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7 Tips to Overcome Anxiety and Worry

Sarah Sultan, LMHC

Published

While in a small boat in the middle of the ocean, the sky suddenly darkens and the winds start to pick up. Suddenly, a downpour falls heavily onto your head and shoulders, filling the tiny boat with water. As the boat capsizes, you find yourself surrounded by the seemingly never-ending ocean. You feel completely vulnerable and unprotected. As you try to get your bearings, a wave crashes over you, submerging you under water. Then another. Then another. You can barely catch your breath and you’re sure you’re not going to make it out of there.

Anxiety and constant worrying can feel like you’re drowning in a sea of never-ending problems. You may be able to gasp in a breath of air but soon you’re pushed beneath the surface again, nearly unable to stay afloat feeling the weight of so much worry heavily overtaking your mind. Despite feeling powerless, realize that you can regain control of your life and your anxiety.

A certain degree of worry and anxiety exists in everyone and is completely normal. Everyone worries at times. However, for some people, anxiety can take over their lives. Every instance and situation is viewed in the direst way possible, which can lead to a multitude of physical and mental health issues. Constant worry and anxiety can impact our productivity and can also be taxing on the people in our lives, which can strain relationships. This is why the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to make a du’aa seeking refuge from worry saying, “Oh Allah! I seek refuge in You from worry and sadness, from weakness and laziness, from miserliness and cowardice, from being overcome by debt and from being overpowered by men.” (Sahih al-Bukhari)

7 Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Worry:

1-Identify initial signs that you may be spiraling toward drowning in a sea of worries

Pay attention to your mind and body during calm and stressful times.

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When things are going great, what thoughts go through your mind? What do you tend to say to yourself during those times? You might be able to notice small things like the wind rustling through the leaves of a tree when you’re feeling positive and calm. Feel the ease in your muscles and notice the rate of your pulse. Compare this to times when you are struggling. Perhaps your thoughts tend to be more negative or you’re more critical of yourself. You may find yourself thinking things like, “I have so much to do and there’s no way I can accomplish it all.” or “I say the most awkward things when I’m around people.” Do you notice tension anywhere in your body? Do you start to feel warm or notice your heart racing? These signals will occur before your anxiety and worry get out of hand so knowing these signs can protect you from a downward spiral.

2-Accept that anxiety levels go up and down

When you are overcome with worry and anxiety, you may feel as though things will never get better. You may wonder whether there will ever be a time without panic in your future- whether you’ll ever get to breathe easy again. Remember, your anxiety cannot hurt you. Our minds often trick us into thinking that the discomfort we feel due to anxiety is dangerous. Many of my clients experience panic attacks during which they literally feel as though they are dying. The feeling of your chest constricting, your breathing wavering and your body freezing is terrifying. Despite how scary these sensations are, one of the proven techniques that helps a person overcome a panic attack quicker is acceptance. When struggling with feelings of anxiety, one of the most powerful ways to diminish the control that these sensations have on you is to accept them. It seems counterintuitive because you brain and body basically scream, “I have to get rid of this feeling! It’s horrible!” However, once you are able to acknowledge that it cannot hurt you and that it will pass, anxiety loses some of its grasp on you. Remember, Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) promises us ease as He (subhanahu wa ta’ala) says, “For indeed, with hardship comes ease.” (94:5) 

3-Pay attention to your triggers and try to avoid them

The example of Allah is the greatest and the best that we can try to emulate. One thing you will notice as you read the Qur’an is that Islam is a preventative religion. For example, Allah says, “And come not near to unlawful intercourse. Verily, it is a fahishah (i.e. anything that transgresses its limits; a great sin), and an evil way.” (17:32) Likewise, we can protect ourselves from drowning in a sea of worries when we realize the situations that tend to trigger our anxiety. Do you tend to panic when you’re running late? Do your best to allow yourself extra time to get ready before you have to be at an appointment. Do you tend to get more anxious when you’re exhausted? Try to go to bed earlier to allow yourself to awake refreshed and ready to face the day. Do you tend to feel anxious every time you speak with a certain friend? Try to minimize your contact with this person, particularly if the effects of this friendship are toxic to your mental wellbeing.

4-Transform your thought process

Realize that your worries are often a “false alarm.” When feeling stressed, we tend to catastrophize and imagine the worst-case scenarios for every situation. A mother of a newborn endures very little sleep, fluctuating hormones and a new world filled with unknowns. As soon as her baby sneezes, she wonders whether this is an indication of a serious health issue, which leads to further worry and anxiety. Gradually work on replacing your worries and anxiety-provoking thoughts with more realistic and healthier ones. This gives you the ability to control your anxiety level, which is empowering. Positive thoughts make us better able to deal with life’s challenges. Imagine how empowered you can feel if you view the things you worry about as opportunities rather than insurmountable obstacles! Remember the saying of the Prophet , “The affair of the believer is amazing in that it is always good for him, and this is true only for a believer. If something joyful comes to him he gives thanks, and that is good for him. If something harmful comes to him, he is patient, and that is good for him.” (Muslim)

