Focus – ‘Where is My Mind?’

By Khalida Jalili

focus

His Personal Struggle

He is sitting in a spacious lecture hall occupied with more than 200 seats; yet, he feels cramped and uncomfortable. He feels the headache coming back again, especially on the right side. He can hear the professor explaining notes on the PowerPoint slide, but his mind is hazy. He puts in effort to listen more attentively to each word and process its meaning.

To his dismay, he simply cannot process the entire lecture. His mind wanders off to the humidity in the room, how much he needs to study for his next exam, the last argument he had with his wife, the tasks he needs to complete for his work, and his hunger – how can he forget that he’s hungry?! So he quietly sneaks out in the middle of the class for the fourth time this semester…

“What is happening to me?” he asks himself, “Why can’t I just pay attention in class?” He decided to go home to rest. Two hours later, after taking a nap, eating, and remembering to pray Salah, he realizes that he had forgotten to attend a work meeting due an hour ago!

If any of this sounds familiar to you, you may be experiencing concentration issues that require attention. The good news is that there are many solutions for this, alhamdulillah!

Possible Health Issues

Struggling with focus does not necessarily mean you suffer from any disorder, as it may simply be a bad habit, especially in our current technology-centered age. However, it is important to know that according to WebMD’s Symptom Checker, memory and concentration deficits are associated with 30 conditions including:

  •    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  •    Alzheimer’s Disease
  •    Anxiety
  •    Brain tumor
  •    Dementia
  •    Depression
  •    Infections
  •    Injury
  •    Medication side effects
  •    Parkinson’s Disease
  •    Schizophrenia
  •    Sleep apnea or sleep deprivation
  •    Stroke
  •    Vitamin B12 deficiency

Health Grades additionally mentions that psychological conditions such as emotional trauma, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and even stress can result in poor concentration. Of course, all of the disorders just mentioned are only diagnosed following the presence of many other related symptoms; lacking concentration does not automatically imply that you suffer from any of these disorders; it is simply one symptom in individuals with these conditions.

What Should I Do?

Most of us do not sit home all day in front of the TV or computer. We may have a spouse, children, siblings, students, or employees we need to spend time with or manage. We have responsibilities regardless of who we are. So whether we spend most of our time at home, in school, or at work, there may come times when we feel overwhelmed. Here are some ways to modify and maintain our environment, mind, body, and soul for better focus:

Environment and Personal Assistants

 

Limit Distractions, Increase Motivation – Choose a quiet environment for work and/or studying purposes. Keep the area you are working in clutter-free so that your mind does not wander off. If your phone distracts you, keep it on silent, power it off, or remove it from your study area. Tell yourself that you will access social media if and only if you have completed your task. Correct intentions are important for gaining reward from Allah, but they are also vital in motivating us to focus on what we need to do; intentions keep us working on what is important despite potential distractions.

Break it Down – A tip often given by productivity experts is to ‘break down’ any task you need to complete. If you have to study for a test on 10 chapters, for example, you can break it down to studying two, three, or five chapters a day.

Write it Down – Allah revealed an entire Surah titled, “The pen”. If that is not enough to show us the importance of writing, then we must remember that we are humans and therefore bound to forget. Life will be a lot easier if you just write down your to-do list and reminders on paper or even carry it around electronically. This will help you organize and start completing your greater-priority tasks first when you have most energy and focus. Google calendar and Evernote are great personal assistants for this!

Time Yourself – When experiencing concentration issues, especially if accompanied by other symptoms, it is very easy to lose track of time or to not accomplish much within a certain time range. Track your time by setting alarms on your phone, use apps such as Task Timer, or simply write down your start and end times on paper. If you find it difficult to focus after 20 minutes, for example, set your timer for that task for 20 minutes and take a five-minutes’ break before the next 20-minute increment.

