By Naijla Faizi, Office of the Chaplain
What a year we’ve had already. I, like many of you, was ready to say goodbye to 2020 and hello to 2021 in the hopes of some sunshine after the horrible storms. However as we’ve seen, this new year has been off to quite a tumultuous start. To advise on matters of spiritual wellness requires a level of vulnerability and honesty about my own practices of spiritual well-being, which ebb and flow as most things in life do.
In the spirit of vulnerability, I will share that my family lost a major parental figure in May of 2020 due to COVID, and during the last 10 days of Ramadan, which are the holiest days of the month for Muslims. I recall praying intently every single day of Ramadan, begging God to please spare our family of this loss. Crying and hoping that some way he would be able to turn a corner and his health would improve. Unfortunately his body could no longer fight COVID and he passed with his family watching on Zoom. Never in a million years would I have thought we would have to say goodbye to my father-in-law through a computer screen. And at the same time, I’m incredibly grateful that we even had this technology to be able to do that much.
I share all this to say that spiritual wellness comes in a variety of forms, and sometimes it comes to the forefront of our minds when we’re most in crisis. This makes sense because humans need some way of understanding the challenging things that are happening around them. Many people choose to turn to religion or spirituality, some force or being that’s greater than one’s self, to try and understand why difficult things happen in life. My experience last Spring, although one of the hardest things I’ve gone through, showed me the mercy of our situation and the strength that we had as a family. Sometimes the most challenging moments can result in beautiful outcomes.
I recall being a student at Wake Forest and the challenges with managing academics, a social life, and extracurricular activities. It was difficult to find enough time to juggle everything, to eat, sleep, exercise, and find time for mental health or self-care. I fully understand and acknowledge that much of the advice that we as staff try to pass on to our students are things that even we find challenging to incorporate into our daily lives. As I’ve shared, it took a family crisis for me to turn to my spirituality for support and comfort, which is something I could have proactively been doing to strengthen my mental health during a time of intense grief. As a Chaplain, you would think I should already have it in my toolkit to have healthy spiritual wellness, but I, too, am human. If I can offer anything it would be this, when life feels like it’s calm and going well, that’s when we should practice healthy habits such as mental and spiritual wellness, so that in times of crisis we’re well-equipped.
If, in the midst of all this craziness, you decide that now might be the time to learn how to meditate, connect spiritually, or you would like to incorporate some healthy practices into your daily routine, I would encourage trying some of the following:
- Taking Deep Breaths, inhale 4, 3, 2, 1, hold, release 4, 3, 2, 1. Try doing this any time you’re feeling overwhelmed
- Meditation, Check out Headspace on Netflix to get started with some strategies.
- Practice Gratitude, Whether to a higher being or just generally, expressing things you’re grateful for aloud each day can improve one’s mood and outlook on life.
- Enjoy the Outdoors, Spirituality can take the form of many things including air, sun, nature, etc., take some time outside to get fresh air, get your body moving and feeling alive.
- Find someone to talk to about your struggles before they become crises. On campus resources are the Office of the Chaplain or the Counseling Center. One of the best decisions I’ve made is to seek out therapy, and it’s been a life-saver.
In the words of the great Thich Nhat Hanh, “At any moment you have a choice, that either leads you closer to your spirit or further away from it.”
Naijla Faizi serves as the Associate Chaplain for Muslim Life with the Office of the Chaplain. Although she specifically serves the needs of the Muslim community at Wake Forest, she’s available to all Wake Forest Faculty, Staff, and Students. Naijla is an alum of Wake Forest University, class of 2014 and recently received her Masters in Nonprofit Leadership from the University of Pennsylvania.