“There are two gifts which many men are unmindful about – good health and leisure” (Bukhari).
It’s World Mental Health Day, a day for raising awareness about mental health issues and learning more about how we can have healthier minds. As Muslims, we know that both our physical and mental health are an amanah (trust) from Allah, and it is an obligation upon us to look after them.
We’ve compiled ten essential tips from the Qur’an and hadith to help you preserve your mental health. Some of them are more general tips applicable to everyone’s mental health, and some apply to more serious mental problems. Without further ado, here they are!
1. Take care of your physical health
Good physical health and good mental health are definitely intertwined. From reducing screen time, to establishing a good sleep routine, to taking the time to exercise, there are many ways in which improving our physical health can make us less anxious or stressed.
So eat of the lawful and good food which Allah has provided for you, and be grateful for the favour of Allah…”
The benefits of a healthy diet cannot be over-emphasised. The foods you eat affect the way your brain works, and even subtle deficiencies of certain nutrients can make you more tired, anxious, or sad. Here are a few basic tips from the bestselling book Food: Your Miracle Medicine by Jean Carper:
- Low-fat, protein-rich foods such as fish energise your brain and make you alert, while sugar-heavy foods dull your mental processes.
- Many carbohydrates boost serotonin in your brain, which will lift your mood if you are generally depressed or have the winter blues.
- Folic acid, found in green leafy vegetables and legumes, can make you less depressed and irritable and improve your sleep patterns.
- Nuts and fruits, high in boron, improve your mental alertness.
- If you are susceptible to anxiety, avoid caffeine, and eat complex carbohydrates like pasta and potatoes.
As you can see, many of the cures for our mental health problems can be found in “the lawful and good food” Allah has provided us with. It is a good idea to eat Sunnah foods such as dates, lentils, and honey as well, all of which do wonders for your physical and mental health.
Eat and drink and do not commit excesses; indeed He does not love those who are excessive.”
Remember to be balanced above all – too much of any kind of food will have a negative effect on your health! Also remember that, while these foods can cure many problems, if your depression or anxiety is more severe your GP may recommend that you take medication in addition to these lifestyle changes.
2. Change the role of the news cycle in your life
Taking a break from the news is a common mental health tip, especially in this day and age, when ‘news fatigue’ is so widespread. Avoiding the news definitely decreases the negativity in your life, allowing you to focus more positively on family and friends, work, hobbies, creative endeavours, and your spiritual journey.
However, if you need to keep up with current affairs and can’t take a short break, it’s a good idea to simply set aside some time each day for the news cycle. Don’t scroll through Twitter or news apps 24/7; make a schedule and stick to it. It’s also important NOT to check the news first thing in the morning, as this will bring your mood down and affect the rest of your day negatively.
There are two points in the Qur’an and the hadith we’d like to draw attention to here.
Firstly, it is important to put our trust in Allah with regards to His Plan and not succumb to despair. The story of humankind’s creation is surprisingly comforting in this regard.
And [mention, O Prophet], when your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the earth a successive authority’. They said, ‘Will You place upon it one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ Allah said, ‘Indeed, I know that which you do not know.'”
In this ayah, the angels wonder why Allah would create a human being, when it will only lead to the corruption, war and evil we see all around us today. However, Allah replies by saying He knows better than the angels. Later in the surah, Allah repeats Himself – “Did I not tell you that I know the unseen [aspects] of the heavens and the earth?” – before ordering the angels to prostrate to Adam (as).
For most people, who live their lives with decency and compassion, the corruption and war we see in the world is beyond comprehension. The news is appalling enough when it is reported objectively, and sensationalism exacerbates the feeling of despair. The news cycle seems to confirm the inhumanity of humankind instead of highlighting any goodness or progress, but this story from the Qur’an is one of hope.
No matter what we see around us, we must remember that Allah, the All-Knowing, the Best of Judges, and the Most Compassionate and Gracious, told the angels regarding humans, “Indeed, I know that which you do not know”.
Secondly, the Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim).
Instead of just being consumers of the news we see, we should work to change it. Whether this means raising awareness on social media, taking part in protests or demonstrations, or alleviating suffering by giving charity, it is our responsibility to make the world a better place, in whichever small way we can.
This advice brings us to our third mental health tip.
3. Help others and you will help yourself
Being kind and generous is scientifically proven to be better for your mental and physical health. One study conducted by the University of Zurich found that ‘helping others and being generous to them increases happiness’, and research has also shown that those who are generous tend to have better health (such as lower blood pressure) and even a longer life expectancy.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, “Charity is due upon every joint of the people for every day upon which the sun rises…” (Bukhari).
