Using Your Anxiety to Do Good

Alright, I admit it. I'm an anxious person and it wasn't until recently that I accepted that. I took it as a negative thing at first, but then I realized I could use the feeling of being anxious to do good. I figured out how to use it as fuel and motivation to get things done rather than something that puts me down and keeps me from accomplishing my day-to-day goals.

I recently sat down and thought about where my anxiety roots from and how I can control it and use it to my advantage. Here's what I came up with:

1. Figure out what causes your anxiety.

Whether it's family drama, public speaking, social anxiety, school, work, or something else, you need to realize what makes you feel nervous and anxious. It helps to understand the situation, so you can react and respond in the best way. At times, I would feel anxious and have absolutely no idea why. When I actively wondered what happened through the week or day that might have triggered the anxiety, that's when I figured out the answer.

2. Respond or react to that problem or situation in a way that reduces your anxiety.

If your parents, husband, friends, or any other person is doing something to stress you out, have a calm discussion with them to get them to understand that a certain thing they said or did caused you feel anxious and stressed. This may or may not be so simple. This person might get frustrated, but you have to at least try to get them to understand, so they can possibly help you by changing the way they behave to make you feel more comfortable. It's important to let those close to us know if they're making us feel negatively, because we usually spend quite a bit of time with our loved ones. Not the easiest thing in the world to do, but you have to try.

If it's school, work, or social situations that make you feel nervous, it's important to tackle everything slowly. I used to be so overwhelmed with work during architecture school, but I was reminded by my husband many times to just take a deep breath and figure out what steps I needed to take to get through my work load. We make steps for huge life goals, but it's important to do that for our daily routines as well. Also, you have to write it down. Don't let it sit in your head to add to the clutter in your mind that's already causing you to stress out.

3. Use your anxiety to fuel and motivate yourself to do good for yourself.

One day my husband told me to stop focusing on pleasing everyone around me and just spend some time to think about what makes me happy and just do it. It was easier said than done, but once I followed that advice, I figured out how to use my anxiety for good. 

You need to balance the cause of your anxiety with an activity or two that allow you to get your mind off of things. It also helps to be organized. Schedule time to relax and actively try to be happy. Whether you use a pen and a planner or Google calendar to schedule your daily activities, it's important to schedule relaxation time. Many times we think we'll naturally let happiness fit into our busy schedules, but we end up ignoring the act of treating ourselves out and just having some down time. 

I started trying new things once I realized I needed to release some stress and distract myself from things that made me anxious. Here's what I started to do:

  • Took up biking on different trails around the city
  • Yoga classes
  • Go for a stroll around a nice forest preserve trail
  • Go out for dinner to try new food
  • Take a day trip to somewhere nearby during the weekend
  • Blog. Blog. Blog.

Being outdoors, whether it was for biking or just taking a stroll, honestly helps me relax so much. The trails around Chicago are so beautiful and just taking in fresh air while biking made me feel so refreshed afterward. You just have to do it to believe it. It's an awesome feeling.

My first time at Chicago's "Bike the Drive" event

My first time at Chicago's "Bike the Drive" event

4. Once you figure out what helps you relax, excel at it. Give it your all and don't make it a chore.

A part of me blogs to relieve stress. Writing and taking photos makes me relive happy moments and share them with others. It's an anxiety reducer for me, along with the list I shared above. I try not to make it a chore for myself. I don't think, "Hey, I'm doing this to relax right now, because I'm so stressed." I fall in love with what makes me feel good and make time for it during the week. My husband and I try our best to go biking during the weekend. I try to blog/write/take photos at least once a week. But I'm not perfect. I forget sometimes, but once I check my calendar and I'm reminded to work on something I truly enjoy doing, then I get back to it. I naturally feel less anxious and I automatically want to do my best at what I love doing.

5. Figure out what works for YOU.

I (possibly like you) used to read many blogs to learn more about what others do to reduce anxiety, but many times the same things didn't work for me. I would always take away one thing from any self-help book or blog post and that was to figure out what works best for ME. I recommend you do the same, but I hope my post helped you think with an open mind and realize that anxiety is not always a bad thing. It can also motivate you to find what makes you happy and put your heart into it, just as I realized how much I love activities like biking and blogging :)

Happiness and Kindness

Part I.
Be happy.

Yesterday was the first day of my final semester in college.

During winter break, I avoided thinking about school. I knew I had a big load ahead of me this semester and I refused to let that distract me from my break. A few days before school started, I decided to gather my things and prepare for my classes. I purchased notebooks, made sure I had the right textbooks, bought a fresh new sketchbook for my studio course, and cleansed my mind of any negative thoughts about school, work, everything.

Don't get me wrong. I actually love going to school. I've loved it ever since I started attending school, but every now and then (just as any normal person), I get stressed out. Toward the middle of the semester, studio gets a bit more stressful, the exams start pouring in, the assignments keep coming, and I just want everything to go smoothly. I always tried to be the best at everything. For the first half of college, I told myself that stressing out was completely fine. Actually, I thought it was necessary to stress out in order to finish my work properly. It was unhealthy and unproductive, even though I told myself that it was a part of life and I just had to get used to it.

