Releasing stress is a secret to a longer life

Before we start on this formula for a longer life, let me make this clear that in Islam, life and death of an individual is written (Qadr). No changes can be made. A longer life means a life which is healthy, physically and mentally. The number of years doesn’t matter. It’s all about the factual amount of years spent on this earth. Many a times we are responsible for what we bring upon ourselves. The sickness in heart furthermore spreads to our body and mind.

In their hearts is a disease (of doubt and hypocrisy) and Allah has increased their disease.” A painful torment is theirs because they used to tell lies. (surah Al-Baqarah, verse 10)

Here the root cause for the disease in our heart is ‘lies’. It could be just a small lie but then it intends to deceive and mislead. Lies are told with a purpose to conceal the truth as the liar is afraid of the truth and actions of punishment from an individual or law, if the truth is established. The liar very well knows that what he is saying is not the truth, just like Iblis (Satan/Jinn). He cheats, deceives and enjoys the misery of others, just like Iblis did to Adam (AS). Lying is a short time selfish desire for a worldly gain. That is the reason there is a painful torment for such a person.

Lying causes a very large amount of stress as it is against human nature and physiology. Due to lying the stress effects on the body and mind are very serious and the consequences on individuals, families, societies and countries are far graver as it spreads easily. Lying produces inner conflicts between various control centers of the brain. The moment you lie the body sends out strange signals that can cause facial muscle twitching, rapid heart beat, tremor of the hand etc. These symptoms constitute a lie-detector instrument too.

 The only reason I took ‘lying’ as an example is to make understood how we bring negative-stresses upon ourselves and that is the reason Islam categorizes it as a major sin. Sinning and disobedience to the Creator is the cause of negative stresses, which shortens our factual life. Whereas obedience to the Creator and keeping away from sinning is the road to positive stresses which increases our factual life.

 Another way to understand destiny (Qadr – life and death is written and cannot be changed), is the example of an individual who has a healthy life but could slip over a banana skin and die. Or an individual could jump from the 7th floor and still remain alive. That’s because Allah has destined such to happen. The length of time spent on this earth could be short but the fact that the individual spent his life in obedience to Allah then his factual life will be considered long. Where as there could be an individual who could live a very long life but his factual life would be very short as he spent most of his life in disobedience to the All-Mighty, transgressed the laws, lived without a good conduct and without any purpose. Keep this in mind that the factual life is important for a Muslim, not the number of years lived. Life and Death is controlled by no one except Allah and we as Muslims have an obligation to constantly look out for good deeds and ways to please Allah (SWT)

 We all are aware that stress is a major concern in today’s chaotic society. Although we have no clue what is stress? Is there such a thing like a negative and positive stress? And how do we handle stress? The only option is that we find solutions to cure our stresses from rightful resources said 1400 years ago and by relating it to recent researches. In many cases we need to go to psychiatrists too. To cure any sickness we need to understand root cause and the symptoms. The below report has parts of Thea Singer’s, (a prominent health and science journalist) outstanding research that directly links stress with aging; and I have added solutions to release stress by analyzing the sayings of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

What is Stress? It is a load of negative pressures or tensions exerted on a material object. You don’t have what someone else has; it’s now become a stress. Let it be a pair of shoes or sun glasses etc. Stress could make you feel frustrated, jealous, angry and nervous. The effects of such a development is not good for a individual. You have it and I don’t, why? It’s like knowing that the object you desire is not a big deal but yet you desire it because someone else has it. It’s a non-required stress which can lead to depression and if not taken care of, can bring a major decline in the mental and physical capabilities of an individual. People also loose hair or turn gray much before time living a life stressing out on situations or objects that are not worth it.

There is a direct link between psychological stress and biological aging.We can manage our stress by more specifically knowing how to deal or rebound from stressful situations. Unfortunately the links of stresses go all the way to our cells. When the cells start decaying and disintegrating, it leads to various problems in our heart, body and mind. Stress can disintegrate cells in our body resulting the skin and muscles to get looser, weaker and look aged before time. There are people who you may have met who are old and look young and some who are young yet look old. I have personally seen kids living in slums looking healthier than kids who are brought up with all the luxuries of life. Anyways, lets check out the real secret to a longer life.

