How to Overcome Depression and Anxiety in Islam-
4 Rules and 4 Stages
Yet again, in this article I am not going to talk to you as a Medical doctor or a daee. I want to talk to you as someone who has walked down the road of depression, stumbled into the pit of darkness, and come out as a warrior (okay.. that statement is loaded with drama and exaggeration).
The truth of the matter is, these mental health conditions can sometimes lead us to a point where we convince our minds that we have no incentive to drag ourselves out of them. Consequently, many resort to taking antidepressants. I’m not going to be the judge of whether you are taking the easy way out or the cause of your anxiety/depression truly calls for medicine.
I know for a fact that everyone sufferring from such mental health problems has a different story and it would be foolish to deny the therapeutic effect of medicine. But I want you to know that Islam has a way out for everything. Yes, everything. And that is a vital part of the belief system of a Muslim. In this article, you will learn:
- 4 golden rules to learn before beginning to apply the techniques
- 4 Stages on how to overcome depression and anxiety in Islam
- Strategies to overcome depression and anxiety in Islam (these ones don’t include taking medicine)
- Emotional Resilience: What is it and how to attain it?
- INFOGRAPHIC: List of surahs from The Quran that contain therapeutic value for mental health disorders
Before you begin, let me warn you.. this article is more of a manual (kinda long.. okay, really long) on overcoming depression and anxiety in Islam, but it’s as comprehensive as it gets. I want you to get all the information to walk out of depression and anxiety in one place.
Let’s begin with…
Begin with 4 Golden Rules
If you start by doing something that’s very difficult, chances are you will give up sooner. Besides, if you are unable to achieve that particular goal after multiple attempts, you will lower your self-esteem further. As a result, you will end up more depressed/ anxious.
But feeling so bad that you end up in a cycle of self-loathe and sinning more (convincing yourself that you can never be forgiven by Allah or that you don’t deserve to be happy now that you have sinned etc) is not Islam-that’s all Shaiytan. For the Muslims trying to be better, Shaiytaan keeps a close track record of their activities. The moment they slip or make a mistake, Shaiytaan sneaks into their heads with his evil whispers.
Allah S.W.T says: “And never give up hope of Allah’s soothing mercy: truly no one despairs of Allah’s soothing mercy, except those who have no faith.” [Surah Yusuf 12: Ayah 87]
So dear fellow Muslims, don’t let past mistakes define you. Don’t let repeated mistakes define you. The only thing that should define you, is your niyyah (intention).
…When the negativity around you ( whether in your social circle, house, workplace etc) gets too much for you to handle, politely get up and walk away. Nobody understands exactly what’s going on your head, but you do. If the noise around you is getting louder and making you anxious, or the sarcasm/ negative comments/ rude behaviour/ other people committing sins etc is making you depressed .. walk away.
Do anything that will slowly sponge out the negative energy that’s boiling inside of you.
Now I know you are craving to find out the amazing benefits of practicing the escape-phenomenon ( Btw I do it all the time, so if someone tells you it’s weird, tell them Aimen said- weird-is-the-new-cool- huhu-).
The amazing benefits of practicing the escape phenomenon are:
- You will save yourself from creating an emotional outburst ( yelling, shouting, crying, cursing etc )
- You will save others from getting hurt or disturbed by your emotional outburst
- You will raise your self-esteem a little everyday
- You will become a more optimistic and positive Muslim (this won’t happen overnight ofcourse)
The problem with that is we have divided all of our normal, natural emotions into 2 categories. Good or bad. Happiness, love, gratefulness etc are considered as the GOOD emotions. Anger, sadness, disappointment, anxiety, nervousness and depression are considered as BAD emotions.
As a result, we suppress our negative emotions and embrace only the positive ones. That’s exactly what you shouldn’t be doing. Suppression of negative emotions in attempts of gaining false positivity leads to amplification of those negative emotions- meaning the more you push aside or ignore your unwanted feelings, the stronger they get. You might think that you are in control when you suppress unwanted emotions, but in reality they control you.
We need to learn how to accept all kinds of emotions as part of the human nature, and differentiate between the feelings so that we can direct certain feelings towards taking a value-driven step, while only acknowledging others without endorsing them.
For example, you experience the rise of an uncomfortable feeling (maybe sadness, irritability, anger) within yourself after fighting/arguing with a loved one… observe that uncomfortable emotion as a lighting signal towards communicating and resolving the conflict with that person (the Sunnah approach). Consequently, because you were able to recognize the emotion inside of you as normal, you accepted it and let it guide you towards taking a value-driven step (communicating maturely).
