Athar, S. Health Concerns For BELIEVERS ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE ON STRESS MANAGEMENT
While stress may be necessary for human survival, the excess of it certainly affects our health and productivity. Stress related compensation costs nearly $200 million per year. Loss of productivity and stress related illness directly or indirectly amounts to $50 billion per year. Many corporations and individuals are spending nearly $15 billion a year on the stress management of their employee (Newsweek 4-25-88). There is enough medical evidence to link stress to the causation of peptic ulcer disease, hypertension, coronary artery disease and depression. In addition, many common problems like tension headache, insomnia, impotency (in men), frigidity (in women), are stress related. There is now some evidence to suggest that stress is also related to the causation of diabetes, the suppression of immune system and the development of cancer. In our day-to-day life, stress affects peace at home, job performance at work, grades in school and even our eating and mating behaviour.
WARNING SIGNS OF STRESS
The earliest warning signs of stress is irritability, mood swings, difficulty in sleeping, fatigue, lack of concentration, abdominal distress, extreme sensitivity to criticism, weight gain or weight loss, fear of failure, poor appetite or hunger, and increase dependence on tranquillisers or alcohol for sleep.
CONDITIONS WHICH CAUSE STRESS
Psychiatrists have identified some fifty stressors. In fact any change, good or bad, is stressful. A change in job or job description, in. school, residence, financial status, loss or gain of a family member or close friend, injury or illness, national calamity or news of riots or violence all can be extremely stressful. Muslims living in a non-Muslim society may acquire some additional stress. These may include such factors as preserving their identity, practicing Islam (i.e. in food matters or timing of prayer), defending Islam on a hostile media and settling conflicts between family members: the spouse, parent/child, and practicing/non-practicing factions.
WHO IS PRONE TO STRESS?
Although stress spares no one including children, certain professions get more than their share. They include the sales person, the stockbroker, the secretary, the inner city schoolteacher, the air traffic controller, the medical intern, the police officer and those handling complaint departments. It is interesting to note that qualities like being ambitious, compulsive, high achieving, productivity oriented are looked upon as signs of efficiency by the employer, are also the type A personality traits, so dangerous to our health. So the art is to have these qualities, with a cool type B personality in order to live happily and have a longer life.
COPING WITH STRESS
Although we are all exposed to stress, why can some of us cope with it better than others? Is it the way we deal with the stressor or the way we are built? There is some evidence to suggest that some of us may be genetically predisposed to depression or have deficiency in the level of neurotransmitters, the mood regulating hormones, or just do not produce enough adrenalin on demand.
A person's religious belief has an important bearing on his personality and his outlook in life. By putting the trust in God, a believer minimizes the stress on him by reducing his responsibility and power to control his failures.
Proven ways to handle stress as being practiced now range from meditation, sleep, exercise, socialization, biofeedback, psychotherapy and tranquillisers. In this essay we are going to discuss how to deal with stress in the light of the Qur'an and the Sunnah.
Psychologically the stress results from the following factors.
a. Fear of the unknown, and our inability to recognize, foresee and control it.
b. Loss of things and people in our life dear to us and our inability to recover these losses or accept them.
c. Our inability to see through the future. In fact we might be more stressed if we do see the future.
d. Conflicts between the mind and reality and our failure to accept the reality (i.e. the phase of denial). It is the lack of inner peace due to our internal conflicts, which leads to the external disturbances in our behaviour and affects our health.
Let us examine how the Qur'an deals with such situations. Our losses are a part of trial for us, "Be sure We will test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives, but give glad tidings to those who are steadfast, who say when afflicted with calamity, 'To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.' They are those on whom (descend) blessings from Allah and mercy and they are the ones that receive guidance"
[Surah Al-Baqarah - 2:155]
Whatever we are given is a gift from Allah (swt). We are not its owner. Everything belongs to Allah (swt) and returns to Him. So if we do not own these things, why mourn their loss or wax proud on receiving them.
Only God knows what our ultimate destiny is. We cannot peek into our future. We do, however, have a limited free will. We are free to choose between good or bad, to believe in Allah (swt) or not to believe in Him, but we have no control over future not related to our ability to act in the present- whether my wife will have a son or daughter, whether his /her eyes will be brown or black, or whether I will have an accident tomorrow or not. Worrying over such things is of no use.
Rejection of faith in the Qur'an is described as a disease. Its cause being arrogance and reluctance to accept truth. "In their heart there is a disease and God has increased their disease and grievous is their penalty because they lie to themselves"
[Surah Al-Baqarah - 2: 10]
Thus when a man lies to himself, he creates an inner conflict between his heart and mind. In order to contain that conflict, the mind sends signals to glands for secretion of hormones like adrenalin, which leads to rapid heart rate, perspiration, tremor, and the basis of a lie detector test. This conflict could be due to "small" crimes like theft or adultery, or big crimes like rejection of God.
