Types of Stressors

What causes us to get stressed out? 3 Types of Stress-Causing Life Events

SUMMARY: Stress is an unavoidable part of daily life. It constantly comes and goes and is more severe for different people at different stages in their lives. Everyone’s sources of stress are different, but the TYPES of events that stress us out can be reduced to 3 FUNDAMENTAL HUMAN STRESSORS. This article discusses the three types of stress-causing life events that we all face so you can understand what you’re up against!  

 

In our day to day life, we are constantly surrounded by new experiences and challenges. Which ones do we determine to be threatening and stress-inducing?

3 Types of life events cause of stress. No matter what you are feeling stress towards, it can most likely be categorised under one of these 3 conditions. Think about what is causing you stress and try to categoise it under one of the following 3 stress-inducing life events:

  1. Novel + uncertain  situations
  2. Frustration when a desired goal cannot be reached
  3. Punishment when we experience an aversive state (eg. Trauma) 

Stressor #1: Something New & Uncertain

Our brains are excellent at detecting problems and uncertainties in our lives – sometimes before we even consciously realise it! Whenever we face a new challenge, our brain begins to assess whether we are prepared and able to meet our new needs and requirements.

In Ramadan, we can feel stress due to uncertainty as the new fasting routine sets in. There are new obligations for night prayers, work and school obligations which suddenly feel more time-restricted, challenges to cook for the hungry family for iftar, new socialising obligations at iftar parties, as well as the challenge to fit in time for extra worship – these are blessed days and nights, after all!

Although all of these new Ramadan realities are exciting, they are also new and add uncertainty into your life. You might find yourself faced with questions of uncertainy such as:

  • Will I be able to get my work done during the fasting day? The evening is pretty much gone after iftar….
  • How will I fit in cooking time while also trying to maximise worship time? What about spending quality time with my kids? 
  • When will I fit in studying for summer courses? How will I study when I’m hungry and tired? 

When we face NEW problems or experiences, UNCERTAINTY is what determines if we feel stressed out.That’s why when you face a new challenge or situation, your stress levels start rising, and a BIG CLOUD OF PANIC UNCERTAINTY starts to inflate in your mind.

 

 

You can get your stress back under control by doing this quick mental check for uncertainty:

  • What is my desired outcome for this situation? 
  • What is the likely outcome of this situation? 
  • What is the worst possible outcome? 
  • What do I know or AM in control of? 
  • What do I NOT know or am NOT in control of?

Notice as you go through this checklist, that cloud of uncertainty in your mind starts to shrink.

Going through this checklist is a BIG help in making you feel less stressed, even BEFORE you start doing anything to address the situation! That’s because this checklist FORCES you to get an ACCURATE assessment of the uncertainty in a situation, rather than letting the PANIC CLOUD decide that everything is uncertain for you! It helps you complete an accurate risk-assessment that allows you to approach stress from a more level-headed, balanced perspective.

In Ramadan, it can be helpful to list out your responsibilities and goals for the month to avoid feeling overhwlemed in the following domains:

  • Worship goals (Quran recitation, Islamic leactures/books, etc.)
  • Family obligations (kids, cooking, spending time, etc.)
  • Work or school obligations & time commitments (work, classes, studying, etc.)
  • Personal goals/projects/learning/development
  • Health goals (working out, napping/sleep needs, healthy meal prep, etc.)
  • Other areas you spend your time (socialising, social media, etc.)

Once you have your list, prioritise it according to which activities you absolutely want to accomplish and which activities you are O.K. with if they don’t happen. Realise that you may not be able to complete everything, but planning 1-3 “must-do” tasks every day will allow you to make progress without feeling overwhelmed.

Making a systematic plan to accomplish your most important tasks in Ramadan will allow you to remove uncertainty, thereby reducing your initial feelings of stress. Remember, Ramadan is a month of striving in which your good intentions will be rewarded! So make a plan, do your best, and try to enjoy the opportunity to be rewarded for your effort, instead of your outcomes (more on optimism later). 