Secret to a longer life:-

There’s no magic bullet, but the way we react to stress matters-matter; although at the same time trying to avoid stress altogether isn’t actually healthy. Some stress, in fact, is actually good for us. Which is stressing for rightful intention and applied with rightful actions. As Muslims it means being obedient to Allah with a rightful conduct. Releasing stress by exercising and sports, was advised 1400 years ago until today.

 Acute stress, short-term stress, intermittent stress, or ‘challenge’ stress-is actually good for us. Exercise is a very good form of releasing stress. Where we get into trouble is with chronic or constant negative stress.

Do not fret (extreme anger, jealousy, suspicion). Acting positive, instead of fretting, in the face of stress can give you a feeling of being in control of your circumstances. And, as Singer points out in her book, studies show that people who feel that they are in control actually look different from people who feel that they are not. People who have control are the ones that can see positive from everything that may seem negative, whereas a person who is not in control is noticed as he will dig and scratch out negative, from all that could be positive.

 Singer also points out. “It’s really about the way we look at stress. We can’t change circumstances, but we can change the way we look at circumstances”.

 So what can you do to change the way you deal with stress:-

 1. Exercise: It can help stress-proof your brain, so that when you’re in stressful circumstances, your brain will be less reactive. When your work-out is a chore, your body releases stress hormones that undermine the positive effect of the exercise.

Narrated by Ibn Umar (R.A) in which Muhammad(SAW) said, “Teach your children swimming, archery and horse riding”.

 The Prophet’s walk is described as a form of jogging (harwala), as he was always in a hurry. He never walked lazily. He used to walk around Madina with his wives or his companions. He also used to walk in the open desert. He climbed mountains too. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) had the burden of the entire Ummah (Muslim Nation As A Whole). That is a lot of stress to be in but it was a positive stress as it was based on honesty and truth (HAQ) and totally for the pleasure of Allah to benefit mankind. Once we base our lives with lies, we start moving in the negative lane.

 Our Prophet (SAW) was very interactive because being physically active has many religious and social benefits. The physically active have the strength to undertake physical acts of worship (ibadat) like salat or hajj. They have the energy to undertake work to be economically productive and thus support themselves and their community. The physically active are able to travel and engage in social activities such as visiting relatives, visiting the sick, and participating in social activities. All these have social and psychological benefits that would not be achieved in the absence of physical fitness.

 Exercise benefits the brain and the overall performance of the heart, body and mind. The main reasons for maintaining strength through physical exercise is to prepare Muslims for: skills, determination, competition, discipline for physical and mental fitness.

 2. Eating habits: Singer says, “eating only when hungry and learning really savor (enjoy totally) and experience your meals makes more of a difference and causes less physical and psychological stress than dieting”.

 I would say be grateful, for what is placed in front of you. As gratefulness will give us the savor and satisfying experience of every meal. Eat healthy and organic as much as possible; and always eat a bite or two less than a full stomach.

 Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said “No person can fill a dish that is worse than his stomach. Basically humans need only a few bites to withstand hunger. If they need to eat more, they must fill one third of their stomachs with food, one third with drink and they should leave the remaining part empty for breath!” (Tirmidhi)

 The Prophet would drink water slowly, resting between sips. He would take 2 or 3 breaths while drinking a cup of water. He(saw) said that Drinking water in stages eases digestion, quenches the thirst and is healthier.He emphasizedon drinking in this manner for our benefit and our health.

 3. Sleep: Singer says, “without enough sleep, your whole stress threshold is lower”. But what is ‘enough’ by modern research and what is ‘enough’ in the advice given 1400 years ago?