Whether this is smiling at a friend, making a colleague a cup of tea, or transforming an orphan’s life for just 97p a day, following the Sunnah of regular charity will not only make the world a better place, it will also improve your mental health.
4. Remember Allah and trust in His support – even when you feel isolated from it
“Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (Qur’an, 13:28).
Whichever emotion is troubling your heart – anxiety, jealousy, stress, indecision, anger, discontentment, worry, sadness, fear, hurt, grief – remembering Allah through dhikr, du’a, contemplation, or prayer will help to alleviate it. The entire universe is constantly praising and worshipping Allah, from the mountains to the bees, and remembering and surrendering to Allah is our natural purpose and state of mind. Therefore, it make sense that remembering Him would bring restfulness and peace to our hearts.
One of the consequences of living with a mental illness like depression or anxiety can be a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of connection with Allah. Even when you try to remember Him, you don’t feel like it’s helping and your heart is not at rest. It’s worth reflecting on the lessons of Surah Dhuhaa during these times.
Surah Dhuhaa was revealed after an interval during which no revelation had come down, and the Prophet (saw) was feeling worried and anxious as a result. The verses of Surah Dhuhaa are specifically directed at soothing the Prophet Muhammad’s (saw) heart:
By the morning brightness, and by the night when it covers with darkness, your Lord has neither forsaken you, nor has He become displeased. And surely the hereafter is better for you than the first life. And surely your Lord will give to you, and you shall be well-pleased.”
So even if you feel hopeless and alone in your connection with Allah – don’t despair. Persevere in remembering Him, and know that He is remembering you, even if it takes you time to truly feel and understand it.
5. Focus on the positive aspects of life
“And if you would count the graces of Allah, never could you be able to count them” (Qur’an, 14:34).
This life-lesson is especially applicable in the age of social media. The lives that people present on social media are often glossy and perfect, which can make you feel stressed or discontented (even if you know, rationally, their lives can’t really be perfect). Instead of thinking about all the amazing things they’re doing/saying/buying/experiencing – focus on the positives in your own life. Be grateful for what you do have, instead of focusing on what you don’t.
As mentioned before, one of the consequences of living with a mental illness can be a feeling of hopelessness, and it can be difficult to feel grateful when you’re experiencing that. However, it is important to persevere. To come back to Surah Dhuhaa, after Allah has reassured the Prophet Muhammad (saw) that he has not been forsaken, He goes on to say:
Did He not find you an orphan, and give [you] refuge? And He found you lost, and guided [you]. And He found you poor, and made [you] self-sufficient. So as for the orphan, do not oppress [them]. And as for the petitioner, do not repel [him]. And as for the favour of your Lord – proclaim it.”
So, firstly, when you are feeling lost or troubled, remember the countless blessings Allah has bestowed upon you in the past and present, and be grateful. Then, secondly, use the blessings Allah has given you to make a positive change in someone else’s life. Whether this be by volunteering or by supporting your loved ones and listening to their problems, it will surely help your own mental health.
6. Live in the present moment…
Most of us have regrets about the past or anxieties about the future – but one of the ways to improve our mental health is to focus on living in the present. Don’t dwell on the ‘what-ifs’, the missed opportunities or the worst-case scenarios; think about what is in your control today.
“The reality of faith is knowing that what has passed you by was not going to befall you; and that what has befallen you was not going to pass you by” (Tabarani).
Your rizq (provision) was written down before you were even born, so trust that, whatever happened in the past, it was part of Allah’s plan, and He will also take care of you in the future. Have the wisdom to only take care of what is in your control, without worrying about everything that could go wrong. Try to be mindful of the present moment as much as possible.
Having said that, some of us may be going through a particularly tough time in ‘the present moment’, where it’s easier to live in a rosier past or a fantasised future. Remember: whatever your present moment looks like, it can be good for you if you simply add the ingredients of gratitude and patience.
“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).
Trust in Allah’s plan helps us live in the present moment. Being grateful for what is good and patient with what is difficult alleviates our worries and thus improves our mental health.
7…but invest in your afterlife
Although it is important not to worry about the future, we should remember that our ultimate purpose in life is to please Allah, and the choices we make should reflect that. One of the best ways we can invest in our afterlife is by giving Sadaqah Jariyah.
“Indeed, the rewards of his actions and good deeds that will reach a believer after his death are: knowledge which he taught and spread; a righteous child whom he leaves behind; a copy of the Qur’an that he leaves as a legacy; or a masjid that he built; or a house that he built for wayfarers; a canal that he dug; or charity that he gave from his wealth in his good health and life. [These deeds] will reach him after his death” (Ibn Majah).