 

Body & Mind

 

Exercise Your Mind – Neuroscience research has shown that the human brain is incredibly malleable, so we must “use it or lose it”. According to Debbie Hampton’s article “Neuroplasticity: The 10 Fundamentals of Rewiring Your Brain”, “It’s almost as easy to drive changes that impair memory and physical and mental abilities as it is to improve these things.” Memorizing (no wonder huffaazh have such an incredible memory!), solving crossword puzzles, reading, answering math problems, and learning a new language (Memrise definitely makes this fun) are all excellent ways to exercise your mind.

Exercise Your Body – Exercise, according to Harvard Men’s Health Watch May 2013 Issue, is an effective way to increase your concentration and memory. Having the willpower or allotting time for exercising regularly may not always be easy, but if you go against those tendencies and exercise at least twice a week, you will see instant changes, in shaa Allah. You have options to exercise by following Youtube videos or by attending your local gym. Other options include learning martial arts, karate, or simply taking consistent (fast-paced) walks in your neighborhood.

Let Your Brain Rest – Allah created the day and night for a reason. Imagine how life would be if the earth was either always dark or perpetually sunny. Sleep with the intention of giving your brain and body rest so that you can be energized enough to worship Allah during the day. This way, you will be worshipping Allah even though you’re sleeping, subhanAllah! Based on the article Sleep, Learning, and Memory by Harvard Medical School, sleep is essential to paying attention and learning, so do not forget to sleep early tonight!

Watch Your Stomach – Do you feel a difference after consuming a burger with French fries and a soda versus eating salmon, fresh salad, and drinking organically? That’s because our diet has an impact on not just our physical health, but on our mental health as well. You might be surprised at your clarity of mind after implementing a few helpful diet tips.

Soul

 

Exercise Your Soul by Holding on to Prayer and Dhikr- The most essential action that we should always earnestly put in effort to revolve our life around is Salah and worshipping Allah in general. Dr. Bilal Philips said, When we repair our relationship with Allah, He repairs everything else for us”.

When we remember to pray, life will become easier and more peaceful even if it is “chaotic,” in shaa Allah.

Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said, “There is none who performs ablution and performs the ablution perfectly and then offers two rak’ahs of prayers concentrating on them with his heart and face except that paradise will be incumbent for him” (Sunan Abi Dawud).

Dhikr is an extremely important nourishment for the soul. Choose at least one dhikr  – whether it’s seeking istighfaar, saying subhanAllah, alhamdulillah, and Allahu Akbur 33 times after Salah, saying the morning and evening du’as, or any other dhikr – and maintain consistency

Shaykh Moutasem Al-Hameedi mentioned in his lecture Sweetness in Prayer that one key to finding khushoo’ – awe, concentration, fear, focus, humility – within Salah is developing khushoo’ and remembering Allah outside Salah.

Remember: The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “The Mufarridun have gone ahead.” He was asked, “Who are the Mufarridun?” He (ﷺ) replied, “Those men and women who frequently remember Allah” (Muslim).

Create a Routine – The Prophet (ﷺ) was asked, “What deeds are loved most by Allah?” He said, “The most regular constant deeds even though they may be few.” He added, ‘Do not take upon yourselves, except the deeds which are within your ability” (Bukhari).

Consistency in our actions, according to this hadith, is important; however, this is also important in keeping us focused. If we do not pray regularly, for example, it is more likely that we will forget prayer altogether when something else distracts us. If we set a certain time and place for our daily actions, whether it is praying, studying, or exercising, our mind will maintain focus and we will engage in it even if we are tired.

May Allah bless us with a strong ability to maintain focus in whatever good we do. Ameen.

Dealing with Difficult People – Part 2

By Naila Naiyyar

dealing_with_difficult_people

 

7) Be kind

Try to remain quiet; be polite instead. Doing so will actually make them aware of their violent behavior.

