-Sharh 94:5-6)

Remember that perfection lies in being unapologetic about the imperfections of our lives. It is okay if your height, complexion, mental capacity or family life is not the way you wanted it, because it is exactly the way Allah (swt) wants it.

“Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.” Oscar Wilde

You will find within yourself a great energy to improve and enjoy if you stop questioning destiny.

In “Enjoy your Life”, Dr. Al-Arifi narrates the following incident. Once, the Prophet (sa) went out on an expedition with his Companions. After a while, their food started running out and they felt weak. The Prophet (sa) instructed them to gather whatever food they had. He spread his cloak. One man came forward with a date or two; another brought a piece of bread. When all the food was collected, they sat down and ate with contentment. It is quite obvious that none of them ate his fill, but at least they ate something. All of them applied the ‘accept’ principle without stressing about the fact that they had little food or where would they get more of it from.

Allah (swt) has placed our eyes at the front of our head, because it is more important to look ahead than to look back. Don’t dwell on things in the past. Learn from them and keep moving on.

Emotional stress is a subjective illusion created by the human mind. If stress were real and objective, like, for example, gravity, then it would impact everyone the same way. Stress eats away our bottom lines and affects our mental health, personalities and attitudes. Control it before it starts controlling you.

Don’t forget to develop a sense of thankfulness towards Allah (swt). The more we thank Allah (swt) for what we have and what is happening with us, the less we get upset for what we do not have and what is not happening with us.

Allah (swt) has promised in the Quran: “…If you give thanks (by accepting faith and worshipping none but Allah), I will give you more (of My Blessings)…” (Ibrahim 14:7)

Dhikr in any form is a very good medicine for stress. Allah (swt) says in the Quran: “Those who believe (in the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism), and whose hearts find rest in the remembrance of Allah, verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” (Ar-Rad 13:28)

Likewise, it is our responsibility, as Muslims, to ensure that we are not triggering stress in the lives of others. We often do that unintentionally by asking too many questions about someone’s personal life, weak points and embarrassing aspects of their lives that they don’t want to share. Also, avoid pointing out other people’s anomalies or weaknesses.

If we wouldn’t have any difficulties in our lives, we would not have the chance for recognizing our true potential. We don’t need to be strong in every situation, we don’t need to be always winning and we don’t even need to be happy all the time. We just need to be Muslims in submission to Allah’s (swt) will, grateful for His blessings, patient in times of trial and never losing hope. Keep trying, seeking help from Allah (swt) and hoping for the best.

Let me reiterate this: Muslims are the Khulafa of Allah (swt) on the Earth. It is only because of our own condition that the world is in this state of chaos. We need to take control of our lives and stresses. We are responsible for the world we live in.

A 9-year-old’s stress

9-year-old

Summer vacation was over and the kids had just returned to school, starting their new session. It was still the first week in their new grades. One particular mother was having trouble putting the children onto an earlier bedtime schedule. Marium, her 9 nine-year-old would especially not co-operate. No matter what mum said and did, Marium would not just budge. Exasperated, mum requested her husband to take over before she ended up in an ugly tussle with their daughter. Following is the conversation between father and daughter:

Dad: “Marium, sweetheart, I want to talk to you. Mum is saying you are not co-operating much. Is something the matter? It seems like something is eating you.”

Marium: “I’ve got a lot of worries!”

Dad: “Really, well let me hear them all. Let’s talk in your room.”

Dad and Marium head to Marium’s room. Twenty minutes later dad comes out of the room smirking to himself.

A bewildered mum asks: “What happened?”

Dad: “Nothing. I put her to bed.”

Mum: “Just like that?”

Dad: “I wrote down her worries.”

Mum: “And?”

Dad: “And I read them back to her.”

Mum: “Then what happened?”

Dad: “I promised her that I will help her tackle her issues on the weekend. She put her list under her pillow, changed into her night suit and went to bed.”

The next morning when mum was changing Marium’s bedsheets, her list fell to the floor. Here’s what it said:

What’s worrying Marium?

  1. Messy closet and bedroom. She has to share her room with her younger sister Alyah who is a 4-year-old, not willing to put any stuff back in its place.
  2. Great deal of work at school and plenty of thick books to carry.
  3. Having trouble understanding the new Math chapter.
  4. Needs more spending allowance for school snacks as prices have hiked since past term.
  5. Lost brand new pencil case in school.
  6. Some younger kids in her school bus are naughty and irritating.
  7. Has no decent pair of sandals to wear to her best friend’s upcoming party.

