Islam is a religion of balance and promotes moderation in all things. The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately . . . Always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course, whereby you will reach your target (of paradise)."
While we know that we should not go to extremes in any aspect of our lives, many of us get caught up in the frantic, competitive pace around us. Employees work increasingly longer hours in the hopes of winning promotions. Students repeatedly pull all-nighters, striving to earn the highest grades. Calendars overflow with back-to-back social commitments. Many exhaust themselves trying to create Pinterest-worthy meals, projects, parties, and home decor. All the while, people are flaunting their successes on social media, rarely if ever showing the toll it took or the failed attempts that were not considered photo-worthy.
Oftentimes, busyness is considered positive while relaxation is frowned upon. Many people end up over-committing and even burning out because they never really had the time or energy to accomplish all that they promised to do.
As Muslims, we should learn to recognize the signs of burnout and take mindful steps to relax before that happens. While our jobs (both inside and outside the home) are important, we must remember that our deen instructs us to live a balanced life. Stress can lead to a variety of health problems, and perpetual busyness can actually cause cognitive decline.
Downtime, on the other hand, has many benefits. According to an article in Scientific American, “Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”1
Here are five tips for establishing work-life balance:
1. Assess your true reason for scheduling each activity.
Ask yourself, “Will this bring me closer to Allah?” While some demands are unavoidable, others can be eliminated. If your calendar is full of “obligations,” first look and see which ones are actually necessary and beneficial. At first, it might seem like everything is a “must,” but some inner reflection might tell a different story. If your schedule is full of social commitments, you might ask yourself whether this visit or that gathering will likely bring out your best Islamic self. If the answer is no, you can strike it from your list. If an activity feels necessary only because of what others might think, it’s also a likely contender for the chopping board. Even if a pursuit has a noble purpose, keep in mind that your family has rights on you, even more than your boss, your local masjid, or your friends. A mindful Muslim will not sacrifice his or her loved ones for the sake of perceived productivity, status, or popularity. Once you’ve honestly assessed the value of each scheduled activity, eliminate what you can, leaving only those pursuits that are truly aligned with your main purpose – achieving Paradise via submission to Allah.
2. Do not feel the need to fill every blank space on your calendar with busy work.
In fact, you should proactively schedule downtime so that it’s part of your daily routine. Use that time to do whatever recharges your battery: take a power nap (it’s sunnah!), walk in nature, chat with a friend, do a soothing craft, or simply reflect quietly on Allah’s creation and your many blessings.
3. Take advantage of the restorative power of salat.
Our five daily prayers are a chance to connect with God and to fulfill one of our obligations as believers. If we are mindful, we can also find relaxation and comfort in our prayers. Every sujood is a chance to pour our hearts and worries out to our Loving Lord who listens to every word we say (and even to those thoughts we can’t articulate). Worry accomplishes nothing, but duaa is constructive; asking Allah for His help will always have a positive, calming effect.
4. Make time to laugh and smile.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was known for his radiant smile and often revealed a joyful sense of humor. Laughing and smiling have many proven physical benefits, including lowering stress hormones, releasing chemicals in the brain that strengthen our immune system, reducing pain, and producing hormones that make us feel happier. Smiling benefits others, too. Just seeing someone else smile activates our brain’s reward system, giving us a little jolt of joy. No wonder it’s an act of charity to smile at someone! Figure out what makes you laugh. Is it watching your kids’ silly antics? Listening to a halal comedian? Recounting funny memories with family members? Whatever tickles your funny bone, try to do a bit more of it.
5. Ask Allah to put baraka in your time so that it is balanced and productive.
For several useful tips, watch this video 7 Ways To Increase Baraka In Your Time | Khutbah by Dr. Omar Suleiman.
With mindful steps, inshaAllah, God willing, we can break free from the shackles of overcommitting and burnout. Having a peaceful mind, a lighter heart, and a healthier body will benefit us and our loved ones. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, make downtime a priority on your to-do list. It might seem counterproductive, but it could very well be just what you need to reclaim your creativity, focus, and performance.
Laura El Alam is a freelance writer and editor and a first-generation American Muslim. She is the author of over 100 published articles and has written a children’s book, Made From the Same Dough, due to be released in 2023, inshaAllah. A wife and mother of five, Laura lives with her family in Massachusetts. You can visit her online at www.seaglasswritingandediting.com.