Ep 7 of the Amaliah Voices podcast touched on the challenges of self-diagnosed depression. To recap briefly, Selina talked about how she was feeling exceptionally down one week and this led to her thinking that she was spiraling into depression. Later, she went for a blood test and found that (like me too) she had severe Vitamin D deficiency, which can lead to a person feeling extremely low.
The podcast discussed that “flippant use of mental health language” is becoming widespread and instead of prescribing correct remedies, people often associate a ‘down-feeling’ with depression when it can be a whole host of other underlying matters.
We should take care in diagnosis because not only is this dismissive of the very real mental health suffering or others but also, it is a way in which we dismiss a necessary deeper self-review in favour of flippantly diagnosing ourselves with more easily self-manageable forms of anxiety or sadness, through addressing our lifestyles and environments. It is also important to remember that these tips can be followed in line with councilling and therapies.
Disclaimer: Please know that you may well require more assistance than my personal little checklist of 1-10. It is not my intention to dismiss anyone’s depression but rather share that, in my own experience, whenever I have found myself feeling low, I have found benefit in fine-tuning and checking myself before I think I’m in the depths of irreversible despair. I recently read Irvin Yalom’s, ‘Love’s Executioner and other stories’ and found myself alarmed at this statement from a revered psychotherapist in his field, “It was not hard to understand why he had started her on medication; we psychotherapists so often resort to that when we cannot get anything going on in therapy.”
If we can identify the root cause of the feeling of sadness, perhaps we can better prescribe remedies.
Here are ten highly feasible underlying reasons to feeling the (winter) blues:
Vitamin D – NHS reports suggest that around one-fifth of people in the UK are low on Vitamin D. In winter months, it gets worse and with shorter days and limited sunlight, our natural source of Vitamin D is in short supply. With people of colour is that our skin takes double the amount of time in the sun to produce the same amount of Vitamin D as our lower melanin Caucasian counterparts. Combine that with the fact that as Muslims we cover ourselves more anyway, we have little to no time for sun exposure in the UK.
Get a blood test to find out if you’re deficient and need supplements or whether you can alter your diet to increase your consumption of foods naturally high in Vitamin D.
Check out this article to find out more about the symptoms of Vitamin D deficiency.
It’s no secret that there are some days that come about every month where we feel more negative than usual. I hate to contribute to the narrative on “that time of the month” because I actually believe that through more intentional contemplation, we can channel our energy into some much more deeper and beautiful insights during this time, but we also cannot deny that if other parts of our life (namely diet and activity) are malfunctioning, we will often find ourselves in a more negative state of mind and spirit once a month. No doubt this is also due to changes in hormone levels.
PMS affects many women who produce lower levels of the happy hormone (serotonin) and the blue feeling usually eases when estrogen and progesterone levels rise again usually a few days after you get your period. Monitor your cycle and note down the next time you feel blue, if you notice a pattern once a month, it might be a good idea not to act in haste during this time when your emotions (due to a hormonal change) are more out of sync.
Note that I am not saying hormonal “imbalance” on purpose because Allah did not create this naturally occurring experience in an “imbalance”. I don’t believe that this “time of the month” should be considered as anything but a blessing and a sign of perfect balance and health. It is our God-given power and blessing that we were given wombs – the Arabic word for womb is Rahm and this is also the root word from which (Ar) Rahman is derived. Therefore, a woman’s emotions whilst on her period should not always be belittled and I think altering our own negative perception of “that time of the month” would benefit us greatly. The woman is the only creation (of mankind) where a God-given organ is the site of mercy. So next time you’re feeling blue in “that time of the month”, contemplate that beautiful thought!
We’ve all heard the phrase; “you are what you eat”.
If we over-consume food groups prone to making us feel sluggish and under-consume foods that can help us feel revitalised then it is little wonder why we feel blue. A happy gut leads to a healthier state of mind.
Giulia Enders, scientist and author of the brilliant book, The Gut, writes, “Anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind. Sometimes the gut has a perfect right to be unhappy, if it is dealing with undetected food intolerance, for example. We should not always blame depression on the brain or on our life circumstances – there is much more to us than that. Grumpiness, happiness, insecurity, well-being, and worry do not originate in isolation of the mind. We are human beings, with arms and legs, genitals, a heart, lungs, and a gut. Science’s concentration on the brain has long blinded us to the fact that our ‘self’ is made up of more than just our grey matter.”
Exercise usually makes you feel pretty great because of the release of endorphins. Of course it is also no secret that getting yourself into active mode is sometimes an effort in itself but if you’re finding your mental health suffering then addressing your physical health is a step in the right direction. The point is addressing different aspects of our health can help towards better health overall.
An under consumption of salah and recital of Qur’an is guaranteed to make you feel blue:
“And whoever turns away from My remembrance, indeed, he will have a depressed life, and We will gather him on the Day of Resurrection blind”
It doesn’t matter if you feel low or not good enough, Allah does not ask perfection of you, He only asks remembrance and in exchange for this he will heal the broken parts of you with His light. You don’t have to be a saint to prostrate, you just need to be a humble broken slave that needs Him – you’re already in the perfect state of need to return to Him when you are feeling blue.
