And that’s not just anecdotal. Recent studies have shown that people of almost all age groups are experiencing increasing levels of stress in their lives, and the stability of our mental health as a result is one of the things that worries us the most.
As Muslims, do we have ways that we can cope with this anxiety-driven life? Are there things within our religion, our worldview, or our daily practices that can help us find solitude in the midst of the rush to get that promotion and make the grade?
No religion can completely remove stress. That is not the job of any faith, particularly Islam. Stress is a natural part of our existence and it is there to bring out the best of us, as most people respond to a stressful challenge by pushing back even harder.
Religion is about providing a path to help answer the big questions like: Why are we here? And what does this all mean? Islam does, however, have within it a rhythm.
Submitting to that rhythm brings us peace – the very meaning of Islam – which brings stress to a more reasonable and manageable level. Here is how I have worked to reduce stress and improve my life balance through Islam.
Pray… On Time
I know that saying this is basic to the point of being ridiculous, as prayer is one of the essential elements of our faith. However, in the environment we live in, praying (on time) can be one of the most difficult and demanding things that a Muslim does.
Because prayer asks you to give up what is without a doubt the most valuable thing in our world today: time.
In the mosque you hear people all the time telling you “What’s the big deal? It’s just ten minutes or so five times per day. Islam is easy, and prayer is easy too.” That might work out for someone who is retired or doesn’t have to keep working hours.
Try saying that to a university student three days before a major exam, or even to an adult who must finish work, pick up the kids from school, get the groceries, and take the car to get repaired (oh yeah, and there’s a big meeting on Wednesday), and the concept gets more complicated.
To solve this problem, change the way you think about organizing your day. Put the prayer times first, and then plan other obligations around them. Pick up the kids after Asr, and then go buy the groceries after Maghrib. Don’t let your prayer obligations sneak up on you and they won’t be a problem.
Ultimately, keeping yourself oriented around prayer times and putting them first will lead to a more scheduled and balanced existence, all while fulfilling one of Islam’s most important obligations.
Recognize… De-Stressing is Part of Islam
When we hear people talk about Islam it is often to tell us lists of things that we should do but aren’t doing enough of. You don’t give charity enough, you should go to the mosque more, you should treat your parents better, etc.
Here’s another: you should take more time to de-stress, and it’s a critical part of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), whose life was entirely dedicated to God and Islam, spent time relaxing and encouraging others to do so as well.
In one famous Hadith found in both Al-Bukhari and Muslim, the Prophet entered the home of Aisha and found two girls singing songs and banging on drums. When Aisha’s father, Abu Bakr, came into the room and admonished them for disrespecting the presence of the Prophet, the Prophet answered back by saying “Leave them alone.”
In the same Hadith, the Prophet then asks Aisha whether she would like to watch a group of Abyssinians playing with shields and spears, to which she agrees. They both sit together and watch until Aisha indicates that she is ready to leave.
The events contained in this Hadith show that activities such as relaxation, singing, playing, and just plain enjoying life are just as much a part of our religion as giving charity and honoring our parents. There are numerous other Hadiths that point to the same ideas and encourage Muslims to do things such as play sports and exercise.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, take just a few minutes off and realize that, by doing so, you are fulfilling a Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
In conclusion, Islam and the daily life of being a Muslim are never going to reduce your stress levels, anxiety, or remove the pressures of living in our modern world.
What Islam does provide, however, is the opportunity to bring these things into balance. Make sure that the things that matter (prayer and health, for example) at the top of the priority list and put the rest of your obligations in their proper place.