Mum smiled as she read the note. She realized that as grownups we assume that only we have real troubles in life. It’s easy to forget that children can have them too. And just like us, they need someone to listen and take their worries seriously. For an adult they may sound childish and petty. But for a child they mean the world: a world they live in. The worst thing that an adult can do is dismiss or ridicule a child’s sentiments, terming them as senseless or wrong. As they say, you do not teach swimming to a drowning person. When listening to worries, just hear them out. Discussions can ensue at a later time. By then, some issues have already taken care of themselves and some are more open to be talked about.

“Children need to hear an unqualified acceptance of their emotions of the moment. A response that conveys full understanding without reservation or judgment empowers young people and grants them the courage to begin to deal with their problems.” (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)

Adapted from “How to talk so kids can learn”    

It’s not Bad to be Sad

sadCo-authored by Umm Isam

We often aim to escape from a phase of sadness, assuming that it’s not a ‘good’ or ‘normal’ state to be in. We feel sorry for people, who are undergoing certain sorrow or distress. Have we wondered why we are feeling this way? We often fail to realize that sadness is an emotion just like any other emotion in our life. Why do we feel so bad about being sad? How did we come to this conclusion that sadness is bad and happiness is good? Let’s look into some reasons which we fail to acknowledge.

It is important to note that we live in a capitalist structure of society, which was initiated in the era of industrialization. Capitalism defines the society in a way that everyone seeks happiness in a certain object or material product. It has designed the media, products, schooling system, movies and dramas in a way that depicts a constant search for material happiness. Media is a powerful agent of the capitalists. They use it to condition humans in a way that their subconscious mind is engraved into attaining worldly or material products in order to gain happiness.

A prominent example is the common ad of skin whitening creams, which always show two main scenes: the first scene with a girl who looks dull, dark and ‘sad’; the second scene shows a girl who looks fresh, fair and ‘happy’. Our mind is way smarter than we perceive it to be; hence, it catches even the slightest details and stores it in our subconscious memory. Next time, when we face a similar situation, we tend to pick what’s available in our subconscious mind. In this case, the media has fed us to look for happiness in a simple skin whitening cream.

Another common example of imposed happiness can be seen on Facebook. Have you ever noticed on Facebook any pictures of your friends crying or looking dull? I am sure not or very rarely. Even if people are feeling gloomy and sad, they pose with hugs and smiles when someone brings out the camera. It is obvious that they are smiling merely for Facebook and do not feel the actual happiness of that smile. This happens because of the basic concept that we have to be happy all the time, which is neither necessary nor natural.

Media perpetuates products and ads, which depict humans fetching happiness all the time, or it tries to provide steps of gaining ultimate happiness. Movies and dramas are filled with ‘they lived happily ever after’, happy endings and successful protagonists, giving us a message that we have to avail happiness in the same way, and if we don’t, then we are not normal.

Furthermore, the system of capitalism has also initiated many diseases, for example, depression, bipolar disorders and even eating disorders. It depicts and defines ‘happy’ for us, and then we develop a feeling of Hasad (envy) trying to seek that happiness for ourselves; hence, we increase the risks of such diseases as depression and anxiety. The societal pressure to look happy weighs people down so heavily that they often need to seek professional help.  People experiencing depression visit psychiatrists, who prescribe anti-depressants. These drugs are highly priced and require to be taken for a long time. Pharmaceutical companies are making millions out of them, so they rope in doctors, who at times are not even qualified to prescribe these drugs. Furthermore, the chemicals in these drugs prevent the self-correctional process of human body that Allah (swt) has granted, thus throwing everything into disarray. Sometimes, all a sad person needs is counselling from another wise person or friend, instead of antidepressants.

The pressure to feel joyful is so immense that when a child falls or a teenager fails at something, parents don’t even want to acknowledge their sorrow. A child is told that all is okay and he must not cry. The adolescent is admonished to display bravado and not immaturity. In contrast, psychologists strongly advise to acknowledge these distressful feelings and emotionally empathize with these kids. This is to ensure that they will trust their feelings the next time. If we muffle them, they would eventually become desensitized and won’t respond to anybody’s pain, assuming it to be wrong. If we cut our finger and do not acknowledge it, we can actually bleed to death unknowingly. It is Allah’s (swt) mercy to feel hurt in order to recover and survive.

Allah (swt) designed everything with symmetry. If there is hot, then there is cold, too. Too much of anything makes survival difficult and can eventually destroy the system. Similarly, Allah (swt) designed happiness and sadness together, complimenting each other and giving symmetry to our life.

