Do you ever find yourself grasping for a minute or two to be by yourself? Maybe even take a breather in the bathroom while your co-workers, students, or clients are waiting for you? Or you probably mentally disconnect for a few seconds and realize your child is yelling “Mama?!” in your face for the umpteenth time. Burnout happens to a lot of us in people-oriented jobs such as elderly caregivers, nurses, teachers, social workers, human resource managers, and customer service employees much quicker than those in other positions. And parents, too. So, how do we make time for ourselves to ensure our mental well-being?
Firstly, it depends on what kind of time you are looking to have for yourself. Some of us need rest for our bodies, but others may need time to: socialize with their family or close friends, pray in solitude, play their favorite sport, read a book, hike in the woods, or even talk out their frustration with a loved one or therapist. (These activities have been scientifically categorized into different types of rest, which I will touch upon later in this article.)
Whatever you need to do in order to feel refreshed and ready to take on the day, it is vital for your overall health. I will talk about my personal journey in carving time out for myself as a busy mother of two kids who puts on many hats in a week. And by doing that, I hope you find a few pieces of advice that may work for your busy lifestyle, especially if you are taking care of others on a regular basis, inshaAllah, God-willing.
The Blessing of The Early Morning Hours
Currently, I play the roles of a wife, mother, daughter, sister, daughter- and sister-in-law, teacher, student, writer, and a home-educator on a weekly basis. Despite having an active family life, I have chosen to pursue my own goals in writing, teaching, and learning the Quran. That is because these activities help to develop myself as a Muslim and build an identity for myself outside of my family-oriented roles. But in order to keep up with all these roles, I desperately looked for ways I could to balance them. Which led me to research how the our pious predecessors from Islam did it. I found a book in my mother’s library called, “In the Early Hours,” by Ustadh Khurram Murad. The beautiful picture of the morning sunrise drew me to it, and I found this book to be my first inspiration toward becoming an early riser.
My journey to becoming an early riser began with the following hadith mentioned in the book:
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Allah made the early hours blessed for my Ummah.”
I had been a night owl up until that point and was trying my best to avail the early morning hours. Once I began waking up earlier, it was apparent how blessed those first few hours after the Fajr prayer were. I was able to get so much done in that time, more than I usually did at night. However, I went back to my nocturnal routine for many years and did not stop until recently.
I just had to try again because I was not productive in the late evening hours due to the day’s exhaustion. I looked into more literature that boasted the morning routines of successful people from the past and present. I looked into the #ThatGirl movement prevalent on TikTok and Instagram, where young women in their 20s or 30s woke up at 5 AM, went to the gym, had their matcha latte and healthy breakfast, and journaled all before starting their day at work. Even many mothers accomplished similar routines, which included preparing their kids’ breakfast and lunch.
Overall, I felt jealous of anyone who was able to wake up and be productive anytime before my usual 9 AM wake up time. I knew that if I wanted to make time for myself on a daily basis where I focused on self-development, solitude, and reflection, then I had to schedule in a special slot every day.
Scheduling a Daily Slot of Time for Myself
The slot I chose for myself were the 2 to 3 hours after Fajr prayer before my children woke up. If I missed that slot for whatever reason, then I shifted it to any time between 6 to 9 pm when my brain was functioning again at a decent level. However, it meant that my husband had to take over the evening responsibilities for that time right after work, which was not always possible.
It has been on and off since then, however, I noticed the shift in my productivity. Many of the personal things that I usually put off were getting done in those early hours while my kids slept. It was reinvigorating. Enough that I was looking forward to sleeping early. During the time I gleaned morning routine books, I found one routine model that clicked with me constructed by Hal Elrod in his book, “The Miracle Morning.” This model is called “SAVERS” which is symbolic for:
- Silence - Doing something to quiet the mind like prayer, meditation, or breathing.
- Affirmations - Encouraging phrases you tell yourself to achieve your goals, overcome your fears, or that help to change how you see yourself.
- Visualization - Imagining yourself to do something step-by-step to achieve those said goals.
- Exercise - Doing any type of exercise to get the heart rate up and oxygen to the brain.
- Reading - Read to encourage positive thoughts, ways to improve yourself, or about knowledge that will help you accomplish your goals.
- Scribing - Journaling to process your thoughts and reflect on your life. It will help to be more self-aware and consolidate matters that may have been on your mind lately.
I gave this model an Islamic twist and applied it to my morning routine as follows:
- Silence - I pray Fajr, recite the Quran and the morning supplications, and make dhikr or remembrance.
- Affirmations - I wrote my affirmations out in my journal as duas or supplications I could make to Allah. For example, if I wanted to use the phrases, “I am a patient parent with my children” or “I am courageous in the face of hardship,” then I would frame them as: “O Allah, make me a patient parent with my children,” or “O Allah, make me courageous in the face of any hardship you bring my way.” Afterall, it is only Allah who can make us who we want to be. You may print them out on a sheet for yourself to say every day.
