A Muslim’s guide to battling anxiety

It’s normal to worry

We all worry. It’s a natural part of life, whereby we find ourselves feeling restless, tired, irritable and of course repeatedly checking Dr. Google.

Most people who seek therapy generally tend to have some form of anxiety issues. The World Health Organisation predicted that by 2020 worldwide depression and anxiety will be the number one disability. Anxiety has become an epidemic and many people feel hopeless to find a solution.

Everybody experiences general feelings of nervousness or a sense of being worried about something. In fact, a study has shown that almost 2 in every 5 people worry at least once everyday. For some people though, worrying and feeling anxious is chronic and can seem to take over. Chronic worrying is a central feature of generalised anxiety disorder, which can affect any kind of person at any stage of their life. It is estimated that about 1 in every 20 people experience significant generalised anxiety at some point in their lives. So remember, you are not alone.

So what is worrying?

Worrying is essentially a type of repetitive negative thinking, where we get stuck, caught, or trapped in negative thoughts about future potential bad things. As such, worrying is the way our mind attempts to mentally solve problems that haven’t yet happened.

Unfortunately for many, these worrisome thoughts often have a snowball effect, whereby the more we focus on these thoughts, the more they grow. These thoughts go on to build anxious feelings and the topic we are worrying about continues to grow larger and larger in our mind.

So a simple ‘What if I don’t get to my appointment on time? What if I failed my exam? What if I get sick?’ can lead to a full blown panic attack.

Now while trying to stop yourself from worrying is by no means easy, there are tools that will prepare you in your fight against them, taking you from Worrier into a Warrior!

Meditation and breathing techniques

Strategies such as mindfulness are not only found in modern psychology but practised by the Prophet Muhammadﷺ. As Muslims we are taught to be mindful in our acts of worship such as Prayer, Quran, Remembrance (Dhikr) etc. Being present allows you to shift your attention away from uncontrollable future scenarios. Changing the way we think; changes the way we feel.

Just Breathe. Breathing intentionally through certain patterns of breathing can change the way you feel internally. Do you ever get that panic when anxiety gets so high you feel like your heart is pounding and your breath is fast and shallow. The reason why we have such shallow breath is that we are inhaling excessively and not exhaling enough. Anxiousness causes a lot of build up of oxygen in the body that needs to be released. Without being released, this can cause symptoms such as light headedness, heart palpitations, increased blood pressure and numbness. So just by doing some simple breathing strategies you could release this air build up effectively and in turn reduce the effects of anxiety.

Diet and exercise

Improving exercise and diet can be a powerful tool to combat anxiousness. Exercise is helpful in managing worry, as it releases brain chemicals that counteract anxiety and a low mood. It also gives time away from worries and helps work off your ‘nervous energy’. It is recommended that people do at least half an hour a day, three days a week of cardio exercise.

Studies have also shown that magnesium deficiency sabotages your mental health. The deficiency of this mineral plays a large role in the epidemic of mental health disorders as it reduces our bodies ability to properly deal with and tolerate stress. Apart from increasing your magnesium levels, doctors also recommend you cut down on caffeine, as this is directly linked to increase of anxiousness. Try your best to stay away from energy drinks and limit your daily coffee intake.

Reliance upon Allah

As Muslims, it is essential that we rely on our Creator. The burdens of this life are too heavy to be carried on our own. Although the nafs (Ego) loves to be in control, Allah teaches us to place our reliance on Him. Istikhara is a dua in which you are asking Allah to do what is best for you. You’re placing the uncertain future on the One Who is Your Healer, Protector and Saviour. This destroys the ‘what ifs’ in our mind and places contentment in our heart with the decree of Allah.

Gratitude is a force that lifts you above that which has been oppressing you. As Allah ﷻ tells us in the Quran:

“If you are grateful, I will surely increase you in favour”
Quran 14:7

In this case, the favour of a worry-free mind.

According to biochemistry, there is only one hormone in the body that can actually drop cortisol, your body’s main stress hormone. It is called DHEA. DHEA is released naturally when we experience states of gratitude. This hormone lowers the cortisol in our bloodstream, and in turn reduces stress. Making you smarter, live longer and improves your well-being and your mood.

The opposite of worry and anxiety is to be in a state of Sakeena or calmness and tranquility. This is a quality that Allah sends from the heavens to the hearts of the believers as He wills. One of the key ways of achieving this tranquility is through remembering Allah; as Allah states in the Quran:

“Verily in the remembrance of Allah, hearts find rest”.
(Quran 13:28)

The root of all mental illnesses is the influence of shaytaan (Satan) as he uses one’s anger, sadness or fear to weaken the believer. Your morning and evening adhkar (remembrance of Allah) are your fortress against shaytaan, make them part of your non-negotiables in life.

Lastly, be sure to remember that your worries won’t kill you, nor will your anxiety or panic attacks. Remember to place your trust in Allah, seek His Shifaa (healing) and at the same time professional treatment where needed.
Getting rid of your worries is no doubt, a battle that CAN be overcome.

And Remember: “Healing Begins Outside Your Comfort Zone” (Barry McDonagh).

Disclaimer: This article is aimed to aid Muslims suffering with anxiety, but make sure you seek professional help when needed.