Stress has unfortunately become a normal part of our lives. In modern society, it is one of the silent culprits that affects anyone. A little might not be too bad for anyone, but continuous stress can cause negative effects on your mind, body and overall life.
A stress statistic data showed that 77% of people in the U.S. regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress. Long-term stress can cause headache, acne, chest pain, high blood pressure, fatigue, teeth grinding, depression, anxiety etc.
Making use of stress management methods is essential to take charge of one’s own health and mind. Although it is not an easy job, managing stress is a prerequisite to living a healthy and happy life. I have suffered from stress for a long time without realizing it, so to help manage your own stress, here are 9 practical tips that helped me keep stress at bay:
1. Exercise regularly
Exercise is one of the most effective treatments against stress. Not only does it reduce stress levels, but it can also reduce fatigue, improve concentration levels and the physical ability to fight disease. Research shows that doing exercise in the morning on an empty stomach has a greater impact than at other time. If you feel a lack in energy, you can eat a few dates to stabilize your blood sugar levels.
Exercising every morning for 20-30 minutes is a great way to start your day. There are many different types of exercise to choose from, so do whichever is suitable and enjoyable for you.
Start with small changes
Exercise does not always have to be a specific workout; it can include any activity that increases your heart rate, so try being active whenever the opportunity arises. For example, make it a habit to take the stairs instead of the elevator, or walk/bicycle when traveling short distances instead of riding a car.
Our Prophet Muhammad was reported to walk in a fast pace, now known as a power walk. In a hadith, Ali described Muhammad’s vigorous way of walking:
“When he walked, he lifted his leg with vigour. He did not drag his feet on the ground like women do. When he walked, because of the speed and force of the legs, it seemed as if he was descending from a high place.” [Tirmidhi]
In another hadith about the Prophet , Abu Hurairah narrated that:
“I did not see anyone walk faster than him, as if the earth folded for him. A few moments ago he would be here, and then there. We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with him, and he walked at his normal pace.” [Tirmidhi]
Remember that if you take exercise as a chore, after sometime you could lose interest or find excuses not to do it. Therefore, try to encourage your family members to join you, as any activity done with others tends to be more enjoyable.
2. Do breathing exercises
Breathing exercises are another excellent antidote for stress. When you feel really stressed out, try this for 5-10 minutes:
- breathe in with your nose for 5 seconds
- hold your breath for 3 seconds, then
- slowly breathe out through your mouth for a count of 7 seconds
This breathing exercise will calm your body and you will start to feel relaxed. Just remember to breathe with your belly, specifically your diaphragm (the muscle that sits just below your lungs), rather than your chest, for more efficient breathing.
Doing this regularly is good for a healthy body and mind. Studies have shown that doing a similar breathing technique while meditating for as little as 8 minutes a day can slow down the negative effects associated with ageing.
3. Eat right
Most people do not realize it, but food can also affect stress levels. Certain types of food and drink can increase stress levels, such as fast foods, butter, cheese, meat, shellfish, sugar, tea, coffee, and soft drinks. This does not mean that you have to avoid them completely, but you should consume them in moderation.
Remember that Allah says:
“… And eat and drink, but be not excessive. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” [Qur’an: Chapter 7, Verse 31]
Some people like to drink tea or coffee when they are stressed from their studies or work. It may feel refreshing for a short time, but they also contain certain neuro-stimulators like caffeine and theo-bromine, which are proven to increase stress levels.
Fortunately, there are also some foods that can help relieve stress, particularly foods with a high vitamin and mineral content. These include fresh vegetables and fruits, yogurt and green smoothies. Eating fish that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, trout, sardines and tuna three times a week, can also help reduce stress levels.
4. Sleep well
Sleep is a vital part of our life. To reduce stress-inducing hormones, a good night’s sleep is exceedingly important. When you are tired and not well-rested, your stress hormones increase. You can easily remedy this by sleeping 7-9 hours per night.
However, the best quality sleep occurs in the early part of the night, which is in accordance with the sunnah of the Prophet who advised us to sleep right after ‘Isha salah. Sleeping around 9-10 pm also makes it easier to wake up for Fajr. However, if you happen to wake up in the middle of the night and cannot fall back asleep, get up and pray tahajjud. Also if you get chance, take a short power nap after Dhuhr.
They say laughter is the best medicine and not only is it good for the body, but also for the mind as it can reduce stress hormones. So whenever you get a chance, try to enjoy the blessings of a good laugh. Of course, a lasting smile (also sunnah) can be just as beneficial, as your brain is tricked into being happy thereby releasing stress-relieving chemicals. You could also try other activities that make you happy, like reading a book, baking, or taking a walk.
6. Enjoy the company of family and friends
The lonelier you are, the more you will attract negative feelings. Keep in touch with your family members and close friends to feel better and spread some love. A study from the University of Michigan found that chatting released hormones involved in bonding, which in turn reduced anxiety and stress, thus making the participants happier.
So to reduce stress, enjoy some time with your family and friends by doing any kinds of activity, for example, go for a picnic, a bike ride or just chat. Not only will it help reduce your stress levels but also help to build a strong bonds between each other.
7. Take advantage of your free time
In our busy life, we need some time to enjoy ourselves. You can use your free time in a productive way by doing something to serve your community, or simply relaxing and listening to Qur’an recitation, a lecture by your favorite lecturer, or reading any hadith or Islamic book.
This way you can increase your knowledge and faith, and also help calm your daily struggles. It is a necessary asset in the life of a person who wants to live stress-free. When you learn about of the struggles the sahabah made for their religion or how difficult it was for them initially to even pray five times in a day, a person can easily see that their struggle is small compared with that of our Prophet and his sahabah.
I read an article where a sister mentioned that she had a special place in her house where nobody is allowed to disturb her, not even her children. She went there everyday for some time to praise Almightily Allah as if she was in a cave. Having a similar dhikr zone in your own house is an excellent way to make time to connect with Allah and enjoy some peaceful moments.
As Allah says in the Qur’an:
8. Manage your time well
To manage your time properly, identify your ‘MITs’: most important tasks; and do those first everyday to get them out of the way. You can also develop a routine based on your regular tasks, so you can focus on the tasks that need more attention. There are many apps available to help you, such as 30/30 or Todoist.
“There are two blessings which many people lose: (They are) Health and free time for doing good.” [Bukhari]
9. Be content with what you have
Most of us are not satisfied with what we have. You might be stressed about not getting that promotion, or unsatisfied with your job/salary, or tensed with your children etc. Remember that there are people dealing with harder situations that yourself; some are homeless, jobless, or without children.
In worldly matters, look to those below you to be humbled (looking above you triggers jealousy and ungratefulness), while in religious matters look to those above you to get inspired to reach a higher level of taqwa.
You must always be thankful for what Allah granted you. You might think that what you want is better for you but He knows what is truly best for you. Allah might be giving you what you need or He may be testing your iman so that you may call upon Him and increase in piety. The path you are on is the right one for you, even if you cannot see that right now.
In reality, it is difficult to avoid all sources of stress as we encounter a myriad of situations on a daily basis, but do not let stress control your life. Try to make a little time everyday for your health and well-being, as they are blessings from Allah .
I hope these tips have inspired you to take initiative to actively reduce stress in your life. If you have any other stress management tips please leave them in the comments below.
About the Author
Fariha Jasin Mansur completed her honors at Stamford University, Bangladesh. She earned her Master’s degree from Yamaguchi University, Japan, and is now working on her PhD.