- Visualization - I made a Vision Board with the pictures of the goals I want to accomplish and wrote my goals down on another sheet. I have put these two sheets up on my bedroom wall to remind myself of them, encouraging me to plan the steps in my daily life to accomplish them.
- Exercise - I use a workout app that keeps track of all the workouts I am doing, and plan which ones I will do each week. I usually like to do 15-20 minute workouts or stretches.
- Reading - The books I read are the translation of the Quran, on self development, parenting, education, or homeschooling. I am interested in gaining knowledge on these topics because they are the current focus in my life. Our minds are at their peak in the early morning hours, and even the early evening hours. I do my leisurely reading during an afternoon break or right before bed.
- Scribing - There are many guided journals available nowadays that have writing prompts and even ones that have incorporated gratitude exercises, guides on having a good morning and evening routine, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy questions and prompts for people who struggle with anxiety (I suggest Therapy Notebooks for this one as they are composed by actual therapists). Once I have read a translated passage from the Quran, I write a reflection regarding it. I also usually write notes or reflections from the current book I am reading (books on self-development, parenting, homeschooling are my usual interests). This task usually takes 20 or so minutes.
One important point to note is that, aside from praying and reading the Quran every morning, I do not do all of these tasks every single morning, I will choose only 2 or 3 more tasks from the model above to complete. For example, one morning could look like: Prayer and Quran, fill out my planner, do 15 minutes of stretching, and then journal for 20 minutes. And then the next morning might not have journaling in it. It is best to not be hard on myself because the point is to relax and feel rejuvenated from this routine, rather than adding stress in my already busy schedule.
The 7 Types of Rest
As for the next aspect of self-care for sound mental health, pinpointing what will help you feel refreshed is key. Sometimes, we feel exhausted even after taking a long nap. What matters is finding out what kind of rest you need. Yes, there are surprisingly different kinds of rest. According to Dr. Saundra Dalton-Smith, there are 7 types of rest once can experience:
- Physical - Passive or Active Rest - Passive physical rest is napping or sleeping, whereas active physical rest means restorative activities like pilates, stretching, and massage therapy that help improve blood circulation and flexibility in the body.
- Mental Rest - Giving the mental chatter a rest by reducing anxiety. You can take short breaks throughout the day after every two hours or between tasks as this helps to slow you down. This will hopefully make you less jittery from constantly anticipating the next task. Jotting down your thoughts before sleeping will also help to decrease the mental chatter.
- Sensory Rest - Bright lights, computer screens, background noise and multiple conversations around you can cause our senses to feel overwhelmed. Closing your eyes for a minute in the middle of the day or withdrawing from electronics at the end of the day can help diminish the sensory overstimulation.
- Creative Rest - If you are in a position where you have to solve problems or brainstorm new ideas, then awakening the sense of awe and wonder is important. Enjoying the beauty of the outdoors can help you achieve creative rest. It can be as big as seeing the ocean or hiking in the woods, or simply taking a walk in your local park or backyard. Moreover, appreciating the arts by “displaying images of places you love or works of art that speak to you” in your living or workspace is another way to achieve this type of rest.
- Emotional Rest - Emotional rest deficit is one parents or caregivers can relate to. They may often feel underappreciated or lonely. Having the space to express their feelings and being authentic to a loved one or therapist, or cutting back on pleasing people are ways to counter it.
- Social Rest - People who have an emotional rest deficit often have a social rest deficit as well. You must be able to differentiate between people who exhaust you and people who revive you. Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive people will give you the social rest you need. For example, after spending two weeks taking care of my family during our COVID quarantine, I felt the need to be around my friends who gave me a space to be at ease, laugh, and feel supported rather than constantly needed.
- Spiritual Rest - This is “the ability to connect beyond the physical and mental and feel a deep sense of belonging, love, acceptance and purpose.” You must engage in something greater than yourself by regularly praying, making dua (supplication), dhikr (remembrance of Allah), reciting and reflecting on the verses of the Quran, meditation, and/or engaging in community involvement. The latter, community involvement can take the form of volunteering at a soup kitchen, charity drive or town hall meeting to solve municipal issues, or even cleaning up the mosque and participating in its activities. Giving back to the community is always fulfilling.
I feel more fulfilled and rested once I have engaged in some of the SAVERS and one of the types of rest. Ever since I have learned about these types of rest, I regularly pinpoint which type of activity I need to do whenever I feel burnt out or feel the sense to retreat. This has helped me to better meet my needs rather than taking a nap or aimlessly scrolling through social media when I get a free moment.
I hope you find what works for you in taking care of yourself as you definitely deserve all the rest you need to be there for the people who need you.
Sumayya Khan is a homeschooling mother of two and a teacher. She has worked with several Islamic schools and organizations in the last 10 years. She is currently studying the Qur’an through Al-Huda Institute. In her free time, she loves to spend time with her family and friends, play sports, enjoy nature, and read books. She currently resides with her family in Toronto, Canada.