In contrast, if you suppressed that uncomfortable feeling, it would have led you away from your Islamic values (communicating openly and forgiving) and the conflict would have grown more roots.
To learn to be able to deal with all kinds of emotions, we need to develop “Emotional Resilience”. I’ll talk more about that later in this post.
Now let’s see the four main stages that need work in order to beat the crap outta tha’ nasty beast of DA (short form of depression and anxiety that I just came up with- genius huh?)
4 Stages with practical steps on How to Overcome Depression and Anxiety in Islam
#1) THE STAGE OF EVALUATION AND INTENTION
Allah says in the Quran: “Verily Allah does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves”.
[ Surah 13: Ayah 11 ]
Once you have trained your mind to put things into perspective, your mind will start reasoning with your heart. The remaining particles of fear of Allah in your heart will slowly prepare you to change. And put an end to the cycle of sin/ depression/ anxiety.
“When you have taken a decision, put your trust in Allah” [Quran Surah 3: Ayah 159].
There are a few tactics that may sound crazy to some, but trust me they work.
It sorts out your jumbled up thoughts, you brush up your speaking skills and listen to yourself as a third person, your thoughts fall in place and you sleep with less worries on your mind-plate. It also helps you remove all the nasty negative thoughts (about others too). Sounds too good to miss, what do you think?
Allah says in the Quran: Then do they not reflect upon the Qur’an, or are there locks upon [their] hearts? [Surah Muhammad 47:24]
“We will show them Our signs In the universe, and In their ownselves, until it becomes manifest to them that This (the Quran) is the truth. is it not Sufficient In regard to Your Lord that He is a witness over All things?” [Surah Fussilat 41:53]
Therefore, listen to the ones who resonate with you, who stir your soul, and whose words have a positive effect on you. Everyone has a different mind, language, personality, ethnicity etc. Listen to a speaker (whether international/national speakers or your family member/ friend) that brings you closer to Allah. Don’t force yourself to listen to someone who doesn’t bring you closer to Allah or on the contrary, takes you further away from Allah.
#2) THE STAGE OF MENTAL, SOCIAL AND PHYSICAL CHANGE
1) Negative thought block-
I say you start by practicing negative thought block, a strategy which is thought to be easier than negative thought replacement. Everytime you get a thought that lowers your self-esteem, or brings you down, shove it aside. How?
- Say stop! Say it out loud if noone is around.
- Get busy in another activity that will preoccupy your mind.
- Avoid the negative media and people around you that provoke the genesis of a negative thought in the first place.
- Write it down on a piece of paper and destroy it.
- Don’t reinforce it by talking about it to others.
Everytime a negative thought arrives at the thought station, re-phrase the words in your negative thought actively into a positive statement. For eg; Replace the thought ” I am a horrible Muslim because I am/ have sinned”.. with, ” I am noticing that I feel low because of sinning. But atleast I am feeling bad about it and my heart (conscience) is not sealed. I will use this feeling to apologize to Allah and not repeat the sin.”
In the Qur’an, Allah says: “Nay, their hearts have been sealed by the sins they have accumulated.”
[ Surah Al –Mutaffifeen: Ayah 14]
“And He gave you from all you asked of Him. And if you should count the favor of Allah , you could not enumerate them. Indeed, mankind is [generally] most unjust and ungrateful.”[Surah Ibrahim 14: Ayah 34]
Are you going through a financial crisis? Think about the homeless living on the streets, and the oppressed Muslims. Are you lonely or suffering from a health related issue? Be grateful for the fact that you are still alive and have Allah on your side. Are you always tired because you are too busy? Think of the crippled who are unable to move or do anything for themselves.
Prophet Muhammad S.A.W said: “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Sahih Muslim)
Everytime you feel low and think negatively, ask yourself why. When you have the answer, then ask yourself is it truly the worse situation to be in or is there someone out there who is in a much worse position. That’s when you will feel the reality sink in followed by a deep sense of gratitude . Say alhamdulilah all day long and you will think gratefully all day long. Make this du’a:
“My Lord! Inspire and bestow upon me the power and ability that I may be grateful for Your Favours which You have bestowed on me and on my parents, and that I may do righteous good deeds that will please You, and admit me by Your Mercy among Your righteous slaves.” [ Surah 27: Ayah 19]
Thoughts in our brains are interconnected to each other. A specific thought might be connected to a certain type of feeling. For eg; a particular memory might be connected to a feeling of love. And the feeling of love might be connected to a feeling of disappointment. So everytime the particular memory resurfaces, the person instantly experiences feelings of pain, sorrow even anger, all because the feeling of love associated with disappointment was resurfaced.
