How To Benefit From Ramadan - Pandemic Edition

“Come, come, whoever you are. wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. it doesn't matter. ours is not a caravan of despair. come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. come, yet again, come, come.

-Rumi

Ramadan is the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and it’s almost upon us!

A Cherished Month

If you are unfamiliar with Ramadan, allow me to walk you through a few of the tenets.

During this month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. The fast involves abstaining from food and drink (yes, not even water!) and increasing worship, charity, and community-building.

Fasting allows us to overcome physical needs and desires to gain discipline and mental tranquility. It’s a time of mental, physical, and spiritual rejuvenation and an opportunity to cultivate better habits for the rest of the year.

Ramadan is cherished by Muslims all around the world. It is welcomed as an esteemed guest and when it ends, many are sad to see it go.

This confuses my non-Muslim friends!

“You get to eat during the day again. Shouldn’t you be glad it’s over?”

I won’t deny, during Eid-al-Fitr (the 3-day celebration that follows the end of Ramadan) it’s really nice to be visiting friends and family and eating mountains of delectable special occasion food.

Despite this, I will always miss Ramadan when it passes. Part of what makes the month so special is the serenity that settles on community gatherings and prayers like a soft blanket placed tenderly on our shoulders.

The mindful way we spend our day to uphold the validity of our fast gives us a peek into how we are capable of living for the rest of the year. The liveliness and community spirit of this month is incomparable.

Ramadan ft. COVID-19

This year, as we prepare for a very different Ramadan, it’s important to keep in mind that different does not mean worse! It’s possible that this pandemic will bring us together in new ways that we had not considered before because we did not need to.

We also have a chance here to centre the voices and experiences of marginalized and isolated members of the community. Observing Ramadan in the midst of a pandemic means re-thinking how we can do this in a more conscious, intentional way.

Converts, for example, may be feeling particularly apprehensive about a Ramadan without community activities to rely on. Our efforts to include those on the margins and without community will be felt more than ever.

Opportunities for personal and community growth aside, it is normal and even entirely expected to be grieving the loss of a sense of community. Many of us will not have the same access to our usual sources of support that remind us that we are all in this together (family, community, daily interaction with the mosque).

To address this gap, we will need to get intentional about our mental health during Ramadan! There is an opportunity for us all to care for our inner world in a more meaningful way and we want to support you in this endeavour.

Here are 3 ways you can boost your mental wellness during Ramadan.

1. Decorate Your Home to Celebrate The Arrival of Ramadan

This week, a question I’ve been asked a lot is ‘how are you preparing for Ramadan?’

A quick scroll through Instagram shows me that the answer to this question for many of us is to celebrate it!

The decorations have been lovely to see. Beautiful lanterns, cozy fairy-lit corners, prayer sanctuary tents for the little ones. Not to mention the assembly lines of mini samosas and spring rolls- these are particularly nostalgic Ramadan foods for me!

How will decorating the house for Ramadan make a difference to your mental health?

Our mood can be influenced by the environment we live in. Factors such lighting, organization, cleanliness, and room configuration can make a huge difference in how we feel.

Try decorating your space this Ramadan to appeal to the senses and cater to your well-being in these 2 ways:

Lighting

Lighting makes a huge difference in the ambiance of our home and our mood. In fact, studies have shown that well-lit environments can ease the effects of depression.

To decorate your space for Ramadan, try fairy lights, lanterns, candles, or neon signs. If there is a part of the house that gets a lot of natural light or a large window, turn that area into your Ramadan sanctuary. During the day, it will be filled with mood-boosting sunlight and warmth. At night, the mood lighting will create a serene environment for you to quietly reflect, breathe, and just be.

Essential Oils

Pleasant, relaxing aromas can help us feel calmer as soon as we enter a room! Using an essential oil diffuser in your space allows you to customize what vibe you are going for, whether it’s relaxed or energizing.

2. Master the Connection Between Food and Mood

After a long day of fasting, what we put into our bodies during iftar is bound to affect our mental health.

The mind and body are closely intertwined.

Most people intuitively make the connection between healthy eating and physical wellness. However, nutrition also impacts mental wellness. Diets such as the Mediterranean diet have been associated with improved heart health and longer life expectancy. Interestingly, these same diets are linked to better mental health outcomes as well!

Additionally, there are numerous studies that show how chronic physical conditions and mental health issues tend to accompany each other. Luckily, the opposite is also true, where the positive steps we take towards one of these issues are likely to benefit the other too.

Here is a relatable example of how closely the well-being of the mind and body are connected:

Say you are feeling sad and irritable and just want to eat something comforting. Who hasn’t been there right? You UberEats a tub of Baskin Robbins and have the majority of it in one go. Now you have a surge of energy and soon after, you inevitably crash, making you feel lethargic and even more sad than when you started the evening.

