Stress is a common, inevitable part of life.  Although it is far from an enjoyable experience, feeling stress is part of the body’s natural defense system against danger.  It triggers the fight or flight response within our body by flooding it with hormones to prepare us to either evade or confront the danger we face. People react to situations differently, and stress levels can differ from person to person.  You may feel stressed when you are put under high pressure; whether during exam season, or at work

Your stress levels may have increased during the last few months, due to the ongoing pandemic.  As we enter a second lockdown, the feeling of uncertainty, and a change in your daily routine can cause a feeling of unease, as we usually go about life under the assumption that we are in control. You may have had to adjust to working from home, whilst juggling home schooling your children and just when you thought things may have changed for the better, may now be forced to resort to remote working again.  You may be experiencing job loss, and are worried about your finances.  As the winter kicks in, you may be increasingly worried about your health, or elderly loved ones. Some may even have lost people whom they loved dearly. Others may be worried about the impact on their mental health with little opportunity to socialise with friends and family in the weeks ahead. Everywhere we look at present, we find triggers, causing our stress levels to rise.

In the midst of these difficulties, our stress can be exacerbated when we look to our peers on social media, only to find a portrait of perfection, of a carefree lifestyle where no harm can infiltrate.  However, this is an unrealistic, often deceptive image. The truth is, beyond that camera, beneath that smile, we are unaware of what truly is going on. They may be suffering silently; some may be tested with health, some with wealth and others with loss of life – but since you may be unaware of their trials, you fixate on your own, believing you are the only one going through a rough time.

In this spirit of authenticity, unlike ever before, we are removing our filters to give you an honest, and raw view of how the team at HHUGS have been impacted during the last few months in our individual lives.  By delving deep and exploring these scenes from the pandemic, we hope to send a message that we are all in this together, enduring our separate struggles within the silence of our own homes.  That, although at times it can be overbearing, overwhelming and painful, as believers we soldier on, with patience and perseverance.

Losing a loved one

The pandemic has been a harsh reminder of the fragility of life. It has taught us once again, that this world is temporary, that surely we will return to Him. That in turn causes us to cherish our loved ones all the more, to reach out to those who we may have lost touch with and prepare for the hereafter.  Many of have lost loved ones to this faceless killer, a virus that sweeps our street silently.  Even if we have not personally experienced such tragedy, we may be aware of someone who has passed away due to COVID-19. The news of each passing overwhelms us with grief and brings with it uncertainty as many may have lost the breadwinners or the elderly within their families, those who hold the fragments of your household together. Tragedy struck close to home for HHUGS staff:

“Lots of people who were close to me passed away with Covid, including my father in law. My brother in law was in a coma and ventilator for 12 weeks, also with covid and couldn’t attend his father’s funeral. My newly widowed mother in law was grieving in an empty house whilst worrying about her son in hospital and suffering with Covid herself.”

When a loved one passes away, we normally seek comfort by being close to family, performing the Janazah and congregating, to help us to grieve.  However, due to the restrictions, many were unable to do that or even be at the side of their loves ones when they passed. This can make the healing process all the more difficult, leaving family members isolated during the grieving process. 

“This impacted the whole family: myself, my husband, and my kids. We didn’t know how to deal with the grief and just got through each day of our lives as best as we could. We rallied together as a family, reading tasbihs and making du’a from our homes, all over the world. My own mother is high risk and was shielding – I couldn’t share and express my grief as I normally would have if there had been a Janazah or family had been with us in person.”

This pain that fills their heart can be overwhelming. As Muslims, we find solace in the knowledge this life is temporary and find comfort in the hope of the reunion  in the hereafter. Though our hearts are still brimming with pain, we move ahead, but with the faith that it is part of His ultimate decree for us.

“Allah granted my family sabr. Our du’a for each other got us through.  We felt we were living in some dream, not being able to take in what was happening but just trying to get through each day waiting for hope and good news. We had tawakul (reliance) upon Allah and knew that no matter how hard things were for us that Allah had the best plan for us.”

Everyone copes differently to combat their stress.  When asked what advice the staff member who experienced bereavement would give to others, she said,

“Talk to Allah through your ibadah (worship) and du’a.  Remember to think of the positives just as much. Thank Allah for the blessings that you still have. Share with each other and make du’a for others. Everything is a test from Allah and He only places on us the hardships that He knows we can endure. Allah has promised a great reward for those who have sabr and are reliant on Allah alone.”

Her words are a beautiful reminder of whom we rely on, despite the many connections with people and things in this world. By placing our trust and conviction in Allah alone, the One Who Oversees our affairs, surely we will never be disappointed.

“If Allah should Aid you, no one can overcome you; but if He should Forsake you, who is there that can aid you after Him? And upon Allah let the believers rely.” (3:160)

A cancelled fairytale

As little girls, many of us fantasize about our ultimate dream wedding. We may have planned what we would wear, and which friends would be our bridesmaids. As we grow older, we come to the realisation that a wedding is far more than just a beautiful dress and special guests.  It marks the beginning of the next chapter of your life. A time, where you are joined by friends, family and loved ones in celebration of your Nikah. It takes immense time and dedication to plan your day, to make it perfect for both of you. We try not to imagine all the things that could go wrong, let along the thought of something being cancelled. However, due to Covid, many experienced precisely that – their dream wedding plans were shattered.  The hours of dedication, money and effort that was invested into the occasion, laid to waste  The pandemic kept those who were planning their wedding on the edge, with new restrictions ever changing, many were unsure as to when their day will come, if ever.

