This past year American Muslims have been faced with several community tragedies leaving many youth and adults alike unsure of how to cope. Murders, suicides, political unrest happen all the time around the world, but these events are even more emotionally taxing when they happen to people in our direct communities and when they occur within a short period of time. Repeated exposure to the traumatic events through social media exacerbates grief as people air out their confusion, shock and sadness with no resolution. These stories fill our newsfeeds, and hearing grim detail after grim detail may even make us feel like we are experiencing what happened ourselves.
As a psychotherapist, I see the ripple effects of these incidents in our community as people grapple with the magnitude of what transpires. I hear the fear in parents’ voices when they speak about what could happen to their children and I see the heaviness in community leaders’ eyes as they try process what has happened themselves. The topic of coping skills comes up frequently in discussions, but sometimes with confusion and misunderstandings. My goal in this brief article is to address misconceptions about what coping skills are and clarify how people can use coping skills effectively.
What are coping skills?
There are myths about what coping skills are, mainly that they are quick fixes to getting rid of sadness and that they have to be extravagant. Many people assume coping skills include going to the spa, retail therapy (which doesn’t exist by the way) or having to travel to an exotic location to get away. In reality coping skills are healthy and moderate strategies individuals use to help calm themselves down when they are overwhelmed with emotion. Coping skills are simple ways to make oneself feel better, vary from person to person and have nothing to do with spending money or being indulgent. Coping skills can be as easy and straight-forward as reading, making dua’a and exercising.
One might wonder if coping skills shouldn’t be extravagant, and sound like routine activities, then what is the point of doing anything at all? The way to differentiate routine activities from coping skill is intentionality and desired effect. Let’s take cooking for example. People mindlessly cook every day. It’s a chore that is done for no other reason than to feed oneself or one’s family. Cooking however for some people can be a coping skill. To explain this example further, let’s say a man has a really hard day at work and needs to destress. He decides he wants to cook dinner (instead of his wife who might usually do the cooking) intentionally because it’s something he enjoys. Picking out a recipe, using a completely different part of his brain than he uses at work and tapping into his creative side gives him joy. It also temporarily distances himself mentally from his stress at work so he can come back to it later with a fresh mind. In this case this man is not doing a daily routine, he is using a coping skill.
Have several coping skills
It’s important to have at least 5 coping skills so that you can try different ones depending on what you need. If you rely only on one coping skill, and it doesn’t work then you will be flustered about what to do next. Also, some coping skills may not be appropriate depending on what part of the day you feel overwhelmed. For example, journaling is a good coping skill but it might not be effective for someone who needs to destress right away at work. A hospital nurse for example, can’t stop what she is doing to journal in the middle of her day. She may want to journal in the evenings, but use deep breathing exercises throughout the day so she can keep up with her work demands.
Have different types of coping skills
It’s essential that coping skills take care of your body, mind and soul. If your coping skill only focuses on one part of yourself, you will not be taking adequate care of your other parts. For example, if your only go-to coping skill is to eat a piece of chocolate, how many pieces of chocolate will you need to eat to get the desired effect and to maintain it? If you always exercise to destress and do nothing else, then you are working out your body, but none of the emotions are being processed. In your personal toolbox of coping skills use different kinds of strategies to engage your mind, body, emotions and spirit.
Don’t forget self-care
Coping skills do not replace ongoing self-care. Self-care is taking care of your mind, body and soul on a consistent basis to help maintain wellness and stability long-term, whereas a coping skill is something you do when overwhelmed. If you don’t engage in self-care consistently you are more likely to crash when adversity hits you- even if you use your coping skills.
Hypothetically, if you are a student who ingests mostly Red Bull and Ramen, sleeps 4 hours a night and doesn’t take breaks to socialize and spend time with loved ones it will not take much of stressor (like a fight with a friend, bad grade, etc.) to send you into a tailspin. Self-care will minimize the effects of stress and make it easier to use your coping skills. In some ways humans are like cars in terms of maintenance —you must fill up your car with gas, get regular oil changes and do general upkeep, otherwise your car will not run properly or just stop working all together. If you don’t take care of your tires you may be in a lot of trouble when a snow storm hits. This applies to your mental health in that you need to consistently take care of your mind and body in order to feel your best and to minimize the effect of unexpected mishaps.
Know when you need more than coping skills
There comes a time when normal grief to a situation starts to become unmanageable and needs more attention than just using coping skills. When this happens it’s important to reach out to a mental health therapist to get a better understand of what might be going on. You will know your stress or the unexpected event is too much when
1) your emotions effect your day to day functioning negatively,
2) your difficult feelings impact your relationships, school, work or family in unhealthy ways
3) you consistently feel bad even with intervention
4) your poor mood persists for several weeks.
Concrete tips for implementing coping skills
Life is difficult and stressors will continue indefinitely. The idea behind coping skills is not that they will eliminate tough emotions, but help you deal with them better. Trying to suppress negative feelings will make you feel worse because you are denying a part of the natural human experience. Liken your emotions to the ocean— the ebb and flow is natural, and on stormy days the waves will be more tumultuous than others. This is totally normal. Your coping skills are not designed to be a dam to prevent the waves from coming in, but are more like your surf board so you can ride the waves as they come.
