Friday, 22 December 2006

Managing Stress

Stress is an inevitable part of the human condition because the world is a place of hardship and difficulty.

Allah SWT says in the Qur'an:

"Verily, We have created man in toil." (Surah 90: Ayat 4)

When we feel that a particular event threatens our ability to cope effectively we will feel stressed. It is especially stressful when we appraise the situation as both negative and uncontrollable. When these events are perceived as challenges, they can have positive effects by arousing and motivating us to conquer them.

A western psychologist would tell you to cope with stress through physical exercise, relaxation techniques, changing negative thoughts, problem solving, optimism and hope, social support, etc. Although these techniques can be very beneficial and should be utilised, as Muslims we understand that Allah has given us tools above and beyond these. A few of these tools are outlined below:

1. Increasing Imaan and Righteous Deeds

"Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily, to him/her will We give a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions." (Surah 16: Verse 97)

A person with Imaan understands how to deal with both joyful events and distressful or worrisome ones. When worried or stressed, the Believer will be patient, relying upon Allah, and hope for ease and Allah's rewards.

The Prophet SAW said:

"How marvelous is the affair of the believer! Everything that happens to him is good, and this does not apply to anyone except the believer. If something good befalls him, he gives thanks for it, and that is good for him. If something bad befalls him, he bears it with patience, and that is good for him." (Muslim)

The believer understands that Allah presents us with tests as a way to increase our Imaan and to become better Muslims.

A companion once asked the Prophet SAW:

"O Messenger of Allah (SAW), which of the people suffers the most distress?"

He (SAW) replied:

"The Prophets, then those who come after them (in terms of status), then those who come after them. A man will be tested according to the strength of his faith. If his faith is strong, then the distress with which he is tried will be greater; if his faith is weak, he will be tested in accordance with the level of his faith. Distress will keep on befalling the slave until he walks on the face of the earth free from sin." (Bukhari)

We should thus be joyful when difficulty befalls us because it is a blessing from Allah.

2. Expiation of Sins

Another reason why we should rejoice when hardship strikes us is that it serves the purpose of increasing our Hasanat (good deeds) and expiating our sins or bad deeds.

The Messenger of Allah SAW said:

"Nothing of fatigue, illness, distress, worry, grief or harm befalls the Muslim, not even a prick from a thorn, but Allah will accept it as expiation for some of his sins." (Bukhari)

We should thus be particularly happy when the above happens after we have committed a sin because it is another blessing from Allah.

The Prophet SAW said:

"When Allah wishes good for His slave, He hastens to bring about his punishment in this world, and if He does not wish good for him, He withholds the punishment until he is dealt with for his sin on the Day of Resurrection." (Tirmidhi)

3. Remembering the Reality of This World, Death, and the Hereafter

The believer constantly remembers that this world is only temporary, imperfect, and limited.

The Prophet SAW said:

"This world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the non-believer." (Muslim)

Any affliction or hardship that befalls a person is only short-term and death will bring respite from the worries and pains of this life. As a result, there should be much remembrance of death and the hereafter.

The Prophet SAW said:

"Remember frequently the one who will destroy all your pleasures - Death." (Muslim)

Rasulullah SAW also said:

"Whoever has the Hereafter as his main concern, Allah will fill his heart with a feeling of richness and independence; he will be focused and feel content, and this world will come to him in spite of it. Whoever has this world as his main concern, Allah will cause him to feel constant fear of poverty; he will be distracted and unfocused, and he will have nothing of this world except what was already predestined for him." (Tirmidhi)

4. Zikr (Remembrance of Allah) and Du'a (Supplication)

Zikr and du'a can help calm the soul and prevent and relieve stress and worry.

Allah SWT mentions in the Qur'an:

"Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest." (Surah 13: Ayat 28)

The Prophet SAW taught us one of the most beneficial du'a.

Rasulullah SAW said:

"There is no one who is afflicted by distress and grief, and says, 'O Allah, I am Your slave, son of Your slave, son of Your maidservant; my forelock is in Your hand, Your command over me is forever executed and Your decree over me is just. I ask You by every name belonging to You which You have named Yourself with, or revealed in Your Book, or taught to any of Your creation, or You have preserved in the knowledge of the Unseen with You, that You make the Qur'an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety,' but Allah will take away his distress and grief, and replace it with joy." (Ahmad)

There are many du'a that may be used to call upon Allah, but it is important to admit our servitude and submission to Allah and remember that Allah controls and directs. We should rely upon Allah, put our hope and trust in Allah, and accept Allah's decree.

"And whosoever puts his trust in Allah, then He will suffice him." (Surah 65: Verse 3)

"And when My slaves ask you concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near. I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright." (Surah 2: verse 186)

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