These are difficult times for everyone and you won’t necessarily be achieving everything you may have wanted to. Here are a few tips to ensure you’re taking care of yourself, during and post lockdown.
Manage Your Expectations
If you haven’t managed to achieve all the goals that you set out to achieve during quarantine so far, then don’t worry! We may have set our expectations super high and planned to get through so much with all this extra time that we have, but we may not have taken into account the impact that this quarantine would have on our motivation, our energy and our ability to focus.
So don’t worry if you haven’t been as productive as you would have hoped, go easy on yourself. It’s important that we don’t overwhelm ourselves and that we set realistic expectations for ourselves. With small steps and a mighty intention, we can make positive, practical and sustainable changes in our lives bi’thnillah (with Allah’s permission).
Start Your Day in the Best Way
…with the blessed words of the Qur’an, your morning and evening adhkaar and other powerful spiritual habits – this will determine the trajectory for the rest of your day.
And from the morning & evening adhkaar (supplications), this is a du’aa to protect ourselves from laziness:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنَ الْكَسَلِ
“O Allah! I seek refuge with You from laziness.” [Bukhari]
And remember the words of the Prophet ﷺ, who said, “Strange is the affair of the Mu’min (the believer), verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks (Allah) and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient (Sabir) and it becomes better for him. And this is only for the Mumin.” [Muslim]
Proactively Manage Your Stress Threshold
Try to take control of your physical health to improve your mental health and well-being by making sure to:
- Sleep well – avoid blue lights before bed, and maintain a routine around your sleep and wake times
- Eat well – be conscious that you might be inclined to lean on unhealthier options to manage stress, this is understandable but potentially damaging in the long run
- Exercise – it will lower your stress levels, help you to better regulate your emotions and improve your sleep
Know Your Triggers (e.g. News/ articles)
One way to manage distress is to identify what triggers contribute to this. Our thoughts (“Why can’t I concentrate?”), feelings (frustration, worry, sadness), physical sensations (tension, upset stomach, jitters) and actions (such as compulsively checking the latest COVID statistics) each feed into and increase these negative emotional spirals. Addressing one aspect of this loop by, for example, actively reducing the physical symptoms (I use box breathing: breathe in for four counts, hold for four, breathe out for four and hold for four, then repeat) can de-escalate the cycle and help you regain control. Addressing another loop such as avoiding watching the news impulsively can help reduce distress.
Being able to move forward in life, despite the hardships that it throws at you, enables one to overcome the negative perception and find benefits and values that promote personal growth. Likewise, the ABC model encourages that beliefs (B) about adversity (A) and not the adversity itself leads to the consequent (C) feelings. It is how we perceive the different situations that emotions manifest, not the other way around. This way of thinking has long lasting effects such that it no longer alleviates short term “symptoms” but rather treats the underlying problem and helps prevent them as well.
“Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere (155). Who say, when afflicted with calamity: “To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.” (156). They are those whom (descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy. And they are the ones that receive guidance.” (2:155-157)
Routine is Your Friend
Setting up a routine can really help manage feelings of anxiety by helping you adapt to the situation a lot better. If you’re currently revising for exams, make sure to distinguish between the times that you work, and the times you give yourself a break to clear your headspace. Try to find something you enjoy doing outside of those revision sessions such as attending Islamic classes, cooking, reading or even chilling with your family. Working in short bursts with clear breaks will help to maintain your clarity of thought, and not overwhelm yourself.
Give Yourself Allocated Time Slots
Known in the field of productivity as Parkinson’s law, it is said that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”, which basically means, the more time we have for a task, the more we long it out. Just look at the time we spend on an essay 3 months in advance versus 2 days before its deadline.
So set yourself time limits using either a stop watch or any artificial deadline e.g. another task, walking, house chores, allocated jama’ah (congregational prayer) times with your family etc. That way, it will force you to be most effective in the shortest amount of time inshaAllah.
