Young Black Muslim woman wearing a hijabi is working at a desk typing on her laptop.

Managing my mental health during Ramadan 

18 March 2024
By Zainab Shafan-Azhar
Zainab Shafan-Azhar

Ramadan has begun and Muslims all over the world are fasting from before sunrise to sunset. Whilst this is a time of reflection, gratitude, and increased worship, for some who struggle with their mental health, this time also comes with increased pressure and difficulty. 

As a Muslim who has experienced mental health difficulties for practically my whole life, these struggles are something that have consistently come into the month of Ramadan with me.  

Muslims believe that Ramadan is a time of increased reward from God and therefore increased worship is encouraged. However, for someone who has struggled with feelings of inadequacy, instead of perceiving increased worship as something that is encouraged, I would often see it as a form of pressure. Due to this, I would constantly feel as though I should be doing more, and that what I was doing was not enough. Overburdening myself would often lead to burn out, and in turn this would cause increasing feelings of guilt.  

As well as this, and especially in the current context of the world right now, I have also experienced excessive guilt for everything that I have been given, whilst others near and far are undergoing tremendous suffering. This has, at times, become paralysing when I feel unable to do anything to help those in need.  

In Ramadan, for others, mental health struggles can manifest in various ways. For example, someone struggling with depression may experience low self-esteem and self-worth because they are unable to engage in Ramadan in the same ways as others; people with OCD may struggle with repetitive thoughts about the validity of their ritual tasks. Struggling to engage in acts of worship due to mental health difficulties can lead to a sense of shame, and from a personal perspective, it’s not something I have seen discussed much in society.  

However, in circles of friends and family there has been open dialogue about this. Discussing shared experiences with friends has been a source of comfort, as well as conversations with loved ones who haven’t had the same experiences. These different perspectives all bring different value. For example, friends who have similar experiences have shared tips such as clearly structuring your day, and loved ones who don’t have reminded me of the mercy of God and that efforts and intentions are what counts most.  

This has helped me to shape my understanding and develop techniques that have made it easier for me to manage these struggles during Ramadan: 

1. The importance of balance, and small and consistent actions 

One of the most important things I had to get my head around to manage these difficulties was that in Islam there is differentiation between what is compulsory and what is beneficial to you and therefore recommended. Instead of overburdening myself with an abundance of unachievable daily tasks, I instead focused my efforts on the consistent obligatory acts in Islam and excelling in those alongside small, achievable daily tasks, keeping in mind that:  

‘Allah (God) does not burden a soul beyond that it can bear’ [Quran, 2:286].

2. Maintaining a daily structure 

The next thing that helped me was having a clear, predictable structure to my day. This is something that I ordinarily do outside of Ramadan, but this year I have seen the value of having an established structure inside of Ramadan too. Despite the early mornings and late nights of worship, this structure has been as easy to implement as it is outside of Ramadan. Understanding my daily tasks and their timings helped me to overcome feelings of insufficiency due to the recognition that this was what I could do whilst maintaining positive mental health. 

3. Practicing active gratitude  

Finally, to deal with the feelings of guilt, I remind myself often that God chose this life for me, and whilst I may feel saddened by the suffering of others, I trust that there is Divine wisdom to it. 

I try to actively reflect on my blessings and use them to help others where possible. For me this looks like saying a prayer of thanks whenever I experience the blessings that I usually overlook – a warm house, green spaces around me and a safe and healthy family. When I call on God’s help for those that are suffering, I reflect on these blessings to motivate the sincerity of my prayer, holding the following in mind:  

‘And when ask you My servants about Me, then indeed I am near. I respond (to the) prayer (of) the supplicant when he calls Me.’ [Quran, 2:186].

So, if you are a Muslim reading this and experiencing mental health struggles during Ramadan, know that it will be okay and, through time, you will find a way to manage it and enjoy the beauty of Ramadan just like everyone else. Take time to share your struggles with loved ones because the chances are they have had similar experiences, and their support may make a huge difference. Most importantly, Muslim or not, know that your efforts in whatever you do are valuable.  

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