Latest posts by Ariba Dara (see all)
- Bridging Differences: The Art of Creating Agreements - April 6, 2014
- It’s not Bad to be Sad - January 13, 2014
- When Stimulants Become Stressors… - January 13, 2014
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.
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, 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
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- Panic attacks
- Heart burn
- 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