  • Action: What are you uncertain about this upcoming Ramadan? When you feel your stress levels start to rise, go through this quick mental checklist to assess uncertainty. Braindumping all your cluttered thoughts on a piece of paper also helps remove uncertainty.

 

Stressor #2: Frustration when we can’t meet our goals & needs  

Frustration when things don’t go your way is the most common source of stress in most people’s lives. The more important your final objective, needs and goals are to you, the more stress-inducing and frustrating  you will find obstacles preventing you from achieving your goals.

When our physical needs and psychological needs are not met, we  feel stress. In Ramadan, we experience deprivation of some of our fundamental needs, including sleep deprivation, as well as hunger and thirst. 

 

This can contribute to a tendency towards irritability that many Muslims experience during Ramadan, as per the catchphrase, “fasting and furious”.

Reframing your perspective is essential to overcome this stress due to deprivation of your physical needs. On a cognitive level, we know that the objective of fasting is to practice patience in a state of need and physical deprivation before Allah ﷻ. However, internalising this attitude takes a bit more work.

Making a habit of saying dhikr or a dua’a every time a pang of hunger hits your body can be a helpful way to shift your perspective to use this state of deprivation to remind you of your purpose in fasting and obtain a state in which you are frequently remembering Allah

In addition to stress due to deprivation of our physical needs, we also experience stress when our 3 major psychological needs are not met:

 

Autonomy: The need to feel in control of our life. This can be a source of stress in Ramadan if we feel uncertain, out of control, unproductive, and overwhelmed due to new Ramadan responsibilities. Removing uncertainty as discussed previously is essential in restoring feelings of autonomy and control to reduce stress, as well as exploring new ways to succeed in accomplishing your goals.

Competence: The need to feel that we can do things well. If we feel successful, we are happy. When we feel like a failure, we are stressed.

Relatedness: Feeling connected to others around us, our family and community. In Ramadan, using your family and community support to help reduce stress is effective as this is typically a time of year of increased communal and family relations.

In Ramadan, we can feel our psychological need for autonomy and competence threatened if our grand plans for how we will “become a Supermuslim” do not seem to be panning out. This can lead to frustration and stress.

This stress is very familiar to women on their menses, who may feel frustrated at being unable to fast, and the thought of making up the fasts later outside of Ramadan, all by themselves. Or perhaps you planned to read the entire Quran in Ramadan, while never missing a night of Taraweh and getting in extra Qiyaam at night. Suddenly, your boss at work slams you with overtime hours, and by the time you get home, you are rushing through a late iftar and barely catching the last few rakats of Taraweh. You return home exhausted and collapse in bed, narrowly missing fajr the next day. You feel frustrated due to your inability to meet your initial goal, and stress ensures.

No matter what your goals in Ramadan, during this busy time of year, sometimes you cannot accomplish everything you set out to do. To avoid feeling this frustration-induced stress, we can re-orient what we deem as important to match our competencies and current abilities.  

The Prophet said: “Amazing is the affair of the believer, verily all of his affairs are good and this is for no one except the believer. If something good befalls him, then he is grateful, and that is good for him. If something of harm befalls him, he is patient, and that is good for him.” [Saheeh Muslim #2999]

A Muslim is someone who is naturally optimistic, because we know we can be rewarded, no matter what our life circumstances! Reminding yourself of this simple fact constantly helps make it part of your natural mode of thinking.

When we re-align our priorities with the fact that at the end of the day, what matters most is pleasing Allah ﷻ and reaching Jannah, we can begin to break free from the shackles of this worldly life. This worldly life constantly draws us into it, pulling at our heartstrings and swaying us to attach our self-worth and meaning into things that we can fool ourselves into thinking our important. Our wealth and job are meant to be a means of providing for our family and living a comfortable life so we can worship Allah ﷻ to the best of our abilities. Yet, we all fall into the trap of making the means the end goal in and of itself, and when we experience frustrations in our workplace, we experience stress.

Detach from the world, and reattach to what truly matters. This is the most soul-centric way to redefine what frustration means to you, as a means of removing stress from your life.

