We deal with many people and challenging situations in our fast-paced world. Too often, the demands of others appear more pressing than our own, and thus we put our personal needs on the back burner. In many instances, this selfless act reflects our integrity. But when the going gets tough, even the most resilient of us will inevitably reach a point where we succumb to the pressure and descend into a crisis. If we reach this breaking point, it is because we are overwhelmed. Luckily, there are practical pre-crisis strategies anyone can implement through internal self-care that will reflect from the inside out.

The first step toward self-care is acknowledging that it is not selfish to take care of ourselves. Contrary to the myth that self-care is about putting ourselves before others, self-care is being mindful of our mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional states. This allows us to fulfill our responsibilities toward others properly.


Small Steps Make Big Impacts

Since most people are constantly busy with demanding responsibilities inside and outside of the home, self-care is usually last on the agenda. Feeling guilty about taking time for ourselves doesn’t help. However, practicing self-care need not be complicated. Taking small steps is often more helpful than attempting to leap. Think of self-care from the perspective of planning for a journey, not a marathon, where the journey lasts a lifetime.

In a similar sense, we can learn from the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him [PBUH]). Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “Take on only as much as you can do of good deeds, for the best of deeds is that which is done consistently, even if it is little.”—Sunan Ibn Majah Volume 5, Book 37, Hadith 4240. Similar to regularly taking up a few good deeds to the extent of our abilities, we are also required to take on responsibilities only to the extent of our time and energy to avoid burning out.

As Muslims, we must set ourselves up for success in the eternal life by first being successful in this one. We need not look further than the life of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to learn and implement self-care habits for the benefit of both mind and body. For example, the Prophet (PBUH) was known to eat in moderation and to choose foods that we now scientifically know to be nutritious and wholesome. Some of these items included dates, figs, pumpkins, honey, olive oil, and barley—all in moderation.

Self-care is a crucial aspect of the Islamic faith. It is incumbent upon us to care for ourselves in all aspects, including physically and mentally, as a way of showing appreciation. It is narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.”—Shu’ab al-Iman 9767.

Another habit of the Prophet (PBUH) that we can implement in our lives is to make time for meditation and reflection. In this day and age more than ever before, it is imperative to momentarily unplug from the world and reflect on our thoughts.


Cut Negativity Out of Your Life

Whether we realize it or not, other people’s energy often affects our own. Our daily workloads and interactions can cause a certain level of stress. This adds to the importance of establishing and maintaining self-care routines. We need to create space to decompress and take care of ourselves. As Muslims, we are quick to say “I pray” or “I go to the masjid,” which is great, but what more can you do that speaks to your unique personal needs?

Surrounding yourself with people who make you want to be your best self is essential. Narrated Abu Musa: Allah’s Messenger (PBUH) said, “The example of a good companion (who sits with you) in comparison with a bad one, is like that of the musk seller and the blacksmith’s bellows (or furnace); from the first you would either buy musk or enjoy its good smell while the bellows would either burn your clothes or your house, or you get a bad nasty smell thereof.”—Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 3, Book 34, Hadith 314.


Connect with Others

As we all know, shortly after God created Adam, he created for him a companion. This teaches us that we are in this life to support one another. Thus caring for others, especially those less fortunate, helps us connect with our humanity and reminds us that not only are we all in this together but that we have so much to be thankful for. Volunteering your time to mentor refugees as they settle into their new homes, tutoring children, or helping distribute food at a local pantry are ways to give back, connect with others, and take care of our community.

Volunteering to help others opens our eyes to bigger needs in this world without the pull of obligation. It helps you feel good about yourself and, in return, helps you be your best self. When you are your best self, you can share that with those around you. Narrated Abu Burda: from his father that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Every Muslim has to give in charity.” The people asked, “O Allah’s Prophet! If someone has nothing to give, what will he do?” He said, “He should work with his hands and benefit himself and also give in charity (from what he earns).” The people further asked, “If he cannot find even that?” He replied, “He should help the needy who appeal for help.” Then the people asked, “If he cannot do that?” He replied, “Then he should perform good deeds and keep away from evil deeds and this will be regarded as charitable deeds.” — Sahih al-Bukhari Volume 2, Book 24, Hadith 524.


Plan a Trip

Another tried and true method for self-care known to relieve stress, improve health, and have fun is to travel. Move outside your comfort zone and time zone. Larry Alton mentions the benefits of traveling abroad in the article “5 Scientifically Proven Health Benefits of Traveling Abroad” for NBC News. These benefits include making you healthier, relieving stress, enhancing creativity, boosting happiness and satisfaction, and lowering the risk of depression.

Traveling forces us to depart from our everyday surroundings. If you can’t escape to a tropical island, you can still go somewhere. Visit a different city or town, perhaps only for a few days, to refresh and get away from the everyday grind. Even a few minutes of relaxation give your body and mind a chance to refocus.

In the end, there is no one-cure-fits-all when it comes to mental health and self-care because each person’s life situation is unique and fluid. I once heard a pep talk that still resonates in my mind years later. It goes something like this: you need not attain lofty goals to be an achiever. Achievements can happen one small step at a time, and more often than not, they do. Simply go outside and walk down the driveway to retrieve your mail. Count that short walk as an achievement and build on it. Make finding time and space for self-care achievable by aiming for realistic goals. The more you work on making self-care a habit, the better you’ll be able to grow, enjoy life, and thrive.

Asma Jarad is a Chicago-based writer, editor, and communications strategist. Her works are published across multiple forums, ranging from health and food trends to Islam in America.