We, as Muslims, are well aware of the fact that nothing can stay forever. How can we expect happiness or even sadness to stay forever in our lives? A common example is going on a vacation. We enjoy ourselves and experience great happiness; however, if the vacation gets too long, we eventually start getting homesick. This is because nothing can keep us happy or sad forever. The system of Allah (swt) is flawless and everything is balanced with both positives and negatives.

Allah (swt) is the One, Who makes us happy or sad. In a state of sadness, we are not permitted to utter the words of Kufr, fall into disbelief, pose threat or harm to others, and doubt the existence of Allah (swt), or whether He has forsaken us. Some incidents in life cannot be explained through reasoning and seem very unjust, but Duniya is not Dar-ul-Jaza (a place where we will be rewarded). It is imperfect. It is a place of test for a believer, so he can score well with Sabr and Salah and attain the most exquisite bounties of Paradise, which will be perfect. Good people may be afflicted with severe hardships. Sadness should be a means to draw closer to our Rabb (swt) and ask for forgiveness.

If you remember Allah (swt) in times of joy, He will stay close to you in times of distress. A strong believer never forgets his Creator and always invokes Him alone for strength in sadness.

Instead of looking for happiness all the time, we should consider the perfect system designed by Allah (swt) and realize that no matter which emotion we experience, it should be treated well. Research has shown that crying can actually make people feel better and relieve the stress that was accumulating in their body. Therefore, it is better to let your sadness out and feel it completely; however, we should not let it overpower us and influence our lifestyle. We should learn from life events and move on. Don’t allow the media to condition a definition of happiness for you; rather, develop your own happiness. Be adventurous, take risks and always trust Allah (swt).

What’s Wrong with These Men?

men

Men on Vacations

You are on your dream getaway to the end of the Earth. Hand in hand with your husband, you board the plane and land on Kankoon islands. Once on the beach, you swing in a hammock, rocking gently. The palm trees above sway in the breeze. The calm blue ocean stretches before you as far as the sight can gaze. The warm white sand beneath nestles wondrous shells. You can feel a smile on your face, as you quietly hear the sounds of the waves rolling on to the shore. Such serenity, such tranquility, such peace! Ah! Just the time and place for romance.

And, suddenly, you hear a snort, a snore and a growl. As you flip around, your better half is fast asleep with his mouth wide open. The romance that was to ensue is obviously not going to take place. Frustrated and frowning, you wonder how anyone can bother to kill time sleeping in this paradise? After spending millions and travelling for miles away from the crazy mayhem at home, he chooses to doze off, instead of romancing me? Guess what? You shot in your own foot and gave him no other choice.

In order to understand a man’s behaviour, one needs to step into his world. For most of them, in the 8 to 10 hours that they spend at work, regardless of their profession, the day is filled with action and challenges. Planning, executing, leading, deciding, meeting, multi-tasking, directing and taking orders – this is usually a man’s day at work. This is a demand that he needs to meet every day. In our modern day and age, because of an over-competitive culture, less people are hired to tackle more work. Hence, this man generally has to take care of demands that require him to stretch his coping ability. If he succeeds, he feels pleasure and elation and a good type of stress called eustress. But if his coping ability fails to meet the demands, he feels low and disappointed, which gives him negative stress called distress.

Now, when such individuals are exposed to a non-challenging environment, where their perceived coping abilities outweigh the perceived demand created, boredom and frustration occurs. For such active individuals, it is best to opt for more adventurous holidays, such as trekking, bungee jumping, scuba diving, sky diving, driving into wilderness, camping or rafting. Chances are that such engaging vacations will thrill them. You will catch them smiling often and cracking jokes, as they feel decisive, confident, understanding and euphoric. This state depicts eustress: the good stress, under which you perform your very best. This is when the chemical messenger/hormone noradrenaline increases. Physically, one can feel goose bumps rise. Pupils dilate, hearing is acute, palms and feet become sweaty and a feeling of excitement engulfs without anger and hostility.

Thus, no matter how much you love the calm of coconut beaches, that’s not the place for your romantic retreat.

Even at home, Sundays for many families are miserable. Wives bitterly complain that their husbands either choose to plant themselves before a machine (laptop, television, etc.) or snooze every now and then. The best way to get them to their feet is to excite them with some action that challenges their perceived coping abilities. It could be building something, playing sport or cooking barbeque outdoors, in other words, anything that requires alertness, thinking and decision making. Otherwise, if you leave them lounging about at home, you will find them curled in a corner sleeping away most definitely, as they are bored out of their mind and find little to sink in their teeth into.

