Ghazala Fauzia, MA, MSW, RSW, Counsellor & EMDR Clinician

How do I know if I am mentally healthy or ill?

This question often goes through our minds when we try to understand mental health. Mental health is finally being destigmatized in Canada and there is increased awareness regarding its impact on one’s well-being. However, conversations about mental challenges can still be taboo in many minority cultures, including the Muslim community.

People of faith sometimes wrongfully correlate their level of faith with their mental health i.e. challenges related to mental health are often simplified as being present due to a lack of faith, and optimal mental health is considered a result of reaching a peak religious level. This is often an over-simplification and an incorrect interpretation of religiosity and mental health. Rather, one should understand that mental health can fluctuate for many reasons which are often beyond our control, but we can use our spirituality to practice mindfulness, which can in turn alleviate some mental distress. This article will briefly elaborate on how fasting can be instrumental for boosting mental health and will share techniques for enhancing mental well-being.

People who practice spirituality or faith usually have better coping mechanisms for managing daily stressors and hardships. As Muslims, we strive to strengthen our relationship with Allah through daily prayers, reciting Quraan, performing pilgrimage and observing fasting during the month of Ramadan. These practices are important not only to develop our relationship with God, but with ownself and other fellow humans. Many experts of neuroscience and psychology encourage incorporating meditation into one’s daily routine to enhance mental well-being. Ramadan is the best time for Muslims to achieve mental well-being by focusing on the essence of fasting rather than just staying physically hungry. During Ramadan, if we strive to achieve two important human qualities; compassion and gratitude, we can significantly improve our mental well-being. The main objective of refraining from food is to transcend our animalistic desires, and build deeper empathy for our fellow living beings.  Feeling other’s pain helps with developing the pre-frontal cortex which regulates emotions, creates balance, and integrates all parts of the brain. People who do not feel compassion or tend to ignore other’s feelings are more likely to develop mental illness at some point in their lives. Likewise, the practice of being grateful and humble provides inner peace and contentment. Gratefulness allows us to be appreciative of our current state, and Ramadan is the best time to reflect and practice gratitude.

To practice compassion and gratitude, make a commitment with yourself that on everyday of Ramadan you will try to do at least one selfless act to bring comfort to someone’s life; whether at home, in the workplace, or even for strangers on the street.  Even small acts such as smiling, providing a listening ear, being present for someone in need, and being kind to all creatures can help you in being mindful. In addition, practice being grateful for your blessings either by saying it out loud (and saying Alhamdullilah at the same time) or writing it down in a journal. You can write about topics such as health, relationships, physical & mental abilities, friendships, time, and the gift of life in general. You will notice significant changes in mood, will have more positive thinking, and will feel lighter and content. Each day when you do an act of kindness and state things you are grateful for, you should also make a note of positive changes in your mood. This can be a significant step towards achieving a healthy mind.

 “Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar