Starting the New Year in peace

Amira Elhamy , Tuesday 2 Jan 2024

Personal-development writer Sherif Arafa shares tips on how to calm your mind and combat stress.

Calm your mind and combat stress
Calm your mind and combat stress


There is no doubt that during our lives we are faced with situations that can cause stress and negative thinking. 

Stress that we are exposed to due to harsh life experiences can affect our mood and mindset, including as a result of the economic difficulties that marked 2023 and the news of war and human crises.

How can we calm our minds? Can we re-direct them in a more peaceful direction and towards a positive pattern of thinking? 

The mind is like a muscle that can be trained, programmed, and re-directed, according to some personal-development writers. US author Suzan Jeffers says in her book Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway that we can work on calming our stressed minds and “re-educating” them.

K Amin, an Egyptian in his thirties, talked about his experience of stress and negative thinking. “I believe harsh personal experience can be a major source of stress, including losing a loved one,” he said.

“I lost my brother some years ago, and he had been suffering from chronic stress due to problems at work. He was an achiever by nature, and he loved his work as a marketer. Due to the fact that he was not an expressive person who was able to talk about his problems, emotional inhibition and stress affected his immune system, and he was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (an auto immune disease).”

He was ill for five years, and then he passed away, Amin said. “I was trapped in a negative pattern of thinking for quite some time. I made a career shift and travelled for a while, which helped me,” he added.

“From my experience, I would say that stress is part of life, but the most important thing is to know how to vent out and practise whatever it takes to get rid of its effects on our minds and ways of thinking. It is important to take into consideration when we deal with others that almost everyone has got challenges and difficulties in his or her life, so it is important to be considerate and compassionate as much as we can.”    

Sherif Arafa, a personal-development author and specialist in positive psychology, said that being exposed to frequent stress raises levels of the hormone cortisol in the body, which leads to anxiety and the deterioration of psychological well-being and physical health.

 Psychological stress can lead to sleeping disorders, headaches, exhaustion, and heart problems, which affect the immune system and make our bodies less able to resist diseases, he said. “We all get exposed to various stressors; some of them we do not have control over, like stressful news that make us more prone to depression and anxiety,” he added.

However, there are tips we can follow to lessen the burden on our shoulders and acquire a more peaceful mind that can handle stress.  

They include making your psychological well-being a priority and concentrating on what you can control. Ask and train yourself on how to bring more balance and peace of mind into your life. Concentrate on what you have control over in your life and on what you can change. Following stressful news is not going to benefit you, and it can harm your mental health, so focus on what you can control or change.

In life we are faced with problems we can solve and with other problems that we can’t, Arafa said, so we should concentrate on what we can solve.

Another tip Arafa recommends is to be engaged in life. Many of us might think that sitting at home in front of the TV or scrolling through a phone will make you more relaxed. In fact, they can make us more prone to isolation and negatively affect mood. 

Instead, we should be making sure we have a busy schedule. Go out, meet new people, do your best at work, call your friends, meet with them, engage in various activities, Arafa said. This will make life more balanced and enhance psychological well-being. You will not be left isolated with your own thoughts that can eat you up.

Arafa recommends knowing what is going on around the world but not at the expense of the nervous system. Before turning on your TV or your mobile phone, you should ask yourself what the goal is. If it is gaining information, look at specialised sites to get the information you are looking for. Don’t scroll aimlessly and let negative news consume you. 

Another important tip is to get physical. Walk, jog, go to the gym, attend yoga classes, dance – all this is important not only for your physical flexibility, but also for your mental health. 

Exercise decreases the cortisol level in your body, which can ease anxiety and depression. Some studies indicate that exercising three times per week for 20 minutes can also ease post-traumatic symptoms. 

It is also important to breath properly and get a good night’s sleep. When we are stressed, we tend to breath faster, which makes us more tense. If you take deep breaths, this will make you calmer. Breathing is actually a well-recognised technique to ease stress and anxiety, so try to make yourself distant from the source of stress, inhale several deep breaths, hold for some seconds, and then release from your mouth. Don’t forget to get a good night’s sleep to relax your body and brain.

Arafa said it is important to express your feelings as a way of releasing stress. Inhibiting your feelings is not a sign of strength, he said. Expressing your feelings is critical, so try expressing yourself more with your partner, friends, and siblings. If you are not the expressive type, write your feelings down, as this can also get rid of emotional inhibitions and negative thoughts. You could also do some artistic activities like drawing.

Finally, prayer gives the strongest healing power and connects you with the Creator. This makes you more at ease with tension and any problems. You will discover through your relationship with God that any tough situation is temporary and that life goes on. Tomorrow will surely bring you calmness and relief.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 4 January, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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