As Muslims, we are blessed with a religion that addresses mental health and emotional complexity directly, and with grace and love. Sometimes Alhamdulilah (all thanks be to Allah) is the only word that can sum up the fervor of spiritual gratitude, a word that can say “truly, I’ve been blessed.” However, it doesn’t have to stop there. Aside from the fact that we need to have more spiritual consciousness and engagement when we say that simple, but meaningful word (Alhamdulilah), we shouldn’t hide behind it or accept it as enough when we suspect that a sister or brother is in need of help.
When someone asks us how we are doing, we usually say “alhamdulillah.” We say it in passing, sometimes not even making eye contact. It has been branded in us instinctively. With the mental health epidemic finally making the news, is that really enough to connect to people?
“How is work?” “Alhamdulillah.”
“How are your studies?” “Alhamdulillah.”
“How is the new marriage?” “Alhamdulillah.”
What if that gratitude and prayer isn’t what we need? What if what we need is open and honest communication? What if this is what’s really going on? tweet
As Muslims, our culture and religion often fuse together, and it can feel impossible to really disconnect from both. It’s like a sticky bubble gum that, no matter how strategically you pull, there’s still going to be some inevitable residue left. And sometimes, these cultural expectations mean keeping our private life to ourselves and not talking about the bad; as if parsing through our emotions will be an act of ingratitude towards the Most Merciful and His blessings.
What if that gratitude and prayer isn’t what we need? What if what we need is open and honest communication? What if this is what’s really going on?
Sometimes, conversations manifest like this:
“How is work?”
What we say: “Alhamdulillah. Keep me in your duas.”
What’s really happening: “I am addicted to sleeping pills, and I can’t stop taking them.”
“How are your studies?”
What we say: “Alhamdulillah. Keep me in your duas.”
What’s really happening: “I was assaulted, and the nightmares come every night.”
“How is your new marriage?”
What we say: “Alhamdulillah. Keep us in your duas.”
What’s really happening: “My husband is physically abusive, and I can’t tell anyone.”
Someone may never admit these things to a stranger, a friend, or even to family. We may never know what is behind someone’s “Alhamdulillah.”
When all someone says is “Alhamdulillah,” there’s no way to tell what’s really going on beneath the surface — if there’s fear, depression, struggle, or anxiety.
Why do we even have anxiety?
Anxiety is a built in response to danger. It’s like the red alert emoji telling us to pause and scan our surroundings. There are three ways you can respond to a situation:
- Stop, assess, and FLEE.
- Stop, assess, and FIGHT.
- Stop, assess and FREEZE.
When you are experiencing anxiety, your body is releasing adrenaline to give you a push whether you decide to fight or flight. This basic primitive nature was intended to keep our species safe over time. During those times, if a lion was in our sight, we needed to make quick decisions to ensure our survival. If we didn’t have adrenaline, survival would be a challenge. When we detect danger, we need our body to respond.
Alhamdulillah for everything, yes absolutely; but sometimes, “Alhamdulillah” is just the beginning of the conversation. tweet
When is it something we should be worried about?
There is a problem if those “normal episodes” happen every day, and take over your life in a way that you feel it is keeping you from normal functioning. When natural moments of anxiety turn in to full blown panic attacks where you feel yourself suffocating, like you are having a heart attack, that’s not normal, and you should see a doctor. It is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s nothing particularly uncommon: in our fast-paced, competitive society, people are always feeling the effects of constant stress in all the different ways that they manifest.
In psychological terms, we should be concerned when it causes significant clinical distress or significant clinical impairment to your daily functioning.
When we find a mole, or feel a severe sore throat coming on, we immediately run to Google, and begin to terrify ourselves with the results — your headache might be brain cancer, per Dr. Google — and we rush to the doctor and get ourselves taken care of. Why isn’t this the same when we are having nightmares every night? Why isn’t this the same when we are doing everything possible to get through the day without suffocating, and it is still not working out?
Anxiety can showcase itself in phobias, fixations, depressive features, stress, normal life transitions, physical health shifts, and so much more.
Anxiety shows up differently for children versus teenagers versus adults — it can show up differently for everyone. There isn’t enough space in this post to share the many different dimensions of anxiety.
We also need to be mindful as to how we respond to someone’s anxiety. When someone shares that they are frustrated and anxious, how do we respond? Do we tell them to say “Alhumduillah,” and move on? Or do we urge them to talk about it, get help?
Alhamdulillah for everything, yes absolutely; but sometimes, “Alhamdulillah” is just the beginning of the conversation.