5-Learn and practice some anxiety-reducing techniques

There are a variety of techniques that can help to reduce anxiety during moments of stress. Choose the ones that work best for you and continually implement them; gradually, they will become almost automatic insha’Allah. Knowing that you will be able to regain control over your worries during an anxiety-filled time can be very calming and empowering. Some of my personal favorites techniques include: making du’aa, deep breathing, taking a walk in a natural setting, mindfulness and visualization (i.e. imagining myself in a peaceful and safe environment that makes me calm and content). There are so many supplications the Prophet (sala Allahu ‘alayhi wa salam) taught us to use during times of worry and anxiety, since this is a universal issue, so find the ones that most resonate with you. One that never fails to lighten my heart is the following: Ibn Mas’ud reported that the Prophetﷺ said, “If any servant of Allah afflicted with distress or grief makes this supplication, his supplication will be accepted: ‘O Allah, I am Your servant, son of Your servant, son of your maidservant. My forehead is in Your hand. Your command concerning me prevails, and Your decision concerning me is just. I call upon You by every one of the beautiful names by which You have described Yourself, or which You have revealed in Your book, or have taught anyone of Your creatures, or which You have chosen to keep in the knowledge of the unseen with You, to make the Qur’an the delight of my heart, the light of my breast, and remover of my griefs, sorrows, and afflictions‘.” (Ahmad & Ibn Hibban)

6-Live in the present moment rather than worrying about the past or future

Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) said, “Your attention must be directed to your life in the present – the time between two times. If you waste it, then you have wasted the opportunity to be of the fortunate and saved ones. If you look after it, having rectified the two times – what is before and after it – then you will be successful and achieve rest, delight and ever-lasting bliss.” We are often so overcome with worry about the past and anxiety about the future that we completely miss out on the present. Abu Hurairah (radi Allahu ‘anhu) reported that the Prophet ﷺ said, “A strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone, but cherish what gives you benefit in the Hereafter and seek help from Allah and do not lose heart, and if anything (in the form of trouble) comes to you, don’t say, ‘If I had not done that, such and such thing would not have happened,’ but say, ‘Allah has ordained it so, and whatever He pleases He does,’ because ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ open the door for Satan.”(Muslim) You cannot control what will happen within the next hour nor can you change what happened during the last hour but the present moment is within your grasp. Rather than focusing on “what-ifs,” focus on “what is.” Pay attention to the blessings surrounding you- the feeling of the breeze on your face, the taste of the tea on your tongue, the sound of birds chirping nearby. When you choose to be mindful of the blessings that surround you in every moment of everyday, you will naturally start to find that you tend to feel calmer and less bombarded by anxieties about the past and future.

7-Hope for the best and prepare for the worst

There is something very powerful about facing your fears. Sometimes, we push the worst-case scenario to the back of our minds, afraid of facing the possibility that something so scary could actually happen. However, this just promotes anxiety to arise at inopportune times. What is that fear that you constantly sweep under the rug? Is it a question about whether your marriage is worth saving? Or what would happen if you don’t get into medical school? When we take the time to explore our fears and how we would handle such a difficult situation, the worst-case scenario is no longer so anxiety-inducing. While we prepare for the worst, we also hope for the best by putting our trust in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He). Remember that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is capable of all things so never cease in making du’aa to Him. Anas said that when the Prophet ﷺ was faced with a serious difficulty, he would always supplicate, “Ya Hayyu, ya Qayyumu, bi-rahmatika astaghithu (O the Living, O the Eternal, I seek help in Your grace).” (Tirmidhi) Also, striving to do everything for the sake of Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) can be very calming. By finding fulfillment through a greater purpose- when you make your intentions for the sake of Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He)– even if things don’t turn out perfectly, your ultimate goal in pleasing Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is still achieved. That way, you will worry less and feel less anxious about any mishaps or obstacles that come your way insha’Allah.

We all experience anxiety at times; it’s a universal emotion that makes us human. However, our lives don’t have to be overtaken by them. You can manage your anxiety and overcome your worries. Rather than drowning in a sea of worries, trust in Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) and trust in the abilities He gave you as you learn to stay afloat while riding the waves that come your way.

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Sarah Sultan is a licensed Mental Health Counselor and has a Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling from Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, graduating Summa Cum Laude. She has experience in a variety of therapeutic interventions and has worked with several age groups including children with special needs, adolescents with emotional and behavioral issues, families undergoing difficulties and survivors of trauma and domestic violence. Sarah is currently working as a therapist at a residential treatment center for teens in crisis, where she works with adolescents dealing with suicidality, trauma, self-harming behaviors, aggression and a variety of other issues. She is also an instructor with Mishkah University, where she teaches a course about the intersection between Islam, psychology and counseling. She has been actively involved in serving the Muslim community over the course of the past 10 years through providing lectures, halaqas and workshops.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Kumi

    March 25, 2017 at 4:37 PM

    JazakAllahu khairan for these useful tips. You found a very apt metaphor, a capsizing boat in the middle of a never-ending ocean is exactly what it feels like… I’ll make sure to read the prayers you recommended.