Sadaqah Jariyah means a flowing, continuous charity which benefits the recipient multiple times. In our-fast-paced and busy lives, it is difficult to remember that every single action can and does make a difference. Our positive actions create a ripple of positivity, and we should keep this idea in our minds every day.
Sadaqah Jariyah makes you feel like you are truly making a difference, which is good for your mental health. Whether it is by teaching a hadith, giving a piece of advice, or giving a pound in charity, a single, seemingly insignificant action can lead to countless rewards.
8. Surround yourself with positive people
Another practical tip! Just like the foods you eat affect your mental health, the people you surround yourself with can make you happier or more anxious.
So, firstly, you need to not take the comments or actions of negative people personally. This is definitely easier said than done! If you are around people who are critical, hurtful, bad-tempered, and generally negative, if not outright toxic – your mood will be affected. Often, these are the kinds of people who don’t change even when you confront them or advise them. The only thing you can do is ignore their attitude and ensure you don’t lower yourself to their level.
“The servants of The Compassionate are those who walk upon the earth in humility. When the ignorant address them, they say, ‘Peace'” (Al Furqan, 25:63).
It is not always possible to remove the negative people in our life – they may be family or colleagues, in which case we have to manage our relationships them with grace. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) is, as always, the best example for how to deal with negative relationships. He (saw) was frequently mocked, insulted and attacked by his relatives and neighbours, yet his heart remained soft, his character remained beautiful, his words remained compassionate and his trust in Allah remained firm.
On the flip side, it is also important to surround ourselves with positive people; they make us feel happier and help us be our best selves.
“Verily, the parable of good company and a bad company is only that of a seller of musk and a blacksmith. The seller of musk will give you some perfume, you will buy some, or you will notice a good smell. As for the blacksmith, he will burn your clothes or you will notice a bad smell” (Bukhari).
Being in a positive, nurturing and accepting environment will naturally balance your mental health; you will feel calmer and happier, your self-esteem will increase, and you will enjoy socialising a lot more.
9. Have faith in your own ability to cope
We all go through stressed-out periods in life, whether they are related to work, money, health or family. There are three things you should do when you feel you have too much on your plate:
Firstly, write everything down so it stops circling all around your head. Seeing it all on paper or a screen will can help you figure out how to manage all the tasks in a timely and efficient way, or even enable you to see that some of these tasks can just be deleted or passed on to someone else.
Secondly, make sure you make time to de-stress, even and especially when you are too busy. We tend to define ‘productivity’ and ‘success’ in material terms, but that is both untrue and harmful to your mental health. De-stressing helps you take a break and re-charge. Whether it’s by doing some exercise or yoga, watching a film, meditating or simply sitting on the sofa on daydreaming, find something that makes you feel relaxed and do it every day.
Thirdly, and most importantly, remember that even if you feel you have too much on your plate, you don’t. You probably have a lot on your plate, it may even be almost too much, but it is never more than you can bear:
Allah does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear.”
You have the strength and ability to cope with every task and problem you will ever face in life. Have faith in your own ability – and trust that Allah will look after you. When it gets difficult to manage, ask Allah to help you with your burden and make it lighter for you.
“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from grief and sadness, from weakness and from laziness, from miserliness and from cowardice, from being overcome by debt and overpowered by men [i.e. others]” (Bukhari).
It’s a good idea to recite the above du’a, which covers a range of stressful problems; but you should also make a specific du’a for your situation. This kind of segues into the tenth and final tip.
10. Ask for help
You don’t have to go through hardship alone. To rephrase that slightly; there is absolutely no need to go through hardship alone, and you shouldn’t force yourself to do it. Part of taking care of your mental health is knowing when to ask others to help you take care of it.
In addition to calling on Allah, tell family and friends what you’re going through and ask for advice. If you don’t feel you can talk to them, or your mental health is at a particularly low point, you can consult your local GP and get a certified counsellor to help you break down your anxieties and alleviate them. There is no shame in asking for mental health help, just like there is no shame in telling your doctor about a problem with your vision or digestion.
Don’t think that your problem can’t be shared, explained or understood. It takes a lot more effort and strength to deal with a problem alone than it takes to share it, however difficult that is to believe. Moreover, the people who love you will want to help you, just as you would want to help them with their mental health.
We’ll conclude with a beautiful lesson from the Qur’an which all of us need to hear when we are experience difficult emotions or situations:
“For indeed, with [every] hardship, there is relief. Indeed, with [every] hardship, there is relief” (Qur’an, 94:5-6).
Muslim Hands supports orphans and disadvantaged children with their mental health by providing psycho-social care in our schools all around the world. Why not sponsor an orphan or make a one-off donation to be a part of this vital Sadaqah Jariyah?