Coping skills when used properly are good for everyone, even young children. If you don’t know what your coping skills are sit down and reflect on what healthy things make you feel better when you are upset. Common coping skills include spending time in nature, writing out feelings, gardening, spending time with a friend, etc. There are many lists and suggestions you can find online to add to your repertoire.
Write down at least 5 coping skills on paper or in your phone so when you are upset you can readily go to them. In this same place also write down 3-5 things you can do for general self-care, so that when you are faced with stress you are better prepared. Your self-care list might include getting adequate sleep every day, taking at least one day off from work a week or spending electronic-free quality time with family.
May Allah protect our communities from calamities and help us cope in the best way when they do happen.
Najwa Awad is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW-C) that has provided mental health services to individuals and families in the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area for over 10 years. She obtained a Bachelors degree in Psychology at George Mason University in 2005. In 2007 she received a Masters in Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University specializing in the clinical treatment of individuals and families. Najwa also has post graduate education in the treatment of complex psychiatric trauma and telemental health (online counseling). Her experience in the field is diverse and includes providing services at group homes, schools and in the foster care system. Most recently Najwa has been working and supervising in outpatient mental health settings providing therapy to women, children and families. Commonly treated issues include trauma, mood disorders, behavioral disorders and anxiety. In addition to giving regular mental health workshops in the community, Najwa is also Fellow at the Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research.
The Hyperactive And Inattentive Child | Dr. Hatem Al Haj
Some kids are fidgety and hyperactive, as if they are “driven by a motor,” constantly moving around, bouncing off the furniture, and unable to stay still and quiet. They may be also quite impulsive, so they can’t wait for their turn, blurt out answers before you finish your sentence, and intrude in on others. Others are inattentive and out of focus – almost always. They are disorganized and forgetful, and they lose their things regularly. These criteria could be bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, which is Attention Deficit And Hyperactivity Disorder. This disorder is characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Some may have the inattention alone, others the hyperactivity alone, while a third group has both.
This spectrum of disorders may lead to poor performance in school, inconsistency in work, emotional immaturity, and social difficulties, but let us not forget that these kids may have some special strengths as well, such as their boundless energy, enthusiasm, humor, and creativity.
The diagnosis of ADHD will need a specialized health care provider to make, but the following tips will be helpful for kids who share some or all the aforementioned criteria, whether they have the disorder or not.
Since a big part of the problem that will lead to most of the difficulties in schooling is the disorganization and lack of focus, it is recommended that we help those kids stay organized and on task through the following measures:
o Consistent schedules and having daily routines even when it comes to the waking up rituals: going to the bathroom, brushing their teeth and putting on their clothes. (Older kids should have prayed fajr before sunrise.) Have the schedule on the refrigerator or bulletin board in their study or bedroom. (Don’t forget to schedule time for play and wholesome recreation.) Let the child be part of the planning and organizing process.
o Keep in the same place their clothes, backpacks, and school supplies. Use notebook organizers and color-coded folders. If you homeschool, make the day structured and buy them a desk where they can put their belongings, and if you send them to school, make sure they bring back written assignments.
o Decrease distractions as much as possible. If you home school, then I suggest for you to keep a quiet environment as much as possible and avoid excessiveness in decorating your house (particularly their study place) with knickknacks and pictures. Maybe this would provide us a reason to try (and hopefully appreciate) minimalism!
o TV and videogames are bad for all kids, and even worse for kids with ADHD, except when permissible programs are watched in moderation. See the AAP’s guidelines for “use in moderation.”
Some tips for parents and guardians
- Consistent rules must be in place. Rewards must be given to the children when they follow them, and punishment must be judiciously used when the rules are broken.
- Kids with this condition may have low self-esteem, and it is detrimental to their welfare to further lower it. Thus, praise good behaviors frequently even if they were little and expected, such as putting their shoes where they belong.
- Do not be frustrated with the inconstancy of the child’s performance. He may get a 100% on one test and then fail the next. Use the first to encourage them and prove to them that he can do better.
- One on one teaching/tutoring may be needed to enable the child to keep up with the schoolwork.
Should we use medication?
Medications are sometimes needed. You must consult your doctor regarding their use.
Here are my non-professional thoughts:
- Prescribing those medications should never be a kneejerk reaction. First, we must be confident of the diagnosis, then, try all other modalities of therapy, and finally, entertain the option of pharmacological intervention.
- Medicating the children should never be for the interest/comfort of the parents or teachers; it should be only for the interest of the child.
- Medications should be tried if the child is failing to keep up with learning knowledge and skills s/he will need in their future, and other therapies failed to help them
Loving Muslim Marriages Episode 3: Are Muslim Women Becoming Hypersexual?
