By Qari Muhammad Asim [Senior Editor]
Senior Imam, Leeds Makkah Mosque
This week, 11-17 May, is UK Mental Health Awareness Week. The aim of the week is to encourage the conversation around mental health, to fight discrimination and stigma and promote good mental well-being.
Mental Health related problems are an ever present challenge in the modern world and no community is immune from them. Mental illnesses can affect people of any age, religion, race or income bracket. In addition to the silent nature of the illness, there is still an unnecessary stigma attached to mental health problems.
In any given year, across the UK, one in four people will experience a mental health issue. Some professions are more likely to result in depression than others.
Below are some basic and practical tips that can help reduce mental stress:
- Be mindful – pay attention to the present moment, without focusing too much on the past or worrying about the future. The Prophet (peace be upon him) says : “Seek help from Allah and do not lose heart, and if anything (in the form of trouble) comes to you, don’t say : If I had not done that, it would not have happened so and so, but say: Allah did that what He had ordained to do and your “if” opens the (gate) for Satan”. [Muslim]
- Take a break – a change of scene or change of pace is good for your mental health and just a few minutes break can be enough to de-stress you. The five daily prayers can be a great way of taking a break and connecting with your soul and gaining spiritual health.
- Keep active – regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you concentrate, sleep and feel better. Exercise does not just mean doing sport or going to the gym; using the stairs instead of the lift can also help you keep active.
Even though preventing mental stress is often out of our control, there are many conditions brought on or made worse by our own lack of attention to diet and fitness. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), said, “Any action without the remembrance of God is either a diversion or heedlessness excepting four acts: Walking from target to target [during archery practice], training a horse, playing [spending time] with one’s family, and learning to swim.” [Tabrani]
In this hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) mentions some of the prevailing sports and activities of his time. Following the same spirit, the scholars have encouraged Muslims to remain fit, keep active and eat a healthy diet.
- Eat well – there are strong links between what we eat and how we feel. A healthy balanced diet including fruit and vegetables, nutsm seeds and plenty of water can make a huge difference to how your mind and body feels.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said a strong believer was better than a weak believer. “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, while there is good in both” [Muslim]. The Prophet was talking in terms of faith and character but also indicating that physical strength i.e. optimum health and fitness were desirable. Islam encourages anything that promotes refreshing the mind or revitalising the body.
- Care for others – Making time to care for others can be extremely difficult when you are extremely busy but caring for others is an important part of maintaining relationships with people close to you. Volunteering is a fantastic way to boost your self esteem. The right match can help you find friends, reach out to the community, learn new skill and even advance your career. Volunteering can also help protect your mental and physical health. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system which in turn protects you against stress and depression when you’re going through challenging times.
There is huge emphasis in the Noble Qur’an regarding caring for others. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to teach peace by giving a gift, no matter how small or large it was and to share moments of joy with neighbours:
“None of you should consider even a sheep’s trotter too insignificant to give to her neighbour.” [Muslim].
This concept of caring for others or volunteering should not become a burden and tiresome rather you should only spend and give so much of your time as is enjoyable and healthy for you.
- Do something you are good at – enjoying yourself helps deal with stress and gives you confidence and doing an activity you enjoy is probably one you are good at.
- Talk about your feelings – talking about your feelings is not a sign of weakness; it can be a way to cope with a problem and take charge of your own wellbeing. It is also helps us realize what our strengths and weaknesses are. We are all different and it is much healthier to accept who you are. There is an important difference between aspiring to be like someone successful and that desire wearing you down. Allah has tailor made the test for each and every one of us and, as the Qur’an says, none of us will be given something which we can’t bear.
- Ask for help – none of us are superhuman. We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things go wrong. There is nothing wrong in sharing how you feel with others or going to a GP and admitting that one is experiencing a mental health problem and that one needs psychological help. Suffering in silence is not an option as it will only serve to compound the issues.
Note: The views expressed are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect that of ImamsOnline.