Ramadan was a great month that gave us a chance to improve ourselves to be better people by helping those who are in need. During this month, Muslims not only abstain themselves from eating and drinking, but they are supposed to keep themselves away from any negative behavior or habits. We can think of it as a total cleanse; body, heart, and soul.
Due to the spiritual awareness of this month, we had a unique chance to focus more on different aspects of “yourself” such as behavioral and mental improvement. Let me start with this question:
Did you pay attention to your mental health during Ramadan and how you can improve it?
According to Islam, your physical body is one aspect of your existence and the other side is your soul (nafs). If you delve deeper into the meaning of these two, soul and nafs, they have different meanings. But for our purpose, we can use the more popular translation. If you want to have a healthy mind, you need to have a healthy soul. This is what has been rejected in modern psychology, which has tried to deny the spiritual factors and only relate your health to the physical dimensions of your body. They believe you are only what you can perceive with your five senses.
Traditionally, the name of this major “psychology” was the knowledge of the soul (Ilm-ul-nafs).
According to Al-Balkhi (850-934), the body and soul both can be either healthy or sick. This happens when they are either “balanced or imbalanced”. Signs of imbalance in the body are different ailments such as aches and pains, while an imbalance in the soul results in related symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or anger. (2)
Therefore, when we talk about our mental health, we are not only referring to our brain and mind, which are only one side of our existence, but also about our soul and nafs. In order to achieve good mental health, you need to look for a healthier soul. Your soul should become better.
If these two crucial aspects of one’s self (physical body and soul) are not in balance, the person might struggle with finding the peace in life.
Defining mental health
Mental health is a status that is achieved once the soul is practicing to reach its full potential (salvation) and being away from any factors that disturb its peace. Therefore, those factors that can hurt and disturb your mind are originally those factors which hurt your soul. Once you achieve a healthier soul you will have a healthier mind.
Let’s review those factors that can threaten your mental health. According to Quran and traditions, these are:
- Following the desires of your ego (3)
- Arrogance (4)
- Jealousy (5)
- Animosity (6)
- Lying (7)
- Backbiting (8)
- Accusation (9)
- Mockery (10)
- Anger (11)
- Addiction to sins (12)
- Hard-heartedness (13)
Islam believes that these factors are the most dangerous factors that can threaten your spiritual health. Once it disturbs your spiritual health it will certainly threaten your mental health as well. If someone’s soul is infected by any of these factors, he or she cannot reach ultimate salvation and peace.
Those who suffer from mental issues know that any mental issue is like a layer over their healthy self which covers that mirror and doesn’t let it reflect the light. These factors have the same effect on your soul; they cover your heart with layers which prevent your heart from absorbing and reflecting the light it receives.
How can we deal with it?
You have two ways to fix these issues:
Of course, treatment is much more difficult than prevention.
Prevention can start all the way from birth and last throughout your lifespan. A constant observation of your soul and updates on a regular base. One should always be ahead of any issues they may face when it comes to their soul and make sure it is in line with their spirituality. Although this is a tedious job, it is less complicated than treatment.
For treatment, we have different factors that can help you. (If you are reading this article, like most of us, you are looking for answers to help you overcome some of the factors mentioned earlier.)
A saying narrated by Ali Ibn Abu Talib says:
“Fasting of the heart is better than fasting of the tongue, and fasting of the tongue is better than fasting of the stomach.”(14)
Abstaining your stomach from eating and drinking for certain hours a day for a month has a lot of physical benefits for your body such as a decrease in blood pressure, an increase in heart health, etc. Therefore, the fasting of the heart (soul) should be able to benefit your mind and psychological well-being. Blocking your soul from the effects of those factors can cleanse it and bring you to a healthier state of mind.
Steps towards treatment
First, you should be able to diagnose what factors you may be facing before you look for any treatment. Many people have difficulty with this step and do not know or do not believe they are infected by any of these factors. In psychology, we call it denial stage, ‘anosognosia’, from the Greek meaning ‘to not know a disease.’
Let’s get more practical:
Which of these factors do you think you possess or have had people tell you that you have? Make a list of your deficiencies. Any possible threat you find. Think about what people usually criticize you for or a certain behavior you usually feel guilty about. Be diligent and truthful with yourself. Now prioritize them – which one is more vital to be worked on? Which one is affecting your life more? Which one have you had difficulties to overcome in the past? Which is hurting you?
Many people who fail to work and cleanse their soul from these factors tend to ignore them or avoid anyone or anything that might remind them of their issues. These sources can be a good friend, a good advisor, or even the mosque where they hear more about these factors.
This has been recommended a lot in Islam – self-calculation, observing your behaviors and actions to make sure you are aware of your own deficiencies.
Ali ibn Abu Talib said,
“He who takes account of his soul will understand his defects and know his sins. He will repent for the sins and amend the defects.” (15)
2. Self-Cognitive therapy:
Use cognitive strategies to learn more about your issues. If your doctor diagnoses you with something, what will you do first? You would start researching about it, learning more about it, what causes it, what triggers it, what are the things that you should do or should not do to maximize your health. Why should we not be the same when it comes to our mental and spiritual health? Once you realize that your primary issue is anger, the first step is to gain more information about this issue. For instance, what is anger? When do you usually become angry? What are the triggers? What are your symptoms?
The more you study your behavior and your soul the more self-awareness you will build. Ultimately, you will become more aware of what factors you are facing.
3. Self-Behavioral therapy:
Be mindful of your issue. Throughout your day, try to remind yourself about this issue. Keep observing your behavior and keep track of any suspicious behavior you show that reminds you of your issue. You have to be fully aware of your behavior at this level.
You can even take notes or set reminders on your phone to help yourself with this.
4. Ask others such as your spouse, parents, and friends to remind you about your goals. You can ask your spouse or your friend to remind you that you are working on this project once they feel you are showing the symptoms.
5. Keep track of your progress. If today you had 3 episodes of anger, tomorrow you should try to reduce it to 2 and so forth.
6. Keep a journal: record how your day went each night.
7. Exposure therapy:
Test your progress in an easy situation. For instance, purposely put yourself in similar situations in which you would normally lose your temper. This will tell yo whether you have truly mastered it and if you can control yourself.
Make sure that this is a situation where you have enough confidence in testing yourself.
8.- Reward yourself: You can set a reward for yourself before you start the whole project in the case you successfully achieve your goal.
You can use the same template for any of the factors that we mentioned.
Once you begin working on these steps, you should know that you are now working on improving your piety and virtue. This is what we call, in Islam, Taqwa (God-Consciousnesses) —on of the most important actions for a Muslim.
by Seyed Hadi Yasin.
1- Khutba Shabania, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
2- Deuraseh, Nurdeen; Abu Talib, Mansor (2005). “Mental health in Islamic medical tradition”. The International Medical Journal. 4 (2): 76–79.
3- Holy Quran 45:3
4- Holy Quran 31:18
5- Holy Quran 113:5
6- Holy Quran 49:10, Kanz al-Ummal, 3/58/5481
7- Holy Quran 10:69
8- Holy Quran 49:12
9- Holy Quran 4:112, Usul al-Kafi, 7/19
10- Holy Quran 49:11
11- Holy Quran 3:134
12- Holy Quran 30:10, 2:7
13- Holy Quran 5:13, 39:22
14- Ghurar al-Hikam, 1/417/80
15- Ghurar al-Hikam, 2/409/ 8927
16- Holy Quran 2:45
This article was originally published here.