Men after Retirement

Now that you have an understanding of how a man’s work life generally is, you can very well imagine how he feels when he is given a golden handshake, retires or is asked to leave. Most men suffer from multiple disorders and serious health conditions after their retirement and not during their active work tenure. Why? They undergo strokes, heart attacks and other such fatal illnesses, when they are resting in peace at home, not while they were active in service. It’s because it is distressful for them to be of no use to anyone, while they most probably still could have been. They have enjoyed their moments in the limelight, raked in many badges of honour and have been the best workers on force like the salt of the Earth. For this reason, we often hear several embellished versions of their active employment days long after they have retired.

When this man is sent home after years of meeting challenges, his perceived coping abilities are still high but the perceived demand is very low. He is expected to rest, sleep, play with his grandchildren or read books, when he still could have been doing far more. It is a world they have a hard time being part of. We often hear our mothers and mothers-in-law complaining about our fathers and fathers-in-law that they have transformed into grumpy old goats and throw volcanic temper tantrums.

In Islam, there is no logic of retirement. Our beloved Prophet (sa) died at the age of 63 years and was working until then. The concept of retirement is the capitalist society’s need to replace old ideas with new ones, less vigour with more and old with new, in order to serve their demands. And, as a lollipop, they hand over some package or finances to console their lifelong servant, who has given the best of his years and ability to them. In reality, these corporations have made far more profits, while this man was employed with them, than what they offer him at the end of his service. They still get the better deal.

Hence, a Muslim man should keep this in view and gradually taper off, rather than sit at home and wait for death to catch him in his rocking chair. His family should facilitate this important transition and find value in his remaining energy, experiences and capabilities. Otherwise, the person, who experiences depression and loss of control, also produces large amount of cortisol: a chemical messenger/hormone that suppresses the immune system, if it exceeds its normal range. Prolonged effects of cortisol can lead to feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, chronic anxiety and depression.

The crux of it all is that every believer has to engage in activities that offer him situations to control and excel at. In cases of retired men, learning new technology could be interesting. Offering consultancy based on their experiences could be another area to explore. Offering services to philanthropic organizations free of charge or at nominal cost can be very motivating and gratifying.

Women play a very significant role in this. Get the men moving, when they find themselves redundant and useless. But refrain from nagging or overdoing it, as it may backfire. Hikmah (wisdom), pure Neeyah (intention) to help them and Dua (prayer) are very important. They all need situations worth exploring, glimmering with excitement, taking chances and making mistakes just like children do.

When Stimulants Become Stressors…

stimulants

What’s the first thing we do after waking up in the morning?  Besides going to the washroom, we try to freshen ourselves with a rejuvenating cup of tea or coffee and in some cases, light up a cigarette, too. Have we ever pondered over why we need such stimulants?

Stimulants are used to elevate mood and enhance self-confidence. They produce alertness, decrease fatigue and prolong physical work. All stimulants increase blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. The body temperature is elevated by the effect caused by increased muscle activity and constricted blood vessels. Many people consider only hardcore drugs to be stimulants, while actually the classification of stimulants includes caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines and cocaine.

To every upside, there’s a downside. Stimulants provide your body with a false and unpredictable high. However, the energy boost associated with intaking any of these stimulants is short-lived. This boomerang effect of going up and down only contributes more to anxiety, depression and stress.

Caffeine

The main stimulant in our lives is caffeine, which is found in tea, coffee, chocolates and even carbonated beverages. It acts as a stimulant to the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system, which initiates the fight/flight response, causing the adrenal glands to release more stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) into the bloodstream; these levels are already too high due to the stress we experience, and caffeine exacerbates them even more.

Caffeine is one of the most widely consumed drugs in the world today; yet, our body has absolutely no requirement for it. Professor James Lane (Duke University Medical Center) carried out research on 72 people, who regularly drank 4-5 cups of coffee a day. The data from this study revealed that this level of coffee consumption produced a 32% rise in levels of the stress hormone adrenaline and a 14% rise in the levels of the stress hormone noradrenaline. Professor Lane’s research also revealed that caffeine in 4-5 cups of coffee elevated the blood pressure, which increases the risk of stroke by 34% and the chance of heart attack by 21%.

Nicotine

Nicotine, another common stimulant used in our society, is claimed to give relief and feeling of freedom within an individual. However, nicotine has been linked to stress. The relation between nicotine and stress is very much like that between the chicken and the egg – which one comes first? Does stress cause people to smoke? Or maybe the nicotine in tobacco causes people to feel stressed? The answers might surprise you.