“And not equal are the good deed and the bad. Repel [evil] by that [deed] which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend. But none is granted it except those who are patient, and none is granted it except one having a great portion [of good].” (Surah Fussilat; 41:34-35)

 

8) Don’t take it personally

Their outburst is a reflection of the conflicts they are undergoing with themselves. It might be due to their upbringing or something they are facing in life. It’s not you who is the problem. It could be their way of compensating for their inferiority complex by gaining false strength from dominating over you, and you would only be feeding it by giving in. When the situation gets tensed, leave that environment after saying something short but polite or saying nothing at all. Remember: we do not want to mirror that person’s destructive behavior and react in the same way. Even if they don’t realize their mistake at least you will have maintained your sanity and higher self.

 

9) Remain patient and stick to Salah

Allah knows what you are going through and has promised huge rewards for those who endure hardships with patience.

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah] who are certain that they will meet their Lord and that they will return to Him.” (Surah al Baqarah: 2:45-46)

“Say, “O My servants who have believed, fear your Lord. For those who do good in this world is good, and the earth of Allah is spacious. Indeed, the patient will be given their reward without account.” (Surah az Zumar; 39:10)

As Muslims we need to bring out the best in us in terms of our thoughts and actions. It may not always be easy. Look beyond this situation and into the future; you will realize that this won’t last long. Soon a phase of good times will come by and you can try your best again to stand outside the situation then and not drag yourself into it. We can use these difficult times to improve ourselves and grow.

 

10) Change your surrounding

Involve yourself in different activities and hobbies. Keep a circle of positive people around yourself so that you don’t lose your sanity. Try talking to a trustworthy person and sharing your feelings with them. It helps in releasing the negative feelings and getting another perspective. It also helps to know that you are not the only ones suffering and other people too, go through such situations.

 

11) Acceptance:

Accept that this person will not become the perfect person you wish him to be. Sometimes it’s not that the person is attacking YOU but it’s that they are going through a difficult situation or are not able to express themselves. Don’t let their ineffectiveness control you.

 

12) Give excuses

Try to understand what aggravates the other person. There surely would be an underlying issue which is what comes out as a very untoward reaction. We need to be careful before judging people too quickly and not let shaytan play with our minds.

 

13) Remember the good company you have

Think of those people who love you and would do anything to be with you, who’d love to listen to your voice, and would wait hours for a response from you.

 

How to treat difficult people

Understand that their battle is not with you but themselves. They don’t know how to deal with their emotions. Help them and advice them in a nice way. Get a neutral mediator involved. Don’t hate them. Treat them with love and mercy.  Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was always kind to people and concerned for them. It might even be that our good behavior makes them realize their mistakes and pushes them to change for the best.

Always have good hopes from Allah no matter how impossible people may seem. We need to know that difficult people are in reality, suffering, and are in need of help. They are in need of mercy and appreciation. They need our empathy and understanding. Make loads of dua as its Allah ultimately who has control over everything and is the Changer of hearts.

“He whom Allah guides is the [rightly] guided, but he whom He leaves astray – never will you find for him a protecting guide.” (Surah Kahf; 18:17)

Also, remember that even people can be a test for us so that we control our anger and be more merciful and soft. They are placed in our lives as a means for us to gain excellence in our character.

And We have made some of you [people] as trial for others – will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.” (Surah al Furqan: 25:20)

Make dua for yourself and also for those difficult people you are dealing with and never despair Allah’s Mercy.

O Allah, there is no ease other than what You make easy. If You please You ease sorrow.”

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) too faced many difficult people who did everything they could to stop him from propagating Islam so much so that they were after his life. But what examples do we see from his life? We find him to be forgiving, contented, yet never always having a smiling face and not getting distracted from his mission or from any of his responsibilities.

 

What if you are the one who is difficult?

Look up for the signs of difficult people mentioned in the first part of this series and analyze your personality against each. You need to realize that it is ok to be corrected by others and to accept their opinions.  There might be a possibility that people react negatively only due to your own inabilities of handling situations the right way.

Look at situations through the eyes of the other. What is his personality, how does he perceive this situation and why is he reacting this way? Just like you like to be valued and given importance, the other too expects the same from you.