Feeding The Brain

If you think about it, nutrients are the basic building blocks of our brain.

We need nutrients to support the processes that create different chemicals in our brain such as the neurotransmitters serotonin, whose claim to fame is the ‘happy chemical’.

So which nutrients should you be targeting to cultivate improved mental health this Ramadan? We’ve included a short guide right here, which is by no means exhaustive!

B-vitamins

These can be found in leafy greens, fish, legumes, beef, and eggs, among others. A deficiency in B-vitamins has been linked to symptoms of depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Fatty fish and fortified eggs are rich in Omega-3’s. Studies have connected Omega-3 intake with lowered anxiety and depression symptoms.  

Vitamin D

This is commonly known as the sunshine vitamin for our body’s ability to generate vitamin D from sun exposure! Foods such as cheese, eggs, fish and fortified milk and orange juice are rich in vitamin D. Much like the sun, vitamin D has also been associated with a reduction in depression symptoms.

Disclaimer: Please consult with your physician and/or a dietician before taking any supplements!

How to Eat for Mental Wellness

The narrow window in the day where you can eat is your opportunity to choose foods with mood-boosting nutrients. We discuss 2 daily and 1 weekly opportunities to do this!

When making a sustainable change, smaller meaningful steps that you can maintain even after Ramadan may be more realistic than a complete overhaul of your entire diet!

Ramadan is the ideal time to take these meaningful steps because we may be managing less meals in a day than usual.

Suhoor (daily) - Meal before sunrise

Foods that will release energy slowly throughout the day are your very best friends. This will go a long way in helping you feel less tired which has major effects on mood! 

It’s simple. More energy = better mood.

Choose complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and healthy unsaturated fats such as avocado and unsalted nuts.

Iftar (daily) - Meal at sunset

Try breaking your fast with unprocessed, whole foods whenever possible. Similarly, to suhoor, a combination of complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, and healthy unsaturated fats will provide a slow and sustainable release of energy.

Sugary and salty foods that spike your blood sugar or leave you feeling bloated and physically uncomfortable tend to unsettle our mood too.

Having culturally celebrated Ramadan staples is not banned! How often we have them and the method of cooking (i.e. deep frying) matters though. Even if you have 1 samosa a day, that adds up for 30 a month! And let’s face it, who actually stops at 1 samosa….

Making these heavier fried foods on a weekend or as an occasional treat will help you feel better about your choices and more confident in your ability to conquer those cravings!

It's definitely not easy to do, however this year we won't be tempted by any iftaar invitations. So use this to your advantage and limit the fried food intake!

Meal Planning (weekly)

Get yourself two pieces of paper: one will be a meal planning chart, the other a grocery list. Planning your suhoor and iftar meals for the week takes the daily stress of food prep away, which will greatly benefit your mental health. It also gives you the opportunity to intentionally include those mood-boosting foods into the meal rotation!

4. Balancing Fear and Anxiety With What We Can Control

Fear, anxiety, and uncertainty surrounding COVD-19 have been occupying our minds extensively since March.

If you are exhausted by this, you are certainly not alone.

Ramadan may be the soft-landing spot our minds need. It is something else to focus our collective energy on, and it brings new opportunities to assess what is in our control and what is not.

While we cannot control how COVID-19 will impact the institutions we associate with Ramadan, we can control how we respond to the situation. Here are 2 tools to support us in the process:

Mood Rating

Check in with yourself every day of the month by rating your mood on a scale of 1-10. Reflect on what happened that day to produce your number and keep a few activities in your back pocket to boost your mood when the ratings are particularly low.

Worry Chart

On the days you feel overwhelmed, try and list what is in your control and what it not. A worry chart can help you organize your thoughts and focus your energy on what you can do, rather than the factors beyond your control.

Wrapping Up

As you read this, make the intention to be kind to yourself this Ramadan. We are all going through collective challenges and changes. The arrival of Ramadan can bring us the tranquility we are all seeking at the moment.

Try being intentional about taking care of your mental wellness by celebrating the arrival of Ramadan, eating foods that will boost our mental wellness, and facing our moods and worries with compassion will go a long way this month.

We may not be able to congregate in prayer or attend iftar parties this year, but we are certainly not facing these challenges alone!

What are some ways you are planning to prioritize your mental health during the month of Ramadan?

Finally, we would like to wish you all a heartfelt Ramadan Mubarak, from everyone here at WellNest! We humbly ask that you remember those in our community who are struggling and on the margins, along with the many workers fighting to keep us safe during this pandemic.

p.s: We also launched a "2 MINUTE WELLNESS'' program for the next 30 days. Join us on Instagram daily to learn some easy tips that will help increase your awareness and enhance your overall wellness.

Until next time,

Sarah Ahmed electronic signature

Sarah Ahmed
Co-founder
WellNest Psychotherapy Services