These confusing network of neurons are called neuro-nets. Positive self-affirmation tends to interrupt these neuro-nets and change the direction of thought or even replace the thoughts associated with a certain type of memory.
As Muslims, we should practice saying such affirmations: ” Allah is with me. “ Or ” To Him do we belong and to Him we shall return. ” We should avoid affirmations that go against our belief sytem such as: ” I WILL do this task.” Or … ” You only live once (YOLO) “. Instead of such devious affirmations, say as such:
“I will do this task only if Allah wills (i.e Insha’Allah)”. In the long run this will train the mind and the tongue to think positively as a Muslim.
1) Talk to your family/ loved ones
- First of, smiling is sunnah!
‘Abdullaah ibnul-Haarith ibn Hazm, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “I never saw anyone smile more than the Prophet S.A.W. ” [At-Tirmithi]
- Smiling activates the orbitofrontal cortex (part of your brain that processes sensory rewards). As a result, you feel rewarded everytime you smile.
- Smiling releases good-neurotransmitters (dopamine, serotonin, endorphins) in your brain that release stress and relax your body. They uplift your mood instantly.
- Did you know that smiling is contagious? Believe it or not, if you smile, it takes conscious effort on the part of the person next to you to NOT smile back.
Spend time, whether on phone or in real life, with someone who makes you feel positive after your conversations.
Allah says: ” The likeness of those who spend their wealth in the Way of Allah, is as the likeness of a grain (of corn); it grows seven ears, and each ear has a hundred grains. Allah gives manifold increase to whom He pleases. And Allah is All-Sufficient for His creatures’ needs, All-Knower.”
Let me give you examples of GIVE besides zakah or giving money. It basically implies giving anything to anyone- food/ money to a needy person, helping someone who asks for your help, watering the plants, giving food to animals etc.
Do you know what happens to your brain when you give something for free without seeking any benefit for yourself? MRI studies of the brain show that giving activates the mesolimbic system in the brain, which releases dopamine (happy neurotransmitter). Not only that, helping others tend to send signals to the caudate nucleus and anterior cingulate, the parts of the brain that make you ” happy “.
Islam tells us that a giving hand is better than a taking one. Giving for the sake of Allah extinguishes sins, eases hardship, and Allah rewards the giver in this world and the Akhirah.
1) Exercise, walk fast, Jump rope
Prophet Muhammad S.A.W used to walk in a fast pace. It is now known as a power walk.
In a hadith, Ali (RA) described Muhammad’s S.A.W fast way of walking:“I did not see anyone walk faster than him, as if the earth folded for him. A few moments ago he would be here, and then there. We found it difficult to keep pace when we walked with him, and he walked at his normal pace.” [Tirmidhi]
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Allah made the early hours blessed for my Ummah.” [Ahmed]
In the early morning time positive energy seeps in our minds. Utilize that time to think, be thankful to Allah, pray fajar, read Quran, exercise and if you still don’t feel better after doing all that, then do it again the next day.
Other nutrients that aid in easing anxiety are:
B vitamins: leafy green vegetables, whole grains, Vitamin C: oranges, papaya, strawberries, Magnesium: pumpkin, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, Lean protein: fish, skinless chicken or turkey, red meat, low-fat or fat-free dairy, egg whites, beans, legumes
Allah says in the Quran: “Truly Allah loves those who ask for forgiveness and strive to keep themselves clean”. [Surah Al-Baqarah 2: Ayah 222].
#3): THE STAGE OF SPIRITUAL CHANGE
“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.” [Surah Taha 20: Ayah 124]
But once mastered, the concept of forgive and forget is the magical reason behind ” no wrinkles and a smiling heart.” It will reduce your bitterness level, blood pressure, anger, resentment and you will sleep with a lighter heart.
Allah says in the Quran: “The believers are those who spend in charity during ease and hardship and who restrain their anger and pardon the people, for Allah loves the doers of good.” [Surah Aal-Imran 3: Ayah 134]
How do you do it? One way that works for me is to be in the shoes of the person who hurt you and reason with what they did. If their hurtful action becomes remotely justifiable after thinking from their perspective, then forgiveness takes root. If it is not justifiable from any perspective, then give it time.
“Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not love for Allah to forgive you? Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. ” [Quran Surah An-Nur 24: Ayah 22]
Say: O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [ Quran Surah Az-Zumar 39: Ayah 53]
“Establish prayer at the decline of the sun [from its meridian] until the darkness of the night and [also] the Qur’an of dawn. Indeed, the recitation of dawn is ever witnessed.And from [part of] the night, pray with it as additional [worship] for you; it is expected that your Lord will resurrect you to a praised station.” [Surah Isra, 17: Ayahs 78-79]
The time early in the morning is a golden opportunity for us to avail. After all we are the ummah of Prophet Muhammad’s (S.A.W). Don’t waste away the precious morning time sleeping. Instead read Surah Yasin every morning. Honestly it takes only a few minutes to read it.
“..And celebrate the praises of your Lord, before the rising of the sun and before (its) setting.”
[Quran Surah 50: Ayah 39]
Abu Huraira reported that the Messenger of Allah S.A.W said, “Do not turn your houses into graves. Shaitan is barred from any house in which Surat al-Baqarah is recited.” [Muslim 780, 4: 1707]
Surah Baqarah has healing powers for Sihir, and possession by evil spirits. It is lengthiest Surah of the Quran and so powerful that no Shaiytan or Jinn is safe from the effect of this Surah. What makes you think that your mental health condition can’t be cured by it? Play the recording in your house twice, once in the morning and once in the evening. There’s no doubt that you will feel the healing effect.
The Prophet S.A.W said, “Whoever recites 4 verses from the first part of Surah al Baqarah, the verse of the Throne (Ayat-ul-Kursi), 2 verses after the verse of the Throne and 3 verses from the last part of Surah al Baqarah, Satan would never come near him or the members of his family on that day, and nothing he despises would come near him or the members of his family, and never are these verses recited over a madman without him regaining his consciousness.”
[Darimi 3249/A in the Book of Excellence of the Quran; an-Nasai in the Deeds during the Day and Night; Ibn Hibban & Tabrani]
A’isha R.A reported that whenever the Prophet S.A.W became sick, he would recite Mu’awwidhat (Surat Al-Falaq and Surat An-Nas) and then blow his breath over his body. When he became seriously ill, I used to recite (these two Surahs) and rub his hands over his body hoping for its blessings. [Sahih al-Bukhari 6:61 #535]
“I only complain of my suffering and my grief to Allah.” [Quran Surah 12: Ayah 86]
We only dare complain about the problems to our parents, family or really close friends who we believe will take our emotional dump. Similarly, if Allah is the closest to us, why no we tell our worries to Him and let Allah handle our problems for us. Complaining to Allah like a child does to his mother strengthens the bond between the believer and Allah.
Hudhayfah said, “When the Prophet S.A.W would be in an overwhelming situation, he would pray salah.” [Sunan Abī Dawūd #1319]
Abu Hurairah reports that the Messenger of Allah S.A.W said: “Our Lord Descends to the lowest heaven during the last third of the night, inquiring: `Who will call on Me so that I may respond to him? Who is asking something of Me so I may give it to him? Who is asking for My forgiveness so I may forgive him?”[ Bukhari and Muslim.]
Narrated `Abdullah bin `Amr bin Al-`As:Allah’s Messenger S.A.W told me, “The most beloved prayer to Allah is that of David and the most beloved fasts to Allah are those of David. He used to sleep for half of the night and then pray for one third of the night and again sleep for its sixth part and used to fast on alternate days.” [ Sahih al-Bukhari 1131 In-book reference : Book 19, Hadith 11]
Researchers have found that Intermittent fasting can help improve mood by regulating blood sugar levels. Mild calorie restriction has antidepressant effects by activating neuroendocrine hormones to compensate for energy deficiency. Subhan’Allah in the hadith mentioned above, intermittent fasting was practiced by Prophet Daood (David A.S) hundreds of years ago.
#4): THE STAGE OF EMOTIONAL RESILIENCE
Sab’r has 3 Major forms in Islam:
1) Endurance required to obey the commands of Allah ( obligatory acts ).
2) Restraint from committing sins/ prohibited acts.
3) Acceptance of Qadar ( the decree of Allah ) in times of hardship or calamity
Who wouldn’t want to be tough when faced with a calamity and not scaffold to the challenges that life throws at you? Who wouldn’t want to get up stronger and more closer to Allah than before, after falling hard? Who wouldn’t want to be in control of natural emotions and not let emotions control their actions?
Remember that you own your emotions. Your emotions don’t own you.
With that said, it’s not that easy to achieve emotional resilience or Sab’r. That’s why I mentioned it last. However, once you are a step closer to being emotionally resilient, you will see the transformation in your life. You will reap the benefits of Sab’r in this life as well as the next Insha’Allah.
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