Eventually, I realized that freaking out was not the answer to getting things done. I realized that I wasn't getting the most of my education with all the sleepless nights, unhealthy eating habits, and being worried all the time. I decided to force myself to relax, to make more time to do what I love at school and also outside of school. I missed reading for fun. I missed writing for enjoyment. I missed having a balance. I used to be one of those architecture students who had the mentality that studio was my life. School was my life and everything else was secondary until I was done with school. Now, as I begin my last semester of college, I can tell you that I'm so, very happy I stopped thinking that way.

Recently, a couple of my friends told me that ever since I got married, I had changed. I thought I was about to get the typical you're-such-a-married-person, you-never-have-time-for-us talk, but instead they said I was more relaxed. I seemed happier. I smiled more. I joked around more. I seemed to just feel lighter and calmer. They said they loved it and were happy they finally got the chance to meet the real me. It sounds mushy, but I seriously loved hearing that. It was true. I felt wonderful Alhamdulilah. This isn't to say that marriage is the reason I'm happy and that the only way to feel happy is to go get hitched. It's vital to feel happy on your own, not depending on others as a source of happiness. But Afroz did help me realize that I had to make time for myself, that I had to take care of myself, and be content with my lifestyle. He's good at pushing me to go to the gym when I'm tired and getting me to watch a movie when he can see I'm close to stressing out.

This blog that you're reading now was the start of my new calm-the-heck-down-Fariha lifestyle. Reading new books was also part of the new journey. I started reading a book called

The Happiness Project

by Gretchen Rubin. I was in Target one day in the books section and to be honest, the cover just looked cute to me, so I picked it up. The summary on the back sounded like I would benefit from the book, so I said why not?

(Source)

Now, I freaking love this book and think everyone should read it, both young and old, men and women, whoever you are, go read it. The book has information in it that at first you think you know. Actually, we all already know the information in this book, but Rubin explains how she thoughtfully applied the things we already know in her own lifestyle. She would make time for happiness, which is something most of say we don't have much of. She made everyday things part of her "Happiness Project," so that her life would be a little less dull and more exciting. When I say everyday things, I mean everyday things like cleaning, reading, talking to people nicely, managing your money, etc.

Each month, she focused on a different part of her life to focus on. She would ask herself how she could improve that specific part of her life. She explains what her successes were and what her failures were. She's super transparent, which makes the book more relatable. I never thought I would read such a book at this age. To be honest, I had the perception that self-help books were for people who were engulfed in many problems and were very unhappy. I was so wrong. This book isn't the kind that makes you feel like you have so many problems and the author has the answer to them all. She just shares her two-cents and made me realize that I can totally be happier if I just try to be happy.

Part II.
Being happier means being kinder.

When I see what's going on all over the world, I feel depressed at first, which obviously goes against my goal to be happier. I realized that I can continue to have sympathy for the unfortunate events that take place. I can pray for peace and happiness for everyone in the world--but I cannot let anyone or anything predetermine who I am as an individual. In The Happiness Project, Rubin mentions that she always looks for opportunities to make new friends and, in general, be nicer to others. She mentions how she started to avoid gossiping and saying negative things about people, events, etc. She also made a checklist for first new encounters:

  • Smile more frequently.
  • Actively invite others to join a conversation.
  • Create a positive mood.
  • Open a conversation.
  • Try to look accessible and warm.
  • Show a vulnerable side and laugh at yourself.
  • Show a readiness to be pleased.
  • Follow others' conversational leads.
  • Ask questions.

You're probably wondering, where am I going with all of this?

I dislike it when people assume something about me, because of what's on my head or what I'm wearing or because of my faith or culture. Predetermining how someone is as a person without getting to know them is just going to keep people from being kind to each other. Some might say, that the solution to all the unfortunate events that take place everyday in our world is by creating a hashtag or putting up a Facebook status. Some might say protest. Some might say don't get involved. It's quite fascinating how every person has their own way of dealing with these situations. Everyone has a reason for what they do, usually with positive and respectful intentions. 

My little goal in life, starting now, is to be happier, which includes being kinder. This involves holding the door open for my apartment neighbors in the lobby, saying hello to the person standing next to me as we wait for the bus, not talking negatively about a professor just because I'm stressed about his/her class, being a better listener to my friends, and being positive overall...to every single person I encounter, regardless of faith, race, whatever. As easy as this sounds, we are all guilty of doing the exact opposite of this every now and then, but this post serves as a reminder to myself before anyone else. 

Part of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) include being happy and being kind to family, friends, neighbors, strangers, etc. The Prophet (pbuh) was human. He would worry and stress, he would laugh and joke around, but he was always kind to others. I pray that Allah (swt) helps me follow my two goals of being happier and being kinder to all. And that everyone attains happiness and shares kindness with others as well.

--

"Let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day speak good, or keep silent; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his neighbor; and let him who believes in Allah and the Last Day be generous to his guest."

"None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself."

- Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)