  2. Avatar

    Nimra

    March 26, 2017 at 10:10 PM

    JAZAKALLAH!

  3. Avatar

    Fabiha Fatima

    March 27, 2017 at 2:15 AM

    جزاك الله خير
    This bought tears to my eyes. I’ve been suffering from anxiety for quiet sometime. I know how difficult it is to calm down. Being a student of medicine, and even after knowing the whole mechanism of anxiety i still find myself stuck in it some times but سبحان الله from my experience all i’ve come to realize is that whenever i am succumbed in anxiety its always rememberance of Allah that is helpful.

    Just how the writer has used the metaphor of the boat in the middle of the ocean. It’s very apt to how a anxiety/panic attack feels.

    In the midst of it, when you find no way out its alway ” يا الله” that escapes my lips when i am drowing in that anxious feeling.

    I pray to الله سبحانه وتعالى to help to calm all those experiencing anxiety. and to help us to increase our iman so that we do not get predisposed to anxiety.

    Best thing to remember when anxious is انا لله و إنا إليه راجعون ❤

  4. Avatar

    anintrovertedblogger

    March 27, 2017 at 11:52 AM

    This was very well written and such good reminders in times when one faces anxiety.

  5. Avatar

    Hnia

    March 28, 2017 at 5:54 AM

    JizakAllah kher for these tips! You have described anxiety so accurately. People always tell me to relax and stop overthinking. But it’s not as easy as it seems. I will try to do what you’ve recommended In sha Allah.

  6. Avatar

    N/A

    August 7, 2018 at 9:15 PM

    Point #3 encourages avoidance which exacerbates anxiety. You are confused and confusing others as a result. If one is being assaulted than avoidance is recommended; however, if someone is dealing with a ‘perceived’ threat (anxious episode) they are well advised to sit in the situation and expose themselves to it allowing the anxiety to subside naturally. Advising otherwise is ill advised and will only serve to keep the cycle of worry/threat/anxiety in full swing. Consult a trained professional before writing articles as such.

  7. Avatar

    Amir Mirza

    October 29, 2018 at 10:28 PM

    It’s a great article written to curb anxiety, may Allah showers His blessings on you . I am currently passing through this phase of severe anxiety attacks off and on for no apparent reasons , some nights get terrible with no sleep I practice Darood Pak, deep breathing which in the end brings down the anxiety level and I sleep , though very late . One thing I would like to share that eating vegetables ; youghurt , greens , nuts like almonds and walnuts , oat porridge play a vital role in settling down the anxiety, avoid fried and oily things , may Allah save us all from this disorder which is no less than an evil and a life destroyer

  8. Avatar

    Lilly S. Mohsen

    January 8, 2019 at 6:13 PM

    Truly a great article and much needed in this day and age

  9. Avatar

    Ganiyu Hassan

    April 14, 2019 at 4:32 AM

    Jazak’Allahu Khaira for these suggestions. May Allah SWT guard and guide us right, make us successful in this life and hereafter, Aameen. Maa Salam

  10. Avatar

    Tasneem Ahmed

    May 10, 2019 at 6:05 AM

    My anxiety has manifested to a point where I cannot control the blackouts and I don’t really have identifiable triggers anymore. Currently, I am looking for a job I will graduate this year. Please keep me in your Duas. May Allah make it easy for all of us.

  11. Avatar

    Imran Qureshi

    October 4, 2019 at 9:11 PM

    Assalamualaikum sister no matter how hard i try not to think about my health theres is something always growing in me and like pain here pain there increase of heart feeling getting heart attack i have tried all types medication and done many wazaif but still i always think negative probably getting suicidal thoughts.. please help me sister with something to more powerful to train my brain.. the a ove article which you wrote was very beautiful but my brain started all the calculation to end it up in a negative in my mind like( our beloved prophet was chosen by allah and he will always get every answers directly from allah as gabriel a.s was appointed to do all the duty’s of prophet) and for me how hard i cry and how much i pray i find no 1 no answers only problems and difficulties but no solutions.. i am extremely aorry if hurt anyone sentiments.. and 1 more thing mashallah i pray all the salahs but theres always something ringing in my head that (maazallah) theres no allah its all stories i am started to reason my self with logic and science and various other things please help me sister with head and my iman brother from india jazakallah khair..

  12. Avatar

    N/A

    January 20, 2020 at 5:08 PM

    I totally love this article it’s exactly the sort of article I wish I had the chance to read when I was faith seeking a long time ago and educating myself about my own faith. The medical condition that I have causes me to be very anxious and the daily stresses usually tip me over the edge. This article is great

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