Life has its highs and lows – the cycles of happiness and sadness. Sometimes, however, despite having everything we need for being happy, most of us experience ‘the blues.’ As if the chaos and mayhem we face communally is not enough, personal problems keep cropping up to curtail our happiness. This could be the death of a near one, a debilitating illness, familial conflict, financial difficulty, lack of a satisfying job or career, misbehavior of children, difficulty in getting married, marital strife, divorce, infertility, old-age weakness, workplace tensions, or other problems, just to name a few. Such events leave us feeling low.
At times, we find ourselves feeling hopeless and forlorn also for other reasons. Nowadays, even after reading the news, we feel confused about the traumatic events happening in the world: bomb-blasts, killings, wars, natural disasters. Sometimes we search for the purpose of life, asking ourselves: “Is this all there is? Why were we born?” At other times, it’s our monotonous daily routine we get tired of. Also, despite loathing it, we find ourselves inadvertently trapped in the incessant rat-race for a higher standard of living – the stress of ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’ Constant bombardment of branded material products through the media makes us yearn for a slower, more genuine life – one that gives us time to sit back and relax, to ‘smell the flowers.’ It’s no surprise then that stress, anxiety and depression abound as the rampant new-age afflictions.
Stress is defined as any change in a person’s environment that triggers a ‘fight-or-flight’ response. Any environmental, physical or social change that causes one to worry or fear is a stressor, such as an upcoming marriage, a new baby, emigrating to a new place, unfavourable weather conditions, traffic congestion, etc.
Depression is a state of temporary sorrow. A depressed person loses interest in previously enjoyed activities, is irritable and restless, lacks energy, feels worthless and finds it difficult to sleep, concentrate and make decisions. Eating patterns change, leading either to obesity or extreme weight loss (eating disorders), and the person also becomes socially isolated.
If gloominess continues over a long period of time, so that the intensity of sadness disrupts a person’s normal functioning, it becomes a condition called ‘clinical depression,’ and is actually a mental illness. Psychiatrists recommend a treatment, which consists of a combination of medication and counseling. If clinical depression is left untreated, the patient might attempt suicide.
According to official statistics, about a million people die by suicide annually; more than those murdered or killed in war. (WHO Sites, “Mental Health,” February 16, 2006)
Studies show a high incidence of psychiatric disorders in suicide victims at the time of their death with the total figure ranging from 87.3% to 98%. (“Psychiatric Diagnoses and Suicide: Revisiting the Evidence”)
September 2, 2007, issue of “DAWN” magazine states: “Stress related disorders are now larger in number than infectious diseases, but not sufficient attention has been paid to them. Many sophisticated tests and costly medicines have been developed, but not much importance is given to stress relieving techniques, which are necessary for patients.”
The incidence of depression is not on the rise just among non-Muslims, but also among Muslims, both young and old.
“I got married and went abroad but was very homesick. For three years, I tried doing everything to keep myself busy, but nothing worked. Finally, I got divorced and returned to my country. I used to take medication and lie in bed all day, depressed. That changed after I joined the Quran course at “Al-Huda.” Now, I am happy and at peace, and do not take any medication,” says a woman above thirty.
“When the USA invaded Iraq, I tried not to watch the news on TV, as it would make me depressed and I wouldn’t be able to concentrate on my studies. I tried reciting Duas for anxiety and depression,” says a young student in the USA.
Since our body and soul are intertwined, any negative effect on one influences the other.
There are several physical ailments caused by depression. It is, therefore, important to remember that some illnesses are actually a result of emotional recession, and taking medicines for just the physical effect will not eradicate the root problem – the soul will have to be treated to revive mental and physical health.
A Muslim with strong faith in Allah (swt) can never suffer from chronic stress or prolonged depression. The Islamic way of life provides remedies for any distress caused by life’s tribulations. It is human to be sad once in a while. The following remedial steps can get us back on track in no time at all.
“O you who believe! Seek help in patience and As-Salat (the prayer). Truly! Allah is with As-Sabirun (the patient).” (Al-Baqarah 2:153)
One of the most difficult good deeds to practice is Sabr in the face of adversity. Patience, or Sabr, means maintaining righteousness of tongue and deeds even during severe calamities. Abstention from complaining, blaming others, being wishful and throwing tantrums is part of Sabr. Remaining constant in prayer, thinking positive thoughts about Allah (swt) and incessantly hoping for imminent relief is also Sabr.
Prophet Muhammad (sa) prayed two units supererogatory prayer, whenever he was sad or worried. When depressed or worried, we should follow this example, until relief comes.
Even the Prophets, being human, went through bouts of Huzn, or sadness, caused by events in their lives – and they taught us, how to deal with such phases. They always turned to Allah (swt) for help. Examples of this, as mentioned in the Quran, are:
- Prophet Yaqoub (as) going blind with grief, when his son Yusuf was separated from him for many years;
- Prophet Yunus (as) being swallowed by a whale;
- Prophet Ayub (as) being afflicted by a prolonged illness that mutilated his body;
- Prophet Muhammad (sa) being persecuted and exiled from Makkah – after a long, strenuous decade that dealt him severe blows.
Prophet Muhammad (sa) also experienced the death of many his near ones during his life, including his wife Khadijah (rta) and most of the seven children he fathered. He was chased out of Taif by being pelted with stones. He lost three minor sons in an era, when a man’s worth was measured by the number of his sons. He had to fight several battles with arch-enemies. At each such event, all the Prophets turned to Allah (swt) with supplications, humility and hope, trusting Him to get them out of their miserable situation, whence no apparent means of relief existed. And Allah (swt) always responded to their sincere calls.
Our troubles do not even come close to what the Prophets suffered. We should, therefore, learn to make Dua to Allah (swt) in times of sorrow, hoping for His mercy. Istighfar, or sincere Dua for seeking forgiveness, is also a means of making a way out of every difficulty.
Regular and correct recitation of the Quran in a loud, clear voice brings peace to the agitated soul. “Verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest.” (Ar-Rad 13:28)
An idle mind is a devil’s workshop. Idleness breeds negative thoughts. One should, therefore, always keep busy in doing productive work, even if it is something as inconsequential as stitching a torn garment or scrubbing the floor. An occupation gives one a motive to work for, and the sense of having accomplished something of benefit during the day fills the soul. It is even more desirable, therefore, to work for the benefit of others. Any selfless work, such as teaching others, volunteering for charity or caring for the sick, refurbishes the soul.
The body needs activity to maintain its health. Sloth or laziness automatically sets gloom on the soul and fat on the body. A negative self-image dampens one’s self-esteem. Therefore, walking, climbing stairs or working out every other day is recommended, in order to chase away depression.
Change of environment
Temporarily going somewhere gives an immediate stress relief – even if it is a stint to the supermarket to buy groceries, visiting a friend or relative for the sake of Allah (swt), picking up a child from school or going to the park. Those, who stay cooped up in the house all day, are more prone to getting bored and depressed.
Islam has enjoined community involvement among Muslims: the five daily congregational prayers, Jummah and Eid all require Muslims in a community to meet and greet each other. Islam discourages individuals to lead isolated lives. This is to ensure that everyone is kept involved in a social circle and never left alone to face life’s problems. Muslims should, therefore, attend circles of knowledge-seeking, weddings, funerals and other permissible social engagements. They should call on others and invite families over for creating strong social bonds.
The adage ‘you are what you eat’ is quite true. Eating a balanced diet, avoiding harmful foods and eating a bit less than one’s appetite leads to physical plus mental well-being.
Understanding the purpose of this life
Last but not least, each Muslim must endeavor to understand, why the mankind was created and what happens after death. This can only be achieved by understanding the Quran deeply, preferably from a learned scholar. This fuels the flame of Iman that helps in facing trials and difficulties.
“Verily, along with every hardship is relief. Verily, along with every hardship is relief (i.e. there is one hardship with two reliefs, so one hardship cannot overcome two reliefs).” (Ash-Sharh 94:5-6)