Increase your tolerance level and take things easy. Give others space to an extent wherein you allow them to respond to situations in ways different from what you expect. Not everyone will agree with what you we say or do, so to be fair you too must be flexible and compromising. There can be more than one way to do things. There might be other views than ours and it’s ok to respect, accept and follow them.

Sometimes we don’t realize our own shortcomings because nobody told us of our weaknesses. Nobody tells us that we are wrong to avoid being in our bad books.

Hence if someone advices us even if through hints alone – do take it instead of being offended and always recite the dua of Yunus (May Allah be pleased with him):

There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.(Surah Al-Anbiya; 21:87)

 

Visit our blog to read the first part of this series.

“I Am Muslim & I want To Die” Part 2 – Being Your Own Hero

By Khalida Jalili

speak_up_reach_out

Have an action plan ready for whenever suicidal thoughts cross your mind. Since suicidal thoughts are triggered by various reasons and everyone’s situation is unique, there is no “one solution for all”. So write your own plan on a sticky note and place it on the fridge, the wall, your work desk, computer desktop, or anywhere you’ll notice it.

Action tips include:

Seeking Emergency Help

Always remember: Seeking help isn’t a weakness; it is a courageous act. In case you are about to commit suicide, immediately ring the emergency number in your country. If you are in the U.S., call 911. Or you may call the (USA) national confidential, toll-free suicide hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You may also visit your nearest emergency room at a local hospital. Someone will be there to help you.

Informing Family, Friends, and Teachers

Family, friends, and teachers can make a huge difference. Even if you believe otherwise, truth is that they care about you. So ask them to help you save yourself from yourself.

Seeking Professional Help

It is very important to consult with your doctor to find a suitable therapist, social worker, or a counselor. Muhammad (ﷺ) sought advice from others, so we must not shy from doing so too. Just as medical doctors are a means to curing physical illnesses such as cancer, mental health professionals are a means to curing psychological (and even spiritual) illnesses such as depression. This individual can also help you with your action plan.

Making Wudu

Wudu not only washes our sins, it refreshes our mood too (Try it!).

Hearing What Allah Has to Say to You

The Quran was sent to address everyone – including you and me – so read it to find solutions and comfort. The Quran is also a cure, so recite, recite, and recite until you feel better.

Finding Tranquility in Salah

Never miss your Salah because not only does it define us as Muslims, it is also the first means to finding solace and receiving answers to our supplications. Allah says: “O you who have believed, seek help through patience and prayer. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.” (Al-Baqarah; 2:153)

 

Embracing Healthy Energy

Go to the park for a walk (Physical exercise is a great way to reduce stress!), take deep breathes (inhale through your nose and exhale through the mouth), enjoy the weather (even if it’s “bad” weather), focus on nature’s beauty, and eat your favorite healthy food.

 

Writing Your Thoughts Down

Sometimes, simply penning your feelings onto paper and thereby releasing negative emotions can be a great relief!

 

Ensuring Protection

When you really don’t know what to do except cry, recite supplications for seeking refuge from shaitan and for forgiveness. Morning and evening supplications are also a great shield, so don’t forget at least a few of them. Two of my favorites include:

Bismillahil-ladhi laa yadurru ma’asmihee shay-un fel-ardhi wa laa fes-samaa’ wa huwas-samee’ul-‘aleem – “In the name of Allah with whose name nothing is harmed on earth nor in the heavens and He is The All-Seeing, The All-Knowing” (Hisnul-Muslim).

HasbiyAllahu ‘alaiihi tawakkaltu wa huwa rabbul-‘arshil-‘azheem – “Allah is Sufficient for me, none has the right to be worshipped except Him, upon Him I rely and He is Lord of the exalted throne” (Hisnul-Muslim).

 

Setting Goals

Our ultimate purpose in life is to worship our Creator. Set a few goals with the intention to please Allah by improving yourself and your community. Help others so that Allah may help you.