One of the major mental health impacts of the lockdown is individuals suffering from loneliness.Young people aged 18 to 24 were most likely to experience loneliness since the lockdown began. Before lockdown, one in six (16%) said they felt lonely. Since lockdown, young people are almost three times more likely to have experienced loneliness, with almost half (44%) feeling this way. It is not just you.
So to reduce this feeling of loneliness try and keep in contact with your friends and family over the phone, or even on zoom. You could try joining an online group (thread or telegram) which focuses on something you enjoy (e.g. Islamic classes). Also consider going for short walks to clear your mind, whilst maintaining the 2 metres of social distancing.
Be Compassionate to Yourself and Others
A lot is happening that we are unable to control at the moment, but how we communicate with ourselves and others can either positively or negatively impact our mental health. Moments of feeling overwhelmed often come with big thoughts, such as “I cannot do this,” or “This is too hard.” This pandemic will cause a lot of stress for many of us, and we cannot be our best selves all the time.
But make sure that whatever you are doing to be kind to yourself, don’t over exert yourself by doing everything at once. Make sure to keep it small but consistent. Following Prophetic advice can never go wrong, for our Prophet ﷺ said, “Do good deeds properly, sincerely & moderately & know that your deeds will not make you enter Paradise, & that the most beloved deed to Allah is the most regular & constant even if it were little.” [Bukhari]
Not only does this make your habits more sustainable, but it can help break down big goals whilst also reducing the initial mental burden that we can feel when approaching any large task.
Throughout the Qur’an, Allah reminds people about the transient and temporary nature of this life and that the real goal should be fixed on the next life through sound belief and actions. The real success is in the hereafter. Regardless of how difficult your situation is today, it won’t last long. By embracing good mental-health and well-being measures, and by relying on others when necessary, we can protect ourselves and those around us.
Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala said:
“And will provide for him from where he does not expect. And whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him. Indeed, Allah will accomplish His purpose. Allah has already set for everything a [decreed] extent.” (65:3)
This verse provides a real sense of hope that we can get through these trying times by ultimately relying on Allah. He has already predestined what is to occur so we take solace in this and know that everything is happening according to Allah’s plan.
The Prophet ﷺ said in a report, “Allah the Exalted says: I am as my servant expects me and I am with him as he remembers me.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 6970]. Remember the Mercy and Compassion of our Lord, how He SWT has promised us that no soul shall bear more than it can handle [2:286]. Know His Names and Attributes, and realise that He SWT is the Most Kind, Al-Lateef, and always does what is best for His servants.
“Had Allah lifted the veil for his servant and shown him how He handles his affairs for him, and how Allah is more keen for the benefit of the servant than his own self, his heart would have melted out of the love for Allah and would have been torn to pieces out of thankfulness to Allah. Therefore, if the pains of this world tire you do not grieve. For it may be that Allah wishes to hear your voice by way of duaa (supplication). So pour out your desires in prostration and forget about it and know; that verily Allah does not forget it.” – Ibn al Qayyim.
Seek Professional Help
On the iSupport page, there are some links to pages and phone numbers of organisations dedicated to helping you get through this difficult time. Do not underestimate the benefits of speaking to a counsellor or attendant when your feeling like things are too much to handle.
Whatever steps you take make sure to keep trying even if you falter, for the Prophet ﷺ said, “…Strive for that which will benefit you, seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless…” [Ibn Majah]
Nature (2020) Seven tips to manage your mental health and well-being during the COVID-19 outbreak. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00933-5 (Accessed 19 May 2020)
Mental Health Foundation (2020) Coping with Loneliness. Available at: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus/coping-with-loneliness (Accessed 19 May 2020)
Counselling Directory (2020) How to Look after your mental health during the lockdown. Available at: https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/memberarticles/how-to-look-after-your-mental-health-during-the-lockdown (Accessed 19 May 2020)
Sound Vision (2020) Optimism why positive thinking matters. Available at: https://www.soundvision.com/article/optimism-why-positive-thinking-matters(Accessed 19 May 2020)
Young Minds (2020) Looking after your Mental Health while Self Isolating. Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/blog/looking-after-your-mental-health-while-self-isolating/ (Accessed 19 May 2020)