Mental Health In Islam - Big Little Steps
Keeping a healthy mind is just as – if not more – important than keeping a healthy body. We’ve talked a lot about being active and eating well and we will talk about sleeping well, too.
A strong, happy and content mind is a massive part of maintaining a healthy and positive life. So how do we do it?
Well for starters, as Muslims, we’re lucky in that we believe in a higher power that has control over our lives. Submitting ourselves to God and His will is a good way to keep stress levels low and is incredibly liberating. Once we give ourselves over to God and put all our faith and trust in Him, we can stop worrying about things we have little to no control over. You might hear the phrase Insha’Allah, basically meaning ‘God willing’ – we put our trust in Him and He will provide what is best for us. Being the complex creatures that we are, we probably will keep worrying, even though logically we know we shouldn’t. When this happens, prayer and invocation are a good way to keep connected with God, to empty our hearts to Him and remind ourselves that He has a plan for us.
TRIALS AND EMOTIONS
God says in the Quran, “that it is He who causes people to laugh and weep.”(53:43)
Did you know that smiling is actually a form of charity in Islam? This proves it can affect others positively! Making people happy, being good to others and smiling are all traits of the ideal Muslim.
That doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to be upset. Islam recognises sadness and depression – and the distinction between the two. In fact, even the Prophet was said to have experienced all sorts of emotions, including profound anxiety, through all kinds of trials.
“We shall certainly try you with a certain measure of fear and hunger, and with diminution of wealth, lives and crops. But give glad tidings to those who remain patient in adversity.”(2:155)
God later says in the Quran, “Do people think that once they say: ‘We are believers’, they will be left alone and not put to a test?”(29:2)
According to some narrations, the short chapter ‘The Morning Hours’ (Surah Al Duha) was revealed to the Prophet when there was a brief lag in revelations. He was said to be anxiously awaiting a revelation in a difficult situation. This chapter begins with two oaths and then informs Prophet Muhammad of the good news that God has not forsaken him.
It adds that soon God will provide for him so abundantly that he will become content. This applies to all of us: “By the bright morning hours, and the night when it grows still and dark, your Lord has neither forsaken you, nor does He hate you. Surely the life to come will be better for you than this present life. And, certainly, in time your Lord will be bounteous to you and you will be well pleased. Has He not found you an orphan and given you a shelter? And found you in error, and guided you? And found you poor and enriched you?”(93:1-8)
This entire chapter of the Quran can be considered a direct remedy from God for sadness, as with praying, making invocations, remembering God and doing good deeds. If God is the one who gives us sadness and hardship, then He is the only one who can take it away.
In Islam, we are always encouraged to reach out to God and speak to him in both good and bad times. There is a narration in the chapter ‘Solace’ that states that with every hardship comes ease, and as Muslims we need to hold on to that thought and be patient whenever we’re going through a difficult time. Patience is a key to happiness; in fact, it is mentioned ninety times in the Quran. It narrates the time when Prophet Luqman gave valuable life lessons to his son in a heartfelt speech and advised him to “endure with fortitude whatever befalls you”.(31:17) How could we appreciate tears of joy if we hadn’t tasted those of sorrow, and how would we have hope when feeling down if we hadn’t lived moments of blissful happiness? Counting our blessings, however small, truly helps transform negative feelings into a state of gratitude. Did you know that positive self-talk is also said to trick the brain into feeling happier? Journaling is also a commonly used method to train our mind on how to focus on the good things in our life – and the best part is, writing is practically free!
DEPRESSION AND MENTAL HEALTH
Until recently, mental health problems and depression were viewed as a taboo topic in a lot of Muslim communities that just didn’t want to recognise them as actual diseases. Even Mainstream society has a hard time accepting that depression is a real illness.
The population of the Middle East and North Africa has one of the highest rates of clinical depression around the world. Unsurprisingly, Afghanistan and Palestine are at the top of the list.
According to the World Health Organisation, clinical depression is, “A mental disorder, characterised by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration”.
Islam recognised it as an illness since its early beginnings –and, as with any illness, it should be treated with professional or medical help. At the same time, Muslims who suffer from depression are encouraged to pray more, connect more with God and ask Him for help and peace. Daily meditation and prayer is said to boost self-confidence and optimism and lead to increased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which helps regulate emotions and decrease stress. According to research conducted at Wayne State University, there is a positive correlation between a patient’s faith and improved emotional and physical rehabilitation outcomes. Believing in a benevolent, loving higher power is a source of healing to those who feel completely hopeless and helpless.
Similarly, reading the Quran can provide consolation as the verses and stories within it (such as the lives of the Prophets Joseph, Abraham, Job and Jonah) can be a source of hope and inspiration.
Whatever trials you are facing, always remember that God Himself has said that no one besides Him can rescue a soul from hardship, and with hardship follows ease. He has sent us a Divine prayer in the Quran: “Our Lord! Do not punish us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord! Do not place a burden on us like the one you placed on those before us. Our Lord! Do not burden us with what we cannot bear. Pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our (only) Guardian. So grant us victory over the disbelieving people.”(2:286) Try and hold onto your faith, no matter what the difficulty, and use your trials as a means to become closer to God.
'Be patient in adversity, for God is with those who are patient in adversity' (8:46)
KEEP BUSY AND BALANCED
They say an idle mind is a devil’s workshop – and I agree! It is important to keep busy, not just so you don’t fall into a habit of laziness but so you feel fulfilled and accomplished as well. Islam encourages moderation – so whatever you do, try and maintain a balance between your work/education, your spouse, your family, your friends, your social life, your ‘me time’ and, most importantly, your faith. If for some reason you don’t feel centred, as if there’s an imbalance somewhere, try to work out what is throwing you off and how you can combat it.
Excerpt is from Big Little Steps by Mathilde Loujayne