 

Eliminating Means

Make sure you have extremely reduced access to any lethal means (this should be the first step, really).

Although suicide may seem like the only solution for you, I assure you it is not. Why choose to end your life in exchange for misery when you can make your hardships a means to elevating yourself so high in Jannah that you end up in Al-Firdous, where you can have whatever your heart wishes and much more, in shaa Allah! May Allah grant us all a good ending. Ameen.

Great Suicide Survivor Stories:

  1. http://muslimmatters.org/2015/01/28/walking-away-from-suicide-part-1-of-3/
  2. How I stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying To Kill Me – One Person’s Guide To Suicide Prevention (Susan Rose Blauner)

Helpful Resources:

  1. Free 24/7 Life-line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  2. http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
  3. https://arrajaathehope.wordpress.com/
  4. http://naseeha.org/
  5. http://nisahelpline.com/

Visit our blog to read the first part of this series.

Dealing with Difficult People – Part 1

By Naila Naiyyar

dealing_with_difficult_people

 

It’s common to face difficult people in life, be it at work, school, in the family, random people in the lift, at shops, while standing in a queue or even in the same house. These situations cannot be avoided because we are different people with different temperaments, backgrounds and perspectives seeing things from varying angles.

The best way to deal with such people is to identify their characteristics, know how to cope with, and learn how to deal with them.

 

Signs of Difficult People

The difficult people that you encounter in your life may have at least one of the following signs:

  • Attention-seeking
  • Negative and Pessimistic
  • Snubbing
  • Flying into a rage
  • Always right; want to win every argument
  • Unreasonable; illogical
  • Finding faults; blaming others for their problems
  • Not accepting mistakes; lying
  • Playing victim
  • Stubborn; don’t want to change or improve; not open to suggestions
  • Know-it-all; don’t like their authority to be challenged

 

Coping Strategies

 

1) Remain calm:

Once you recognize any of these signs in someone, the most important thing then is to maintain your composure and not react to him. The moment you lose your calm, full-blown conflict will ensue. When the opposing party is already in a negative state of mind, you do not want to get engulfed in their negativity. Remaining calm and walking away from the situation tactfully without letting the negative vibe affect you is the best option at such a time.

Remember that you do not want to stoop to their level in reacting rashly. Always be aware of your actions. You are not responsible for the way they behave but you have total control over your OWN behavior. Constantly remind yourself even in times of peace that you will not indulge in any rash action. Make loads of dua and ask Allah to make things easy.

“O Allah, I seek refuge in You lest I misguide others , or I am misguided by others , lest I cause others to err or I am caused to err , lest I abuse others or be abused, and lest I behave foolishly or meet with the foolishness of others.” (Abu Dawud)

 

2) Identify the trigger buttons

Avoid topics that you know would trigger them. State the facts in a way other than being very direct or curt.

Also, what is it exactly that triggers YOU off? Not everyone will act or behave in the way we want them to; maybe that ticks you off. If you know the person very well, you would know what to expect. Being prepared to expect a certain behavior from the other person will help in letting it pass you without getting annoyed.

 

3) Beware of the temptation of being right

Avoid getting sucked in arguing or defending yourself. Even if they perceive you to be wrong, it is not the end of the world. An adamant person may not change his opinion anyway so it is better that you stay out of it. Being quiet is superior to winning.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever gives up telling lies in support of a false claim, a palace will be built for him in the outskirts of Paradise. Whoever gives up argument when he is in the right, a palace will be built from him in the middle (of Paradise). And whoever had good behavior, a palace will be built for him in the highest reaches (of Paradise).” (Sunan Ibn Majah)

Be tactful in your dealings. Sometimes it is better that you stay to work towards maintaining peace than being right.

 

4) Limit interactions:

Set boundaries and limit interaction. With time you will realize that it’s alright to keep a certain level of distance without being impolite even if you live in the same house with that person. It’s not necessary to engage in a full conversation with them each time you see them especially when you know it will lead to conflict. Your happiness and peace is more important.