Are Muslim women with sexual demands becoming “hyper-sexual,” being negatively influenced by life in a Western, post-sexual revolution society? Allah made both men and women sexual, and the recognition of a Muslim woman’s sexual needs is a part of the religion even if it seems missing from the culture. This segment is a continuation of the previous week’s segment titled, “Do Women Desire Sex?”
To view all videos in this series, as well as an links or articles referenced, please visit www.muslimmatters.org/LMM
How Grandparents Can Be Of Invaluable Help In A Volatile ‘Me First’ Age
I grew up in a small rural village of a developing country during the 1950s and 1960s within a wider ‘extended’ family environment amidst many village aunties and uncles. I had a wonderfully happy childhood with enormous freedom but traditional boundaries. Fast forward 30 years, my wife and I raised our four children on our own in cosmopolitan London in the 1980s and 1990s. Although not always easy, we had a wonderful experience to see them grow as adults. Many years and life experiences later, as grandparents, we see how parenting has changed in the current age of confusion and technology domination.
While raising children is ever joyous for parents, external factors such as rapidly changing lifestyles, a breath-taking breakdown of values in modern life, decline of parental authority and the impacts of social media have huge impacts on modern parenting.
Recently, my wife and I decided to undertake the arduous task of looking after our three young grandchildren – a 5½-year old girl and her 2-year old sibling brother from our daughter, plus a 1½-year old girl from our eldest son – while their parents enjoyed a thoroughly deserved week-long holiday abroad. My wife, who works in a nursery, was expertly leading this trial. I made myself fully available to support her. Rather than going through our daily experiences with them for a week, I highlight here a few areas vis a vis raising children in this day and age and the role of grandparents. The weeklong experience of being full time carers brought home with new impetus some universal needs in parenting. I must mention that handling three young grandchildren for a week is not a big deal; it was indeed a sheer joy to be with these boisterous, occasionally mischievous, little kids so dear to us!
- Establish a daily routine and be consistent: Both parents are busy now-a-days earning a livelihood and maintaining their family life, especially in this time of austerity. As children grow, and they grow fast, they naturally get used to the daily parental routine, if it is consistent. This is vital for parents’ health as they need respite in their daily grind. For various practical reasons the routine may sometimes be broken, but this should be an exception rather than a norm. After a long working day parents both need their own time and rest before going to sleep. Post-natal depression amongst mums is very common in situations where there is no one to help them or if the relationship between the spouses is facing difficulty and family condition uninspiring.
In our trial case, we had some struggles in putting the kids to sleep in the first couple of nights. We also faced difficulties in the first few mornings when our grandson would wake up at 5.00am and would not go back to sleep, expecting one of us to play with him! His noise was waking up his younger cousin in another room. We divided our tasks and somehow managed this until we got used to a routine towards the end of the week.
- Keep children away from screens: Grandparents are generally known for their urge to spoil their grandchildren; they are more relaxed about discipline, preferring to leave that job to the parents. We tried to follow the parents’ existing rules and disciplinary measures as much as possible and build on them. Their parents only allow the children to use screens such as iPads or smartphones as and when deemed necessary. We decided not to allow the kids any exposure to these addictive gadgets at all in the whole week. So, it fell on us to find various ways to keep them busy and engaged – playing, reading, spending time in the garden, going to parks or playgrounds. The basic rule is if parents want their kids to keep away from certain habits they themselves should set an example by not doing them, especially in front of the kids.
- Building a loving and trusting relationship: From even before they are born, children need nurture, love, care and a safe environment for their survival and healthy growth. Parenting becomes enjoying and fulfilling when both parents are available and they complement each other’s duties in raising the kids. Mums’ relationship with their children during the traditional weaning period is vital, both for mums and babies. During our trial week we were keenly observing how each of the kids behaved with us. We also observed the evolution of interesting dynamics amongst the three; but that is a different matter. In spite of occasional hiccups with the kids, we felt our relationship was further blossoming with each of them. We made a habit of discussing and evaluating our whole day’s work at night, in order to learn things and plan for a better next day.
A grandparent, however experienced she or he may be, can be there only to lend an extra, and probably the best, pair of hands to the parents in raising good human beings and better citizens of a country. With proper understanding between parents and grandparents and their roles defined, the latter can be real assets in a family – whether they live under the same roof or nearby. Children need attention, appreciation and validation through engagement; grandparents need company and many do crave to be with their own grandchildren. Young grandchildren, with their innate innocence, do even spiritually uplift grandparents in their old age.
Through this mutual need grandparents can transfer life skills and human values by reading with them, or telling them stories or just spending time with the younger ones. On the other hand, in our age of real loneliness amidst illusory social media friends, they get love, respect and even tender support from their grandchildren. No wonder the attachment between grandparents and grandchildren is often so strong!
In modern society, swamped by individualism and other social ills, raising children in an urban setting is indeed overwhelming. We can no longer recreate ‘community parenting’ in the traditional village environment with the maxim “It needs a village to raise a child’, but we can easily create a productive and innovative role for grandparents to bring about similar benefits.