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[3-Minute Blog] 5 Simple Tools to Improve Your Mental Health

While many around the globe are suffering from the effects of the coronavirus, there is also another health-hazard around the corner – mental well-being.

Although in my previous article, I talked about how the virus is a blessing for the believer, there is a hidden danger of the vulnerability to people’s mental health. Being at home and not having any certainty about the future can be frustrating and apprehensive.

In today’s article, I would like to provide you 5 simple tools to improve your mental health at home during this coronavirus pandemic.

Dhikr 

Allah subuhanawuta’la says in the Quran, “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest” (Al-Quran, 13:28)

The remembrance of Allah turns the turbulent and wavy heart into a peaceful and serene oasis. 

Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “Verily, everything has a polish and the polish of the heart is the remembrance of Allah Almighty.” (Al-Bayhaqee, authenticated by Albani) 

Ibn Al-Qayyim puts it so beautifully, “The heart is tarnished by two matters: negligence and sin. And it is polished by two matters: seeking forgiveness and the remembrance of Allah.”

So if you are overwhelmed about everything that is going around now, make sure your tongue is busy with the remembrance of Allah subuhanawuta’ala. I don’t know of any other mechanism that has given me so much inner peace like dhikr

Sending Salutations upon the Prophet (SAW)

Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah (SAW) saying: “Whoever supplicates Allah to exalt my mention (i.e., send salah), Allah will exalt his mention (i.e., send salah) ten times and remove from him ten sins and raise him ten degrees.” (Muslim)

Imagine, what your state would be if Allah subuhanawuta’la himself sends you peace. The peace comes from the source, As-Salam! Subhanallah, do you not crave to feel that peace?

Myself, I have experienced the calming tranquillity and escape that supplication upon the Prophet (SAW) has bestowed upon me. There are too many scenarios where salawat has strengthened my heart in difficult situations. 

Practice Slow Breathing 

I consider slow breathing to be one of the cornerstones of our health. What slow breathing is and how exactly it works, I have already described in a previous blog post. However, if you are pressed for time, here is the gist of it:

  1. Inhale for 5 seconds (through your nose),
  2. Hold your breath for 2 seconds 
  3. Exhale (again through your nose) for 7 seconds
  4. Repeat these steps 5 times

Do this whenever you feel stressed or anytime you want to take a break. 

Simply put, this is what slow and focussed breathing does to you: When you exhale slightly longer than you inhale, you are in fact turning on your parasympathetic nervous system.

The parasympathetic system is also called the rest and digest system which helps to slow heart rate and relax the muscles (among other functions). Therefore, by performing this simple breathing exercise, we are helping to relax ourselves and the results are pretty immediate!

Exercise 

Exercise is something very close to a magic pill. It’s incredibly beneficial for many things in our life. Knowing what I know now, I would even argue exercise is more beneficial for our mental health than our body health. 

In the incredible book, How of Happiness, Sonja Lubermeski talks about the importance of walking/jogging (generally regarding aerobic exercises) for being happy and warding off depression. 

In this book, she cites a scientific research, where clinically depressed individuals are taken into a lab. The researchers split them into three groups. The first group was assigned to four months of aerobic exercise while the second group got an antidepressant medication (Zoloft) and the third group got both exercise and the medication. 

Here are the results in the word of the author herself:

Remarkably, by the end of the four-month intervention period, all three groups had experienced their depressions lift and reported fewer dysfunctional attitudes and increased happiness and self-esteem. Aerobic exercise was just as effective at treating depression as was Zoloft, or as a combination of exercise and Zoloft. Yet exercise is a lot less expensive, usually with no side effects apart from soreness. Perhaps even more remarkably, six months later, participants who had ‘remitted’ (recovered) from their depressions were less likely to relapse if they had been in the exercise group (six months ago!) than if they had been in the medication group.” 

If you want to know more about exercise’s ability to improve our mental health, read the following two articles I’ve written on this blog: 

Mindful Meditation 

As far as mental health is concerned, mindful meditation seems to be very promising. Mindful meditation boosts our happiness. Research[1][2] shows that merely an 8-week training programme in mindfulness meditation increases happiness by increasing our positive emotion and decreasing depression, anxiety and stress!

Sonja Lyubomirsky, one of the world’s leading scientists researching mental well-being, also mentions in her ground-breaking book The How of Happiness about a series of studies conducted at the University of Rochester.

“These studies focused on people ‘high in mindfulness’, that is, those who are prone to be mindfully attentive to the here and now and keenly aware of their surroundings. It turns out that such individuals are models of flourishing mental health. Relative to the average person, they are more likely to be happy, optimistic, self-confident and satisfied with their lives, and less likely to be depressed, angry, anxious, hostile, self-conscious, impulsive or neurotic.

Furthermore, people who are habitually mindful of their current experiences are more likely to experience frequent and intense positive emotions, to feel self-sufficient, competent and to have positive social relationships, while those who are not usually mindful report more illness and physical symptoms.”

If you are interested to know more about meditation, I highly recommend you to read my following two articles about meditation. 

  1. Mindful Meditation 101: A Muslim’s Guide To Mindful Meditation
  2. Mindful Meditation 101: A Muslim’s Guide To Mindful Meditation (Part 2)

Take Away Message

Your mind and body are interconnected. By changing your physiology, you can change your psychology. All these five are simple but effective tools to improve your mental health. Try it out! It works, Alhamdulillah!

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Within the framework of Islam and real-science, you’ve nothing to lose, except your fat!