It isn’t a perfect person that prostrates but an imperfect one aware of His all-embracing Mercy.
When you are feeling down you may have a tendency to withdraw from people yet this is actually the time when you need company the most. Sitting alone with your thoughts can be unproductive and often, the times when you want to be alone the most is when you need to encourage yourself to get out to socialise.
My recommendation is to reach out to your parent’s, visit or call them if you don’t live with them or engage with them more if you live with them.
If there is a dysfunction in your relationships it’s incumbent on you to resolve them. They won’t fix themselves and searching for others to fill the void of damaged relationships will never fulfill you.
Many times, in the Qur’an, Allah warns against severing the ties of kinship, the bonds of the womb and our relationship with our parents.
Qur’an (4:1) – “…and fear Allah through whom you demand your mutual rights, and do not cut the relations of the wombs (kinship)…”
So if you feel down, neglected relationships can be a starting point. Until broken or damaged relationships are mended and we learn to live and tolerate each other with patience and compassion, the low feelings will persist no matter how much time passes.
When we don’t stay productive, we then have ample time to sit and dwell on feelings of inadequacies/insecurities. Looking at those who seem better adjusted we can often find that they rarely have time to sit and dwell on things in my opinions. Instead, these people find work everywhere. If all their work, their laundry, and cleaning are done, they will find new productive outlets to channel their energy.
The all-day Netflix binge life is unhealthy. You never feel better after an entire day or weekend where all you’ve achieved is watching Friends re-runs or whatever your poison. I find that when I binge watch without doing anything else, at the end of my day or weekend, I have always felt low and unaccomplished afterward. Now when I watch anything, I try always to do something else at the same time, whether that is folding laundry or painting or peeling pomegranates.
Occupy your hands with productivity.
Occupy your mind with productive activities and you will find a field of sunflowers blossoming in the garden of your mind instead of the weeds and thorns of excessive brooding.
If you associate with toxic people or people that bring you down or complain and moan, you will drain your spirit. Company that is artificial and shallow in nature will stunt your growth. We do not need echo chambers of perpetual self-validation but instead, we need sincere and authentic friendships that “enjoin on good and forbid evil” (Qur’an 3:104/110), those who inspire us to become our best selves, to self reflect in a positive, growth-inducing and self-betterment type way.
Qur’an 103:1-3 – “By time. Indeed mankind is in loss. Except for those who have believed and done righteous deeds and advised each other to truth and to patience.”
Your soul needs the nourishment of good company just as your physical body requires good nutrition.
Just as we need a balanced diet, exercise and nourishing friendships, we also need to diversify the activities we do. If Monday to Friday, you are like me, cooped up inside working in an office environment, sitting in front of spreadsheets on a computer then you certainly don’t need more time in front of screens and staying indoors on weekends and evenings. The brain needs exercise in all of its chambers.
When we were younger, in our school days, we used to partake in a wide spectrum of activities but as we get older we pigeon hole ourselves into one sphere. This is limiting and quite frequently the void we feel is our mind yearning for some diversity in our pastimes.
Mix it up and go back to your childlike curiosity. Try hiking up a mountain; there are so many beautiful places in the UK and fresh air is so important for our well-being. Try your hand at embroidery or maybe some Arabic calligraphy or making Islamic geometric patterns (check out @samira.mian on Instagram).
Our sleep patterns can affect our mood. Studies show people who are sleep deprived report increases in negative moods (anger, frustration, irritability, sadness) and decreases in positive moods. Sleeplessness is of course also a symptom of mood disorders but oftentimes we need to admit our own shortcomings in proliferating bad sleep patterns.
Is the environment in which we sleep untidy? Do we participate in unhealthy activities before sleeping – e.g. if you eat late and sleep soon after eating, you are compromising your digestion process.
Too much screen time on our smartphones before sleeping can prevent us from feeling switched off/in the right frame of mind for sleeping. Perhaps it may be a better habit and practice for us to charge our phones and tablets in other rooms and keep the bedroom a more tranquil and safe sanctuary for sleep.
A good sleep routine can revolutionise your mood, not to mention reduce the appearance of dark circles, fine lines and wrinkles, sis!
Ultimately, we need to have some honest conversations with ourselves and identify where to increase our own efforts to help change our mood.
We should assess whether we are, in any way contributing to persistently feeling down and if there are any items on this list that we can honestly say we are failing on, then we may be mis-diagnosing ourselves with more serious forms of depression when in reality the root cause of our low feelings may in fact be a manifestation of failing to address other root causes.
I felt compelled to write this checklist, not to dismiss depression or any other mental health matters but rather to hone in on another more beneficial statement from Yalom, “Patients, like everyone else, profit most from a truth they, themselves discover.”
The purpose is to self-review and so, if you do not find the checklist above helpful, perhaps it might prompt you to seek the checklist within yourself.
Quite often we feel down because we are not looking at the right part of our lives that requires attention, instead we ignore it, delay it or make excuses for it.
British Muslim by birth, Accountant by profession, Writer by ambition, Neophile by definition, gregarious by nature, balanced by faith, Inspired by creation. Follow more of her work at https://halimanawaz.com