Written by Seema Hershey.
Self-care has been a hot subject lately, and it should be something we have all heard of by now. It’s important for achieving a healthy lifestyle, in balancing our mental and emotional health and just dealing with life in general.
However, there are a few misconceptions when it comes to the topic. And if you feel like those lists of “50 things that you can do to practice self-care” have not helped you in feeling better, there’s a good reason for that.
I believe that self-care is not always a general list of things to do that applies to everyone, but that different categories of self-care apply to different people. Moms, for example, may benefit from a specific set of self-care activities. An already mentally healthy person may benefit from a certain type of self-care.
But those who struggle with depression (whether it’s clinical or situational, or similar types of mental health issues)… ahh. They are a whole other ball game. Now throw in being a Muslim.
Boom. You are a complicated category that receives mixed signals from all these articles trying to help you, which means you will probably be less likely to even receive the correct advice that you need.
There are so many dynamics to this topic, that I couldn’t possibly write about it all here. So I’ll stick to what I promised, and that is self-care for our fellow Muslims with depression.
The problem with people who struggle with being depressed is that you may not want to practice self-care at all. We’re told that it is doing what we want, right? Something we can indulge in. Something that we like. For a depressed person, that is nothing. Depending on how bad your episode or situation is, nothing seems like something we’d like to do. Literally.
You want to stay in bed. You want to not shower. You want to either not eat anything or over-eat everything. You want to not socialize with anyone. As a Muslim, you have five daily prayers that you may not want to do. You also may have negative impulses you want to give in to (be it spending, drugs, drinking, sex — you name it).
The point is, what may seem like self-care to a depressed individual isn’t necessarily good for them. At the same time, they may look at a list of self-care options and think most of it doesn’t apply to them simply because it doesn’t “appeal” to them. This is where the problem lies.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t give yourself a break from socializing, or spend some time in bed because yes, that CAN be self-care. But when you have depression, it’s difficult to tell what is self-care and what is letting it consume you.
The thing is, self-care may not always be something we find indulging. It may be something we hate. Yes, as ironic as it sounds, sometimes it is the opposite of what you want to do- but it is what you need to do in order to take care of yourself and get out of the rut.
Dragging yourself out of your room to make a healthy smoothie. Taking a walk. Forcing yourself to go out with that group of friends tomorrow when you don’t want to. And getting up with no motivation for life to drag yourself to make wudu and pray, as awful as that sounds, is self-care for the depressed person. But it won’t feel that way to them- at least not immediately.
They don’t want to do it. And the other cute things like bubble baths and hobbies may not appeal to them. They want to be left alone. They don’t seem to like or have an interest in much. Nothing seems fun enough, or worth it. It all just seems…. pointless. But to let yourself lose your connection with Allah (SWT), to let yourself become isolated from the companionship of friends and family, which Allah (SWT) created for us for a reason, and to let your physical health go down the drain, that is the opposite of self-care. That is self-destruction.
Depression is tricky like that, unfortunately. With low energy, low motivation and low levels of certain important chemicals, we can easily go from giving in a little to letting it take our complete selves away.
As hard as something like prayer might be, realize that Allah (SWT) does not need our salat. We need it. He told us to establish it five times a day for us to keep connected to Him because He knows how this life is. He knows how we are, He created us, after all. He knows that sometimes when we fall off the wagon, we fall hard and we become really lost.
Self-care is extremely hard in these moments. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to try to push a little here and there. Give your body the physical, spiritual and emotional nourishment it needs. Don’t give up on it. It’s the one thing we have with us till we leave this world, and it has a right to us.
Here is a list of eight self-care tips for the Depressed Muslim that may get you started:
1. Eating better.
God, that is the last thing on your mind, right? It’s hard to take care of your health when you’re already not well, but your body will thank you. Science AND psychological studies have proven time and time again that what we eat can affect our moods. What you’re eating could even be causing your depression. Try to read up on this, there’s so much knowledge out there on what to eat to make you feel better.
2. Go outside.
As tired as you may be, laying in bed for hours will actually make you more tired, perpetuating a cycle of fatigue. Sunlight and exercise have immense healing effects and do wonders to make you feel better. Lack of vitamin D, has been shown to cause depression. Exercising increases the chemicals that make you feel better, and also increases your strength. So go take even a small walk down your block if you need to. It will clear your head, get your blood moving, and help you in the long run.
3. Plan to pray.
You may feel like you are too far from God to pray. You may feel ashamed, or just too tired. Some of that may even be from shaytan, by the way. Tell yourself that even though you might make the worst wudu, and have the worst salat, you’re still going to get up and do it. You’ll feel better after. While one should not have such a low standard for salat, it is more important to do it. Tell yourself that it may be subpar now, but you’ll get better with it as you go along. After your salat, pour your heart out to Allah (SWT). Tell him what you’re going through. Talk to Him. Cry to Him. Ask Him for help. You will feel peace, and you will start to crave salat, God willing.
4. Hang out with those friends/family.
Just try to choose people that are positive and keep good company. You may not feel like doing so at allllllllllll, but keep in mind that shaytan often uses the tactic of isolating us, because that is when he can bring us down the most. There’s Hikmah (wisdom) in why Allah made us social creatures and preferred us to pray at masjids in congregation. We are stronger when we around other good people. We are more vulnerable when we are alone.
5. Don’t let yourself lay in bed all day.
If you need to give in for a little bit, do it. But give yourself a time limit, like an hour, and then you will get up. You may actually feel exhausted because you have over stimulated your sleep hormones from being in bed often. If you are really tired, go sit next to a window with sunlight and do nothing. It’s still much better than being in bed.
Keep in mind that depression is like an extremely large, and extremely heavy ball. It seems impossible to move it at first. You’re exhausted from pushing. But once you get the ball rolling, it picks up speed from there. Likewise, while simple tasks such as even showering can seem impossible, if you push a little to get the balling rolling, it will get easier from there.
6. Listen to Quran.
More specifically Surah Baqarah or a Ruqiya that can be found on YouTube. We are taught that Quran is a Shifa (cure). There are also many duas for depression or anxiety that one can make.
7. Write in a journal.
Even if you feel like you are not the type, or it just doesn’t seem like your thing. Forcing yourself to write a little each day can help you clear your mind and let out pent up thoughts. It will help you to start understanding yourself and your emotions better.
8. Seek help.
This can seem scary and foreign to many, and maybe even be the biggest obstacle. But seeking help from a therapist and possibly even medicine (relax, a therapist can’t shove pills down your throat if you don’t want to do that) can be the start to a better life; which also may seem scary depending on how far down you’ve gone. But trust me, you’ll be happy you did.
Feature Image: Moosleemargh