Strategies for Managing Stress and Increasing Productivity During a ‘Shelter in Place’

The suddenness of the COVID-19 Pandemic change has drastically impacted all of our lives and has compelled everyone to make immediate lifestyle changes. Especially the “shelter in place” imposed on all of us, may evoke unsettling feelings. These can include worries about the economy, our jobs, health and managing the adaptation to these new circumstances. 

Given the unpredictability of the current circumstances or how long this may last, a sense of anxiety or depressive feelings can set in if we don’t see an emerging solution that is near.  Such an experience can lead to feeling overwhelmed and can be exacerbated when we see no immediate end in sight to the present circumstances. For many of us, such feelings can exhaust our energy, lead to irritability, impact our relationships and tap our available psychological resources to handle such stress. Such unpleasant feelings can come at a time when we need our resources most.

Here are a few psychospiritual strategies you can integrate into your life today to help manage this burden

  • Learning to Let Go. Among the most difficult things for human beings to do is to LET GO. Learning to recognize what you control and what you don’t is half of wisdom. Imām Al-Ghazālī in his Iḥyā Ulūm al-Dīn, describes psycho-spiritual health as the perfect balance between fear and hope. Once you have exhausted what you control, then there is a freedom in resigning yourself to God’s plan and having hope in Him. There is an Arabic proverb, “The actions of a wise one are never devoid of wisdom”.  In Allah’s infinite wisdom, there is benefit in the end for the believer, even if it comes at the cost of a bitter pill. 
    • A practical exercise:
      • Attempt to come up with at least three possible hidden blessings of this trial and tribulation. How could this be of benefit to you? Share this with others or write it down, as the Qurʾān states: “Speak of the blessings of Allāh”.
      • Then express gratitude for it through a devotional act.  The Qurʾān states: “If you show gratitude, then I (Allāh) will increase you (in blessings)”. 
  • Focus on the Here & Now. Consider that fear is the anticipation of a future threat or negative outcome (ex. joblessness, poor health etc), while sadness creates a psychological orientation to ruminate about undesirable events in the past. This can especially be present during times of social isolation, where recall of past inadequacies or memories may be more readily available to us, since we are alone with our thoughts. 
    Both states of mind, take you away from the present. Both fear and sadness are ONLY useful in so much as it promotes present oriented action.  Simply put, use reflection on past inadequacies to improve yourself in the present and use worries about the future to prepare for tomorrow by focusing on your actions today.  
    • Some Exercises:
      • Perform acts of services. Some of the ʿUlemā (scholars of Islām) have discussed the possibility of this being a punishment for the overindulgence and self-absorption of humankind. Therefore, we can perhaps repel this through acts of service. These may include:
        • Serve your spouse or immediate relatives. Learn to cook/bake new things for them.
        • Listen attentively to those immediate family members around you. Check in with them (call them if you are alone).
        • Have patience with the shortcomings of your immediate family members.
        • Give in Sadaqah to those who are in need through your trusted institutions (Zakat Foundation of America is a recommended resource).
          • In particular: Offer the Sacrifice of an Animal
  • Reflect on the Vastness of Allah & the Insignificance of Man – ʿIzz ibn ʿAbd Al-Salām (d. 1262 AD/ 660 AH)  mentions that one of the benefits of trials and tribulations is that it broadens one’s focus to realize the Greatness & Might of Allah. Take a lesson in realizing how much God is really in control, by reflecting on how He shook the entire world through sending out a virus. Consider how dependent We as creation truly are and how small we are in comparison to His power.  There is a saying, “Do not say: Oh Allah I am facing a tremendous calamity, rather say, Oh Calamity, I have a tremendous Lord”!
  • Do not Over-consume the Media: The Prophet (peace & blessings be upon him), taught us a prayer, “Oh Allah, I seek refuge in you from non-beneficial knowledge”. While we are in a ‘shelter in place’, knowing the numbers of infections, its origins, which country it came from, etc, may not be helpful. This overindulgence can be addictive and a vehicle for us to be glued to screens that have adverse physiological and psychological effects upon us.
  • Structure your Day: When our workplace also becomes the place where we rest, there can be a tendency to have disarray and mismanagement of time. Take some time at the beginning of the week in planning out your week or time in the morning to plan out the entire day. We realize that Islām is systematic and built on order and this should be a lesson for us to make our lives the same way.
  • Unplug and Train yourself through Acts of Worship.  Religion is not merely a psychological activity but is made up of important acts of devotions. One of the greatest challenges of our times, is to keep our mind focused and gathered. Assign at least 30 minutes of your day to spending time in isolation, away from family and any social devices, simply to worship Allah through voluntary acts of worship (nafl) or in contemplation (tafakkur) of the Divine. Learn to focus on what’s truly important.
    • Specific Acts of Worship to conduct
      • Recite Surah Yāsīn daily in the morning.
      • Offer two Rakʿāt of the Ṣalat al-Ḥājah (refer to your local ʿUlema for how to perform this)
      • Make a regular daily practice of repentance
      • Send 300 salutations upon the Messenger of Allah (peace & blessings be upon him).
      • Recitation of morning and evening prayers for protection

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