I like to use the holy month as a time to reclaim some balance in my life
Ramadan offers us all the chance to reassess and reset
One of the largest studies yet on the effect of stress revealed this week that three out of four people in the United Kingdom were so stressed at least once over the past year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. Women seem to be faring particularly badly. The report, commissioned by the Mental Health Foundation think tank, showed that 81 per cent of women felt unable to cope, compared with 67 per cent of men.
I can’t help thinking that a study done in most parts of the world, including the UAE, would yield similar results. Long working hours, stressful jobs, harrowing daily commutes and the need to constantly remain connected, combined with financial pressures, the responsibilities of managing homes and bringing up families often without the support of traditional networks, create an environment that breeds imbalance.
This has far-reaching effects – physical and psychological – as we all know, and as the report states, chronic stress can affect sleep, memory and eating habits, among other things, and act as a catalyst for illnesses from stomach ulcers and heart disease to anxiety and depression.
“There are times when exposure to stressors becomes too frequent or too intense to deal with. If the stress response is activated repeatedly, or if it persists over time without recovery periods, the physiological effects result in cumulative wear and tear on the body,” the report concludes.
Like the 81 per cent, I often feel overwhelmed and am on a constant mission to lead a more balanced life. For me, Ramadan is a chance to counter some of the ills of a stress-filled existence. For many non-Muslims, the holy month is seen as something to be borne, but over the years, I have come to see it as an invaluable opportunity to reset and reconnect. Charity, reflection, patience and being your best self – if you stop to listen, the messages of Ramadan are universal and can be valued by all.
I like to use the holy month as a time to reclaim some balance in my life. It’s a kind of New Year 2.0 – a time to revisit resolutions I so ambitiously set at the start of the year and reconfigure, with the benefit of hindsight.
While it is not always possible to work official Ramadan hours in the newspaper world, the daily onslaught of emails does slow slightly, allowing for a rare bit of breathing room. Personally and professionally, it’s a great time to stop and take stock.
For one, even if you aren’t fasting, Ramadan is an opportunity to rethink your eating habits. I’ll be making every effort to cut out sugar for the month and try to get back into cooking good, clean, wholesome meals, as opposed to my current ad hoc, pick-up-what-you-can-when-you-can approach to nutrition – another common by-product of a stressful life. Another obvious point, perhaps, but as the Mental Health Foundation report highlights, many people respond to stress with negative habits like overeating and smoking.
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Taking time to think about what you are putting into your body is a basic tenet of Ramadan and is something we could all benefit from. Gyms will be quieter, so I hope to become reacquainted with my personal trainer (we have been estranged for the best part of a year). And, hopefully, exercise classes that have become a distant memory will be revisited.
Ramadan is a time to reconnect with yourself, but also those around you. Friends who have been neglected in favour of late nights at the office; phone calls and emails that went unanswered because there simply wasn’t time; loved ones who were just not given the attention they deserve; now is the time to make amends.
With fewer social engagements on the weekends, Ramadan is also conducive to a mid-year spring clean. Sorting through the mountains of stuff you’ve invariably accumulated and editing it down can be a cathartic experience. And donating everything you don’t need to charity will help get you into the Ramadan spirit.
Ultimately, Ramadan is about learning to appreciate all that we have. It’s a time to remind yourself that, however stressful and overwhelming our lives may be, there is always much to be thankful for.