Islamic Perspective in Stress
by Shahid Athar, M.D.
While stress may be necessary for human survival, the excess of it certainly
affects our health and productivity. It is claimed that in the United States
nearly 20 million people suffer from stress in terms of attributing their
illness or symptoms to it. Stress related compensation cost 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 per year on stress management of their employees. (Newsweek
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 man), frigidity
(in women), are stress related to causation of diabetes, suppression of immune
system and 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 behavior.
Warning Signs Of Stress
The earliest signs of stress are irritability, mood swings, difficulty in sleep, lack of concentration, abdominal distress, extreme sensitivity to
criticism, weight gain of weight loss, fear of failure, poor appetite, or
hunger, and increase dependence on tranquilizers or alcohol for sleep.
Conditions Which Cause Stress
Psychiatrists have identified some 50 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 Are Prone to Stress
Although stress spares no one including children, certain professions get more
then their share. They include the sales person, the stock broker, the
secretary, the inner city school teacher, 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 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 time.
Coping With Stress
Although we are all exposed to stress, why can some of us cope with it better
then 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 tranquilizers. In
this article 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.
Fear of the unknown, and our inability to recognize, foresee and control it.
Loss of things, and people in our life dear to us, and our inability to
recover these losses or accept them.
Our inability to see through the future. In fact we might be more stressed if
we do see the future.
Conflicts between the mind, and the reality and our failure to accept the
reality (i.e. the phase of denial). It is the lack of the inner peace due to our
internal conflicts which leads to the external disturbances in our behavior 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 God we belong and to Him is our return. They are
those on whom (descend) blessings from God and mercy and they are the ones that
receive guidance." (Qur'an 2:155)
Whatever we are given is a gift from God. We are not their owners. Everything
belongs to God and returns to Him. So if we don't 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 God 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
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". (Qur'an 2:10)
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