It’s all part of a trick nicotine is playing on our bodies, and it starts with nicotine addiction. While many people may feel they are using tobacco as a way to relax or de-stress, nicotine actually causes the opposite effect. Studies have found that nicotine intensifies stress. Feelings of calmness or pleasure during tobacco use are really just momentary reliefs from the unpleasant effects that come along with nicotine cravings (including stress). Those feelings of stress and anxiety will return once the nicotine leaves the body system, and the cycle begins again.

Staying Away from Stimulants

  1. Withdrawing Daily Stimulants

The body that we possess is an Amanah of Allah (swt) and we will be held accountable on the Day of Judgement, as to how we treated this Amanah. Therefore, it is our responsibility to keep ourselves healthy and focus on natural elements, rather than becoming dependent on unnecessary stimulants. Ibn Umar (rtam) reported Allah’s Messenger (sa) saying: “Every intoxicant is Khamr, and every intoxicant is forbidden. He, who drinks wine in this world and dies while he is addicted to it, not having repented, will not be given a drink in the hereafter.” (Muslim)

One might argue that stimulants are not intoxicants. However, they certainly are co-related and a leading cause of deteriorating health and untimely death. What can be more fatal?

  1. Give an Alternative to Your Body – Fruit Teas

It can take up to three days to totally eliminate all stimulants from the body, especially caffeine.  People, who have given up such stimulants, have found that they are less stressed; also, their sleep improves and they have more energy. A common mistake many people make, when withdrawing from stimulants is that they don’t drink any other fluid. It is important to maintain fluid intake.  There are a number of alternatives to caffeine and nicotine, which may include such fruit teas as black currant or apple, such herbal teas as chamomile and peppermint, fruit juices and decaffeinated tea and coffee. Limit your caffeine intake or ideally switch to caffeine free beverages.

It’s important to reduce your caffeine intake slowly, over time and not to stop it all at once, because some people can suffer withdrawal effects and have severe headaches. Reduce by one cup per week and replace it with a decaffeinated version. Do this over time, until you have replaced all your caffeine drinks with non-caffeine tea, coffee, fruit tea, fruit juice, water, etc.

  1. Proper Sleep Management – Relax

A lack of sleep is a significant cause of stress. Unfortunately, stress also interrupts our sleep, as thoughts keep whirling through our heads, stopping us from relaxing enough to fall asleep.

Rather than relying on medication, your aim should be to maximize your relaxation before going to sleep. Make sure that your bedroom is a tranquil oasis with no reminders of the things that cause you stress. Avoid caffeine during the evenings, if you know that this leads to disturbed sleep. Stop doing any mentally demanding work several hours before going to bed, so that you give your brain time to calm down. Try taking a warm bath or reading a calming, undemanding book for a few minutes to relax your body, tire your eyes and help you forget about the things that worry you. You should also aim to go to bed at roughly the same time every day, so that your mind and body can get used to a predictable bedtime routine. Recite Surah Al-Mulk as per the Prophet’s (sa) Sunnah.

  1. Channel Your Stress Effectively – Exercise

Physical exercise can be used as a surrogate to metabolize the excessive stress hormones and restore your body and mind to a calmer, more relaxed state. When you feel stressed and tense, go for a brisk walk in fresh air. Try to incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine on a regular basis, either before or after work, or at lunchtime. Regular physical activity will also improve the quality of your sleep.

  1. Approach the Correct Solution – Pray and Repent

Abu Hurairah (rtam) narrated: When a matter would worry the Prophet (sa), he would raise his head up toward the sky and say: “Glory is to Allah, the Magnificent (Subhan Allahil-Adheem).” And when he would strive in supplication, he would say: “O the Living, O Sustainer (Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum).” (At-Tirmidhi)

In yet another incident, it was narrated by Abdullah bin Abbas (rtam) that the Messenger of Allah (sa) said: “Whoever persists in asking for forgiveness, Allah (swt) will grant him relief from every worry and a way out from every hardship, and will grant him provision from (sources) he could never imagine.” This is a clear inspiration for us. Instead of relying on immediate solutions involving worldly stimulants, we should depend upon the ultimate Provider and Sustainer: Allah (swt). Ask Allah (swt) to free you from your stress, and eventually it will give you relief, Insha’Allah.

Some Conditions that can be Exacerbated by Caffeine

  • Stress
  • Panic attacks
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Cystitis
  • Heart burn
  • Diabetes
  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Palpitations
  • Glaucoma
  • Menopause
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Bi-polar depression
  • High blood pressure
  • Pre-Menstrual tension
  • Mood swings

Effects of Caffeine on Our Body

  • Increases heart rate
  • Lowers blood sugar
  • Depletes vitamin B6
  • Increases blood pressure
  • Speeds up loss of vitamins and minerals
  • Increases blood cholesterol levels