“It was stressful was putting so much, time, effort and money into planning a nice Asian wedding with 3 events but having it all cancelled; then being unsure whether to continue with moving out as planned due to lockdown and a honeymoon. I think it’s the stress of having no certainty, as at that time we thought we would postpone it but even now we are in the same place as back in March. On top of that as well, I did decide to move out but it didn’t feel the same.”

A way to combat stressful periods can be to share your concerns with someone you trust, be it a spouse or a parent. For newly-weds in particular,  it can create a better understanding between each other, further strengthening your bond.

“I constantly spoke to my husband about it and we would reassure one another. It did help our bond.  It is good to hear other people’s problems and voice your own.”

If you are a more private person, then writing a journal to express your thoughts can also be cathartic.

“I like using a journal to map things out in my mind. It is like emptying your worries on to paper and creating to-do lists and solutions for them.”

A ruptured routine

We often go through the motions in our daily life, following a routine, especially as juggle competing schedules for work, family and our social life. We may think we have control over our daily lives, choices such as what we want lunch, or who we decide to meet up with. Indeed, the ability to make these decisions is a blessing which we sadly overlooked.  The virus has shaken up our calendar, cancelled our social life, and changed the way we work. It has stopped us from meeting up with friends for a regular game of footie, and barred us from our libraries.  Many have found it difficult to adjusting to the changes, particularly those who attended the mosque regularly.

“The major causes of stress for me was that my routine was drastically changed. From observing lockdown, to not seeing family and friends, to not praying at the Masjid!”

The lockdown has taught us that despite our attempts to plan, surely we are not control.

“They plan, and Allah plans, Surely Allah is the best of planners.” (8:30)

Juggling it all

The lockdown has put immense pressure on all aspects of our lives: on employees, on businesses, on relationships, and on parents.  For the charity sector, particularly smaller charities such as HHUGS, the pandemic has caused a considerable strain.  We have been forced to cancel face to face events, challenges and collections, which were a major source of fundraising for our families. Due to the financial instability, many are unable to donate as much as they used to, having a dramatic impact on those who depend on HHUGS to survive.

This level of uncertainty witnessed by those within the charity sector is troubling. We see first-hand, as to whom is struggling silently throughout the Winter. Our families have felt increasing isolation, with little recourse to in-person coffee mornings, gatherings and even seeing their loved ones in prison.  Their anxiety has increased as they have struggled with the trauma alone in their homes, with face to face counselling suspended.  We have had to work that little bit harder, to do our utmost best to ensure that they are fed, sheltered and heard. Although it is tough for everyone, we do not want those who already feel isolated and alone throughout the year, to be forgotten.

Staff have been forced to adjust to the challenges of working from home, juggling parenting, joint family systems and other domestic responsibilities. The lines often blur when you work from home, as you are still striving hard as an employee to do your very best, whilst still trying to be present for your family.

“This has been a stressful time. Due to working from home, the challenges of managing a family with extra support needed for various reasons, and the plight of managing external issues, all within the home, as going out has not been an option.”

It can become overwhelming, as you try to fulfil your rights as a spouse, an employee and as a member of this Ummah.  This can increase stress levels, and leave you feeling despondent. However, during this time, it is important to take some time out. Connect with your Creator and talk it through with your loved ones.  This can help you recalibrate and see things from a different perspective.

“I took time out to gather my thoughts alone and that has worked. Recite the Qur’an daily for 10 minutes and leave recitation on in the background which always helps to gather thoughts and get back to it.”

Recognise the signs of stress

For some of us, it may be easier to recognise when you are stressed. However, for others the signs may not be so apparent. Therefore, these are a few signs to look out for, which can help you identify when your stress is escalating:

  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Irritability, frustration, moody
  • Change in appetite, resorting to comfort eating
  • Inability to concentrate, forgetfulness and disorganisation
  • Feeling overwhelmed or more anxious than usual
  • Having difficulty relaxing and quieting your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself (low self-esteem), lonely, worthless, and depressed
  • Low energy
  • Upset stomach, including diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
  • Chest pain and rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Constant worrying, racing thoughts
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviours, such as nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing

If you do feel as though your stress levels are rising, then are many ways in which you can manage this:

  • Watch out for stress triggers
  • Exercise
  • Talk to someone
  • Do something you enjoy
  • Relax
  • Read and reflect on the Quran
  • Engage in prayer and remembrance of Allah
  • Du’a
  • Help someone in need
  • Read
  • Avoid unhealthy habits
  • Journal
  • Keep positive – try to note 3 positives a day

Above all, whatever uncertainty we may face, and however unsure we may be of how things will unfold, remember that you are not alone.