Living in a New Normal – Protecting our mental health whilst isolating in our homes
By Sabah-ud-din Ahmedi, staff member at the Press & Media Office of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
Note: The author is not a medical professional. If you are facing mental health issues you should seek professional advice.
I have friends who have experienced depression and have struggled through life in trying to keep a positive mindset. Even getting out of bed and going to work or university is or has been a challenge for them. Yet they are not alone. Mental health is a challenged faced by many members of society, to varying degrees, irrespective of social class or ethnicity.
In fact, it is estimated that one in four adults and one in 10 children are experiencing mental illnesses. In 2018, there were 6,507 deaths by suicide (a rate of 11.2 deaths per 100,000 people) in the UK alone.
In an effort to control Covid-19, we are now being advised to stay indoors and to only leave the home for essential travel or daily outdoor exercise once a day. Where this will, hopefully, slow the spread of the virus, we must consider the possibility that it could lead to a rise in the number of people suffering from mental health issues. It is not easy to stay indoors out of the sunshine and fresh air for most of the day and yet this could be the life we lead for the foreseeable future. It’s a life which all Brits, and people in many other countries, are very suddenly being forced to get used to.
With things as they are, the reality is that we might all be dealing with some form of mental challenges, whether it be severe mental health issues, such as depression brought on by the sudden restrictions to our liberty, or just simply feeling downbeat, sad or lonely. We are entering a new reality. A new normal. Given this, it is vital, more than ever before, to maintain positive mental health to ensure we stay well during these unprecedented times.
The natural question is how do you sustain positive mental health in such circumstances?
Good mental health requires nourishing our soul, mind and body.
Our Soul and Our Spirit
In a survey of U.S. adults conducted by sociologist Chaeyoon Lim of the University of Wisconsin–Madison, 33% of those who attended religious services every week, and reported having close friends at church, said they were extremely satisfied with their lives.
The proverbial saying ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’ expresses the idea that, when in difficulty talking to someone helps.
As a man of faith, who better to talk to than my Creator? I feel prayer allows me to relieve my stresses which then frees my mind of negative thoughts.
As a Muslim, prayer, which is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam ,means when I prostrate before God, five times a day, I am able to alleviate any worries and stresses. So for me, my problems are not just halved, after my prayer, my mind is completely relieved of all mental stress.
The importance of good mental health and the importance of faith is something the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad spoke about at a recent reception in Holland.
His Holiness said:
“In today’s world, critics are quick to blame religion and particularly Islam, for the problems of the world. Yet, many people who are suffering from inner-torment and unrest are those who live a purely secular existence and so their problems cannot be blamed on Islam or any other religion. As a religious leader, I firmly believe that instead of being the cause of today’s problems, religion is the answer and from an Islamic perspective, the solution is quite simple. The Prophet of Islam (peace and blessings be upon him) taught that true peace of mind requires for a person to recognise God Almighty and to develop a connection with Him because, according to Islam, one of the attributes of God Almighty is that He is the ‘Source of Peace’.”
Staying positive will help you push through difficult times. Positive thinking does not mean that you keep your head in the sand and ignore life’s less pleasant situations. Positive thinking means that you approach unpleasantness in a more positive and productive way. You think the best is going to happen, not the worst. You don’t hide from your problems, rather you confront them and find solutions.
Certain studies show that personality traits such as optimism and pessimism can affect many areas of your health and well-being. The positive thinking that usually comes with optimism is a key part of effective stress management. And effective stress management is associated with many health benefits. If you tend to be pessimistic, do not despair, you can learn positive thinking skills.
Having a routine is important. Health experts are advising that people wake up early, shower, get ready and keep a daily schedule. Have goals and lay down objectives for the day. Whether its reading a book, writing a chapter of that life-story you always wanted to write but never had the time to or learning a new skill. It is important we do not let these days slide past in a haze of sloth and idleness. This is something the Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community alluded to during a special message he delivered last week, in which he urged Ahmadi Muslims to use this period to increase their religious knowledge, to focus on their family, paying attention to the development and moral training of their children and, above all, to build a closer connection with God.
The Body Matters Too
The physical wellbeing of our body is also vital and the best way to stay in tip top condition is through healthy eating and physical exercise. In recent times, many schools have sought to improve the nutritious value of the food they serve children and to encourage healthy eating. This is crucially important and something we should focus on during isolation within our homes.
Recent studies have shown that “the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet.” The risk of attention-deficit disorder also doubles, Ramsey says.
Felice Jacka, president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research said:
“A very large body of evidence now exists that suggests diet is as important to mental health as it is to physical health and a healthy diet is protective and an unhealthy diet is a risk factor for depression and anxiety.”
Many of us enjoy the occasional sojourn to a nearby fast-food restaurant but now McDonald’s, Burger King, KFC and the rest are indefinitely closed take advantage by eating home-made, fresh and nutritious food. Change your food habits for the better.
In his poem Satire X the poet Juvenal wrote- “Orandum est ut sit mens sana in corpore sano – “A man should pray for a healthy mind in a healthy body.
Words said in the ancient past couldn’t be more relevant now and is something humankind should be pondering upon – who knows what the future holds.