Posted on Jan 29, 2020
Editorial note: This month we are running a series focusing on foundations – how we can build solid foundations across all areas of our life to help ground us so that we can embrace all that our deen (religion) and dunya (the world) have to offer us. We will be covering foundations of marriage, faith, your morning routine, relationships, mental health/self care, technology, hijab and other areas. Each focus could really be a book, but we will try and break it down into the most useful, attainable and basic things we can do to build critical foundations in our lives.
By Nargis Rahman
Two years ago I found myself in a spiral of anxiety. I was working from home and dealing with a family crisis. The migraines and/or panic attacks came washing over me every two weeks until I found the courage to call and make an appointment to meet with a counselor. I feared going to the wrong person, talking with someone who didn’t understand me. I was emotionally drained to the point I had no energy to explain my life away.
Until my counselor said, “Let’s talk about it.”
Up until that point I was used to just “dealing with it” when things went wrong. I could vent to a few friends, journal about it and carry on. In actuality, I bottled up my feelings, saw no solutions and felt invalidated when I brought up my concerns to the offenders. I learned to turn up the volume to things that brought meaning into my life and to tune out the noise and people who disrupted my goals.
Through counseling, I was able to pinpoint healthy coping methods – identifying stressors and learning when and how to deal with them – to create a list of simple joys that I enjoyed and proactively doing them. Although I haven’t achieved all my goals in terms of getting organized and all the methods haven’t worked, my counselor has become my cheerleader. She is someone who motivates me to empower and validate myself.
Mental health and wellness go hand-in-hand with physical well being. However with our busy schedules, scraping out the time to care for one’s mental health may seem like an afterthought between the various roles we juggle as women. We may also have a stigma of going to counseling. But counseling, therapy and other meaningful mental health wellness self care habits can go a long and proactive way in helping facilitate a more fulfilling life, Insha’Allah.
As we continue our focus on different foundations to help build a healthy, fulfilling life, here are 12 things we all can do to better take care of our mental health in ways that are simple, doable and without breaking the bank.
1. Consider therapy. Many of us are afraid of making an initial appointment. We think we don’t need it until everything feels like it’s spiraling out of control. However, counseling or therapy can be a proactive way to check-in with yourself, develop healthy boundaries, vent when you can’t to others, and create habits toward a healthier lifestyle. If a therapist doesn’t feel like a good fit, try another. Find someone who gets you. It can take a few tries, so don’t get discouraged.
2. Create good morning routines. Earlier this month Haute Hijab blog writer Danah Shuli wrote about how she prepares for her day by building on a connection to God through praying Fajr and reading two pages of the Quran. Including faith-based practices in the morning can help create a calming effect and Allah (S)-centered mindset for the rest of your day.
3. Meditation. People across cultures and faiths have practiced the art of clearing their mind intentionally through prayer and mindfulness for centuries. Motivational speaker Jay Shetty meditates for two hours each morning to start each day on the right foot. While busy women may not have two hours to begin their mornings, spending five minutes to practice your favorite meditation can be instrumental in a productive day.
4. Write a love letter to yourself. One thing I discovered through counseling is that I will not always have people in my lane to validate me. I wrote a letter to myself “from a friend,” which I read periodically to tell myself, “You are enough. You’re doing the best you can.” Consultant and entrepreneur Victoria Hefty of the podcast Activate Purpose said she uses an affirmations app to check in daily and validate herself.
5. Create intentional happiness. My friend Carmen McIntosh says, “We have to create intentional happiness” throughout life’s ups and downs. Happiness doesn’t just come to us. This means waking up and saying, “I am going to be happy today. I am going to have a positive day. I am going to make the best of my matters.” This will help with choosing to look for the good within bad moments. Here are some more tips on how to do just that.
6. Schedule time for yourself, friends and family. Women usually take on the lion’s share of the mental load for their family’s needs, schedules and well being. Starting today, schedule one thing you’re looking forward to daily. Schedule a monthly meet-up with friends, family or networking contacts. Surround yourself with people who uplift you, spiritually or psychologically, and this includes your online connections.
7. Make a list of joyful moments and begin living them. Take the time to reflect on what brings you joy. Is it watching the sunrise or sunset? Making a cup of coffee first thing in the morning? There is a concept of finding joy in the little moments in life to build happiness and appreciation from what you already have, like this list of 80 little things. Start finding your joyful moments, and fill your cup.
8. Grateful not hateful. Therapists recommend starting a daily or weekly journal entry to jot down things you are grateful for, which changes your perspective to think positive. Allah says, "If you are grateful, I will surely give you more and more." (Ibrahim 14:7) Read more about gratefulness in my HH article on gratitude and blessings.
9. Treat yourself to a guilty pleasure. Self care could simply be buying the special coffee you like or a new hijab once in a while. It’s okay to treat yourself in moderation. You deserve it!
10. Allahu Akbar, Alhamdulillah, Subhanallah. Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (saw), once asked her father to equip her with a servant because she and her husband Ali grew tired from their chores. The Prophet taught them both a remembrance of God to uplift them spiritually and physically:
“Shall I tell you a thing which is better than what you asked me for? When you go to your beds, say: ‘Allahu Akbar (i.e. Allah is Greater)’ for 34 times, and ‘Alhamdu Lillah (all the praises are for Allah)’ for 33 times, and Subhan Allah (Glorified be Allah) for 33 times. This is better for you than what you have requested.”
We can still access the power of this dhikr, or remembrance of Allah (S), to increase our rewards with the One who can give without measure. Here is a guide on a few quick dhikrs with meanings and rewards.
11. Do nothing to increase productivity. Taking 5-15 minute breaks every 60-90 minutes is believed to increase productivity. Also, scheduling time to do nothing similarly has beneficial results. Our brain and body both need rest. Consider how important it is to not over schedule children, to allow them time to actually be bored. This goes for adults as well.
12. Self Care Sundays. End the week with a self care day, says Boubi Skin founder Humayra Bobby. While Humayra urges people to have a daily skincare routine, especially washing your face before going to sleep, she says it’s most important to reset your week each Sunday night.
Creating meaningful, purposeful and intentional mental health care tips can be instrumental in living a more wholesome lifestyle. Make yourself a priority!