I don’t know which side of the fence you are on with regard to the argument over whether Muslims can be depressed or not, as there seem to be many people who argue that we can’t suffer from it because it is the antithesis of how a believer should be. And although that may be true when we look at the ideal state of a Muslim, when I look around at the Ummah I see many people who are experiencing symptoms of depression.
Maybe it snuck in during a low moment of Iman, maybe the people have experienced so many stressful situations that they feel overloaded and have looked for earthly resources to resolve them, maybe they forgot or didn’t have enough knowledge about the deen to help them overcome their feelings of helplessness, or maybe they have an inherited or induced propensity to be depressed.
The reality is that there are many Muslims who do feel depressed and find it a real struggle to get through every day. They have a continuous low mood or sadness, they feel hopeless and tearful, they have low self-esteem, and they feel guilt-ridden, irritable and intolerant of others. It’s a real struggle for them to get up in the morning or off the couch, because they have no motivation or interest in anything and they find it so difficult to make decisions. All of this affects their work, their home life and, of course, their productivity.
But there is good news for you, if you are one of those people who is feeling depressed, this very special month has so many blessings in it, especially for you! You may be dreading it and feeling that it would just be too hard for you to cope with, but if you’ll permit me to shine a light on some aspects of this month, inshaAllah, you’ll be able to see it as a stepping stone out of where you are now and to a more productive you.
Time to Reconnect with Islam
The things I hear most often from people suffering from depression who come to me for coaching is that they also feel that they have lost touch with their religion; that their link with Allah is very weak and they want to regain it. Ramadan is the perfect time to strengthen that link and renew your faith:
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become God-conscious” [2:183].
If you start out this month with the intention of getting closer to Allah , He will come running to help you on your journey. If you’ve slipped far away from Islam, start out with the intention to at least observe the fundamentals of keeping to regular prayers and fasting. And, as the month goes on and you get stronger, add in other things slowly, such as reading some Qur’an daily and gradually increase the amount you read. Before reading it, recite this dua`:
“I ask You by every Name belonging to You which You named Yourself with…that You make the Qur’an the life of my heart and the light of my breast, and a departure for my sorrow and a release for my anxiety” [Ahmed].
You could also listen to some inspirational Islamic talks, the Khutbah on Friday or the talk during Tarawih Prayers, and do more Dhikr. Allah loves consistency, so it is better to do a few things regularly than try to take on too much and not manage it. But whatever you choose, do it with the intention of getting closer to Allah .
Fasting Enhances Your Feeling of Well-Being
If you are taking medication, have a chat with your doctor to see if you can fast or maybe alter the time you take your medication, because there are actually many benefits to fasting for you.
Research findings have concluded that fasting during Ramadan could be an important factor for improving mental health and the elimination of depression. After a few days of the fasting, higher levels of endorphins appear in the blood, and this makes you more alert and gives an overall feeling of general mental well-being.
It will also help if you make sure you eat more healthily. Don’t break your fast with a quick mood fix of empty carbs, as that will also give you a big mood drop too. Instead break and start your fast with food that is rich in tryptophan, such as bananas, turkey, fish, chicken, cottage cheese, nuts, cheese, eggs, and beans in conjunction with a small amount of carbohydrate, such as brown rice, nuts or a few tablespoons of legumes, as this can boost your body’s serotonin levels and improve your mood.
Exercise to Improve Your Mood
Exercise is probably the last thing you think you want to do when you’re feeling depressed, as it seems such an effort. But did you realise that doing a little of it regularly naturally releases the feel-good hormones that help you to feel happy and calm?
Although it may seem strange to say this, Ramadan is a wonderful time to start getting your body used to more movement, and it can also help to increase your connection with Islam. Start performing Tarawih Prayers, either at home or in the mosque. The regular movement will not only help to digest your Iftar and leave you feeling more energetic, it will also get your body used to the longer periods of sustained activity. And on the days you aren’t praying, take yourself out for a 15-20 minute walk.
You probably know the saying, “A body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.” So once you get yourself moving again, this can then be the start of your generally doing more physical activity, which will help you to fight your depression.
Thinking of Others
When you’re depressed, most of your thoughts focus on yourself and your problems, and you want to be alone. Ramadan gives you a wonderful opportunity to take some time out to spend time with other people in a non-threatening manner and also to think of what you can do for other people.
If you’re able and up to going to the mosque for Tarawih or to attend talks, or to visit other people to break fast with them, it will be a wonderful opportunity to start to spend time with other people. If you have someone else to go with, that would be ideal. But if you don’t have anyone to go with and you’re not ready to start talking to people yet, you can still go. Just slip in at the back of the room and when you’re ready, you can start mixing more.
Another way to start thinking of others is to help a fasting person break their fast. If hosting an Iftar is a daunting thought, you could make it a Bring-a-Dish Iftar where everyone contributes something, or if that is still too much just yet, you could donate some food to a mosque, send Iftar to a neighbour or to needy people.
Make a Commitment on Paper
Many people find that if they actually write down what they will do on paper, this helps them to keep their commitments much more than if they just kept it in their head. So take a few minutes just to sit down and make a plan of what you will start doing during Ramadan. Include all the times you would pray, do Tarawih, take a walk and read the Qur’an. And importantly, include all the times you’re going to meet other people and then keep to your plan.
The more active you are, the less depressed you’ll feel. It may seem like a struggle at the beginning, especially if you haven’t been active for a while. But gradually, as you use Ramadan as a stepping stone to becoming more active and mixing with more people, your depression will begin to reduce, you’ll begin to take back control of your life and you’ll see your productivity start to increase again. May Allah make it easy for you!
NB: If you’ve been experiencing symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your doctor or a counsellor, but this reminder can also benefit you in addition to that, inshaAllah.
About the author:
Amal Stapley is the founder of the CoachAmal service (www.coachamal.com). An experienced Muslim woman coach who accepted Islam in 1992 and graduated from International Islamic University of Malaysia in Psychology and Islamic Studies. She is an accredited i3 consultant who coaches women from around the world and has worked with various Islamic organizations in Malaysia, the US, Egypt and the UK.
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