This attitude can take a lifetime to cultivate, but it is well worth the effort.

Practice optimism, while you practice detachment from this world and reattaching yourself to the hereafter. Ramadan is truly the perfect time to begin practising this cognitive shift.

 

Stressor #3: Stress when we feel we are being “punished” or in a traumatic aversive negative life circumstance 

The Quran tells us that we will inevitably face trauma in our life, “We will certainly test you with hunger, poverty, losing people and famine. Congratulations to those who perservere (sabireen). Those who say ‘We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return’. They are the ones who will be honoured by their Lord and granted Mercy. They are the ones that are guided”

This passage in the Quran provides us with many profound lessons that can aid an individual going through hardships in life.

The first lesson we learn comes from the beginning, “We will certainly test you”

Since we are given such a realistic picture of what life will look like, we are able to be prepared for the trials of life. If you are in a state of ease at the moment, use this opportunity of clarity to make a crisis plan if things go bad. Write down the people you will reach out to, the services you may want to use. Although nothing will do away with the pain and stress of dealing with loss or hardship, having a plan will significantly decrease the stress you will experience if or when things go awry.

The second lesson comes from the portion, “Congratulations to those who persevere (sabireen)”

We are simultaneously told about the wisdom of our trauma as well as our way out. All of the hardship we go through in life is for the purpose of developing the quality of sabr (perseverance; patience; self-control; discipline). Being able to show sabr in the face of the trials of life enables a person to build a strong connection with Allah by demonstrating tawakkul (reliance).

This is why the Quran pairs these two qualities together, “(The ones who will achieve paradise) are those showed sabr and relied (tawakkul) on their Lord” (Quran, Surah Ankaboot (29): 59). The hardships of life present us with the opportunity to discover the treasure that will make our lives better in this world and the next.

This treasure is the experience of holistic submission and turning to Allah, relying only on him. After going through the hardship, we are meant to replace what we lost in this world with Allah in our heart. If we can stand firm in the face of adversity, we can experience this treasure which is described by many scholars as the paradise in this world.

The third lesson comes specifically from the word, “Congratulations (Or Give Glad Tidings)”

This informs us that the end of tunnel, the silver lining in the dark cloud, the sun that pierces through the darkness at sunrise is all worth the pain experienced to that point. When someone is congratulated, they are told that they have achieved something great. Thus, Allah is telling us that what is to come in the end will justify the pain and hardship that we went through. What exactly is the end? We are told later on, “They are the ones who will be honoured by their Lord and granted Mercy. They are the ones that are guided”. 

The fourth lesson comes from the statement, “To Allah we belong and to Allah we will return.” 

Reminding ourselves of these two fundamental realities throughout our life is essential in coping with stress in difficult times. We all belong to Allah, therefore Allah will take care of us. We are on our journey back to Allah, therefore put your life into perspective and focus on what will bring you closer to him.

These 4 guiding principles help us to cope with trauma by giving us:

  1. A crisis plan to fall back on, and
  2. Shifting our focus to opportunities for personal growth,
  3. Believing that Allah’s Mercy will transform our lives for the better, and
  4. Putting our loss into perspective by thinking about when we will return to Allah.

Now that you understand the types of stress that are harmful to your health, it’s time to go deeber and identify YOUR personal sources of stress in your life.

We all experience different hardships, but with smarter stress management and coping strategies, you will deal with stress more effectively daily! In the next article, learn essential strategies on how to cope with your stress smarter every day!

Stress management goes hand-in-hand with healthy food, exercise and sleep! In fact, getting enough sleep and exercising are essential ways to become better at coping with stress every day, especially in Ramadan But, no need to stress out about how you’re going to fit it all in this year! Luckily, we’ve got you covered!

The Ramadan Reset eBook is your complete solution to healthy eating, exercise, sleep, coffee and so much more in Ramadan! With 90 dietitian-created recipes, full fasting fitness schedules for ALL levels, your Ramadan will never be the same! Click HERE to learn more!

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