THREE STAGES OF SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT
The Passionate Soul (nafs ul-ammara): "I do not absolve myself. Lo the (human) soul is prone to evil, save that whenever my Lord has mercy. Lo, my Lord is forgiving; merciful" [Surah Yusuf - 12:53]. This soul inclines toward sensual pleasure, passion and self-gratification, anger, envy, greed, and conceit. Its concerns are pleasures of body, gratification of physical appetite and ego. In a Tradition we are told, "Your most ardent enemy is your evil self who resides within your body" [Bukhari]. If this evil soul is not checked, it will lead to unusual stress and its resultant effects.
The Reproaching Soul (nafs ul-lawammah): "Nay, I swear by the reproaching soul" [Surah Al-Qiymat - 75: 1]. This soul is conscious and fully aware of evil, resists it, asks for Allah's grace and pardon, repents and tries to amend and hopes to achieve salvation. "And (there are) others who have acknowledged their faults. They mix a righteous action with another that was bad. It may be that Allah will relent toward them. Lo God is relenting, merciful" [Surah At-Tauba - 9:102]. "There are two impulses within us. One, spirit, which calls towards good and confirms the truth. He who feels this impulse should know that it comes from Allah. Another impulse comes from our enemy (the devil), which leads to doubt and untruth and encourages evil. He who feels this should seek refuge in Allah from the accursed devil" (hadith). This soul warns people of their vain desire, guides and opens the door to virtue and righteousness. It is a positive step in spiritual growth.
The Satisfied Soul (nafs ul-mutmainnah): "O (you) soul in (complete) rest and satisfaction. Come back to your Lord, well pleased (yourself) and well pleasing unto Him. Enter you then among My devotees, enter you in My heaven" [Surah Al-Fajr - 89:27-30]. This is the highest state of spiritual development. A satisfied soul is in the state of bliss, contentment and at peace. The soul is at peace because it knows that in spite of its failures in this world, it will return to Allah. Purified of tension, it emerges triumphant from the struggle and resides in peace and bliss.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO IN PANIC AND DESPAIR?
In panic situations non-believers behave differently from believers. They have no one to turn to, to ask for mercy and forgiveness. They know and believe not in any life other than this worldly life, over which they have no control. Naturally they get more depressed which in turn leads them to even more wrongdoing. If they were used to casual drinking, after drinking, they will increase their consumption of alcohol and end up as alcoholics or habitual criminals.
In a state of depression a believer, on the other hand, is advised to do the following: Increase remembrance of Allah (dhikr): "He guides to Himself those who turn to Him in penitence those who have believed and whose heart have rest in the remembrance of Allah. Verily in the remembrance of Allah, do hearts find rest" [Surah Ar-Ra'd - 13:27-28]
Be constant in prayers: "O you who believe, seek help with steadfastness and prayer. For Allah is with those who are steadfast" [Surah Al-Baqarah - 2:153]
Pray to Allah (swt) for Forgiveness: "And I have said: Seek forgiveness from your Lord. Lo He was ever forgiving" [Surah Nuh - 71:10].
In addition to the above believers are also expected to constantly struggle to better ourselves. "Surely Allah does not change the condition in which people are until they change that which is in themselves" [Surah Ar-Ra'd - 13:11]
QURANIC RECITATION IN REDUCING STRESS
"O mankind! There has come to you a direction from your Lord, and a healing for (the disease in your) heart, and for those who believe a guidance and mercy" (Syrah Yunus - 10:57].
The echo of sound has a medical effect and is now widely utilized. The recitation of the Qur'an or listening to the same has a wholesome effect on the body, the heart and the mind. It is said that the letter 'alif' echoes to the heart and the letter 'ya' echoes in the pineal gland in the brain. Dr. Ahmed El Kadi of Akber Clinic (Panama City, Florida) conducted and has published the effects of listening to the Quranic recitation on physiological parameters i.e. the heart rate, the blood pressure and the muscle tension and reported improvement in all, irrespective of whether the listener is a Muslim or non-Muslim, Arab or non-Arab. Obviously it can be postulated that those who can understand and enjoy the recitation with a belief in it as the Word of Allah (swt) will get maximum benefit.
PROPHET MUHAMMAD'S PRAYER DURING STRESS
All the prophets, being human beings, had to undergo tests and trials, which resulted in temporary stress. They constantly remembered Allah (swt) and received peace through His remembrance. Prophet Muhammad (saw) for example, himself used and advised his followers to use the following prayers in times of distress.
"Allah is sufficient for us. He is an excellent guardian. We repose our trust in Allah."
"Surely we belong to Allah and to Him shall we return. O Allah, I beseech you for the reward of my hardship. Reward me and compensate me for it with something good."