 Prophet (SAW) slept for a part of the night, (Fateh-al-Bari page 249, vol.1), and late in the night, he got up and performed ablution from a hanging water skin, a light (perfect) ablution and stood up for prayer’s. (Bukhari)

 Modern studies show that this may actually be the best advice for many people. In fact, many studies are now showing that less sleep or even lack of sleep can be healthier in some cases. A six-year study of more than a million Americans shows that a good night’s sleep lasts seven hours. It also showed that people who sleep for eight hours or more tend to die a bit sooner. Study leader Daniel F. Kripke, MD, says, “You really don’t have to sleep for eight hours and you don’t have to worry about it. It is evidently very safe to sleep only seven, six or even five hours a night.

 What I understand is, if your life is totally surrounded by negativity then you can sleep as much as possible, nothing would benefit except that you would be calling for depression and sickness upon yourself. On the other hand if you learn how to remove negativity from within yourself and the surrounding you live in then all your struggle and stress turn positive. Now if you sleep for 5 or 6 hours or sometimes even less it will not affect your health negatively. Let me tell you my secret. Always remember that in all your intentions and actions, some ONE is watching us from UP there. Once you have your rope attached to Allah The All-mighty, you will fix your intentions and act in accordance to the Quran and Sunnah of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Now what you do for yourself and others will turn positive, including a good night 6 hours of sleep.

 At times I have experienced a lack of sleep and then tried to make it up on a weekend or any other day; but believe me it doesn’t help. This is because my lack of sleep and struggle was attached to stresses which were negative in nature and more inclined towards materialistic gains. There are times when I have experienced less sleep but have found my mental and physical state in a lot more healthier and positive state, as I was working firstly to please Allah then benefiting myself, my family and then mankind. I wanted to reach out to the world with an absolutely clear intention.

 I further learnt from the sunnah about power-naps. Taking a power-nap around noon, helped me to gain my strength on days that I felt totally drained with the lack of sleep and stress. Just 15-20 minutes of this little nap gives you all that energy and strength that is required until late night.

 This nap was prescribed 1400 years ago by our Prophet(SAW) is called Khailulah. Science has just recently researched this fact. In fact a few large companies like Google, Ben & Jerry’s, Nike all have integrated power-nap stations for their employees and workers to recharge for better production, alertness, boosting memory, creative skills, and energy levels.

Dr.Thomas Balkin of the National Sleep Foundation says, “In most workplaces, especially workplaces involving safety, you want your workers to be maximally alert, and napping is actually a good strategy to maintain alertness. Ted Olsen President of Power-naps said, “Americans are working longer hours than ever before; we sleep too little and work too much which is a recipe for increased stress that will inevitably have a negative effect on the overall health.”

 4. Fight Negativity:That doesn’t mean you need to put on rose colored glasses”, said Thea Singer. What she is trying to say is that you may have the best clothes and everything colorful around you but if your mind is tired and stressed, you will ruin your overall health and conduct. A constant frown, which has now made your psychological stress lead you towards a quicker biological aging. That’s the reason why many of us look older than we really are. To fight negativity you need to put yourself around positive people & a positive environment, as the environment can be the cause of what you eventually become. Avoid working your mind and body constantly just by one kind of thing. An individual by nature does need changes. We all need breaks.

The following advice of `Ali bin Abi Talib (RA) is instructive in this respect: “Minds get tired, as do bodies, so treat them with humor. Refresh your minds from time to time, for a tired mind becomes blind.

 5. Meditate: Or, at least, remember to breathe deeply. It can actually slow down the aging process. Stress gets bad, when we’re ruminating, we’re worrying, we’re obsessing about things and we’re not expanding any of the physical energy, It’s in heads, but it’s our bodies and brain that pay the price.” says Singer.

 In Islam the best way of meditating is ‘SALAH’ which is mandatory 5 times a day for every Muslim. According to a hadith the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is reported to have said:

 inna fissalati shifa’a” (verily there is cure in salah).

You can Google ‘Health benefits of Salah’ (Saudi Gazette)Honestly, each one of you will be amazed at the physical & psychological benefits Allah has given us in each posture of our salah. Then read some of the amazing writings by Singer; you will understand better of what was prescribed 1400 years ago.

 Yet, do we doubt the Mercies of Allah? May HE guide us and make us from those who are grateful.

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