We have a God-given duty to recognise and pay as much attention to our mental health as we do our physical health.
Six Practical Ways to Improve Your Mental Health
We all have something called mental health, which fluctuates on a daily basis. Mental health isn’t confined to people who have a diagnosed condition. At some point, in any given week, we will experience happiness, sadness, anxiety, anger and everything in between. These emotions determine our mental health much like issues related to our limbs and organs define our physical health.
It’s important for us to take control of and manage our mental health before it gets to a stage of turning into a disorder and something more permanent and long-term.
We keep physical health problems at bay through diet and exercise. Similarly, there is a range of things we can do for our mental health. Here are six.
1. Understanding Mental Health Exists
Acceptance is usually the first step towards overcoming any problem. Mental health is no different. We have to accept it exists and everyone has it before we can take steps to manage it.
The quality of our mental health is not a reflection of the strength of our imaan.
Ideas like these do still exist within Muslim communities. They intensify the suffering of the people going through a bad patch because they’re judged and shunned (sometimes by their own families) and have to deal with the guilt of apparently not being a good Muslim compounding the poor feelings they’re already experiencing.
Life is a test. This is the inherent nature of life, which means everyone’s mental health will be affected at some point. Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Qu’ran:
And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient.”
The verse is pretty clear in explaining that God will, as a means of testing us, take away our income and loved ones. Such events in our lives will obviously affect our mental health. God does give us a problem without a solution and there are many ways we can help ourselves and loved ones get through difficult phases of life.
2. Getting Help From The Experts
At this point, I want to pause, reflect and clarify the last part of the above verse “but give good tidings to the patient.” Being patient does not mean we sit there and suffer in silence. A lot of us link patience with inaction, which is entirely not the case. In this context, being patient means to not despair and not lose hope in God.
If we have a hole in our roof, do we do nothing and wait for it to fix itself? Rather, we avoid panicking and getting angry and call a plumber whilst temporarily moving things to another room, placing buckets to collect the water etc.
The same applies here. God has inspired certain groups of individuals with an interest in psychology and mental health. This is part of His Divine Wisdom where He uses worldly avenues and laws to help us. If our mental health is suffering and we’re struggling to manage it on our own, we should refer to experts in the field that can help via a combination of therapy, coping mechanisms and medication.
Seeking help from the experts in a field is a recommendation from our Holy Prophet (PBUH). In Wasa’il, v.8, pp.424-427 a companion asked him about the meaning of ‘hazm’, to which the Prophet replied:
Consulting with those who are well-informed and following their advice.”
Our intellect (which is also God-given) tell us it is entirely rational and normal to hire an expert in a field to help consult and fix things for us. We use them in literally every area – why not mental health?
3. Remembering God
Alongside receiving support from the experts, we should try and make God a bigger part of our lives. The Qu’ran makes the consequences of not remembering God clear:
And whoever turns away from My remembrance – indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind.”
Though this verse may be aimed towards those who openly reject God and the Qu’ran, it also has a spiritual reality. Our inherent disposition is geared toward belief in God and having Him in our life. When we neglect God, our spiritual self suffers which can translate to and bring about unpleasant feelings and emotions.
We should find what helps us connect to and remember God. It may be through marvelling at His artistry through observing nature, increasing our acts of worship, studying Islam or reading books. Regularly reading the Holy Qu’ran whilst understanding its meaning is a must.
Exercising releases dopamine, a chemical thought to be responsible for regulating and improving our mood. Here is what Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. a health psychologist who specialises in understanding the mind-body connection says regarding exercise and dopamine:
When you exercise, you provide a low-dose jolt to the brain’s reward centers—the system of the brain that helps you anticipate pleasure, feel motivated, and maintain hope. Over time, regular exercise remodels the reward system, leading to higher circulating levels of dopamine and more available dopamine receptors. In this way, exercise can both relieve depression and expand your capacity for joy.
Many Islamic obligations also demand we be physically fit, such as Hajj. Furthermore, in Sahih Muslim the Prophet said:
A strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than a weak believer.”
In both belief and physical fitness.
5. Keeping Good Company
The people we hang out with leave an effect on us. In Tirmidhi, the Prophet said:
A person is on the religion of his companions. Therefore let every one of you carefully consider the company he keeps.”
Being “on the religion of his companions” means whatever their way of life will become our way of life. Keeping the company of good-natured people and only visiting Islam-friendly environments will have a positive effect on our mental health and wellbeing.
Choose your friends wisely ensuring they are God-fearing, mature and sensible.
6. Knowing Our Triggers
Apart from God, nobody knows us better than ourselves. Know the things that trigger poor mental health to stay in control. It could be a lack of sleep, working too many hours without a break or not getting enough time for ourselves. Understanding our strengths, weaknesses and boundaries goes a long way in protecting our wellbeing.