Let him have his say, and leave the conversation there. Keep your cool. Don’t let the negativity of the other person affect your mind, emotions, actions and words.

 

5) Identify your response pattern:

We all want to have ideal relationships with others but we need to realize that some things cannot and just would not change; we have to take it as it is. We need to analyze the situation and ask ourselves: Why is this happening? Could there be an angle to this situation besides what I am seeing and interpreting? What if it is me who is aggravating the situation? What is the best way I can use to deal this situation with? Surely, it is not that the other turns good, before suddenly turning nasty again!  Rather, it is highly likely that it is us who gets comfortable with them, only to be completely thrown off when there is an unexpected outburst from them, leading us again into shock, pain, grief and anger.

So identify the response pattern, because unless you change the way you respond and react to stressors, this cycle of stress and anger will be repeated over and over again.

 

6) Look at the positive aspect

Those you perceive to be ‘difficult’ might have within them other qualities that are good. Focus on those merits. Do not ignore the good things they do, nor avoid appreciating them.

 

Coping strategies to be continued in the next part, insha Allah

“I Am Muslim & I Want To Die” Part 1 – Shedding Light on Suicide

By Khalida Jalili

speak_up_reach_out

It is okay to talk about suicide. Yes, I said it. Talking about suicide or individuals who killed themselves is taboo in many societies. Ironically, based on the book Building Bridges by the U.S.A. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), open dialogues and education on suicide prevention can save lives.

According to the article Attempters’ Long-term Survival, 70% suicide attempters who were accompanied by medical care did not later die from suicide. However, the article further mentions that a previous suicide attempt is still a very strong risk factor for a future suicide; so addressing this issue is extremely important.

Handling Tough Times 

You may find yourself at a point in your life where you feel as if you cannot go on anymore, as if the only solution to all the problems you’re drowning in is your disappearance.

No matter how lonely, depressed, anxious, agitated, misunderstood, and enraged you feel, there are many ways to surmount your problems. Suicide is not one of them. In fact, it’ll make your situation worse, not better.

You must first believe that you can and will go on with life. Allah knows you can definitely handle whatever is going on in your life right now:

“Allah does not bear a soul more than it can bear” (Al-Baqarah; 2: 286)

Always Having Hope No Matter What

Two very powerful ahaadith to always keep in mind when feeling suicidal are:

“Let none of you die unless he has good expectations from Allah.” (Sahih Muslim)

The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “None of you should wish for death because of a calamity befalling him; but if he has to wish for death, he should say: ‘O Allah! Keep me alive as long as life is better for me, and let me die if death is better for me’.” (Bukhari and Muslim)

There is always hope. Have good expectations that Allah will make your situation better and facilitate the means to give you whatever is good for you. Allah is to His slaves as they assume Him to be. If we believe He will give us the best in both worlds, then He will because He is capable of doing that.

Asking For What You Want

Turn your despairing moments into earnest du’aas in which you ask Allah to alleviate your difficulties. Ask Him whatever you want, and He will give it to you – as long as it is good for you (as what we think is good for us may not always be good for us!). Allah is Al-Kareem, The Extremely Generous, so He will definitely bless you with the best and more – if you ask.

“And When My servants ask you concerning Me – Indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me (by obedience) and believe in Me that they may be rightly guided.” (Al-Baqarah; 2: 186)

Seeking Wisdom In The Darkness

Many times, our hearts ache when we don’t understand why certain occurrences ensued against our wishes. We may feel frustrated about the present and hopeless about the future. In order to rectify this, ask Allah to show you the wisdom and ease within your difficulties. Ask Him to improve your situation.

Understanding Yourself

Without understanding the cause, it’s not easy to eliminate the effect (i.e. suicidal thoughts). Ask yourself, “How often do I have suicidal thoughts and why? What triggers my thoughts? What can I do to protect myself?”

To better answer these questions, continue on to the second part of this article.