Back-to-school time is stressful- for parents and children alike. The normal anxiety of a new routine, teachers, and classmates is now compounded with the looming threat of COVID, monkeypox, and potential school closures. For college students, there is a constant dread about classes, grades, GPA, and your future career. Going into this new school year, it is essential that we take care of our mental health and encourage those around us to do so as well.
Mental health can be a tricky subject; in many faith communities, the concept of seeking help for anxiety, depression, or any other ailment comes with the fear of rejection, shame, and humiliation, all these possibilities prevent folks from reaching out for help. It is a commonly held belief that to need therapy or medication for anxiety or depression is a sign of a lack of faith. These conversations often look like this:
A: I’ve been feeling anxious a lot lately and I can’t seem to firmly grasp a routine, I can’t focus, and I’m always worried about what might happen.
B: Don’t you believe in God?
A: Yes, but my thoughts are racing so fast, and I can’t seem to control them, and rationalizing doesn’t work for me-
B: Well, why are you anxious if you believe in God? He’s in control of everything in the first place!
The statements made by person B are correct; person A does believe in God, and God is in control of everything, but what underlying assumption takes place in this conversation? In questioning person A’s feelings and inability to control their anxiety, person B implies that person A has forgotten their beliefs and faith. It is vital that we understand one thing: person B is not acting out of malice or malintent, in their mind, this is a way to help person A come to terms with their anxiety, but in reality, these types of conversations hurt more than they help.
While person B- in this situation- is not trying to hurt person A or discredit their feelings, sometimes the belief that faith alone can help heal anxiety or depression can be harmful. Anxiety and depression are not simply a state of forgetting God, His mercy, His might, or His rule, rather it is the physical and mental inability to control thoughts. But what if seeking help for your anxiety is not a sign of a weakening faith, what if it is a form of worship in itself?
To understand how seeking help for your mental health can be an act of worship, it is essential that I tell y’all more about myself. If we haven’t met, Howdy! My name is Noor, and I’m the Government Relations Coordinator here at Minaret Foundation. Outside of my work in Policy, I’m a current senior pre-law student at Baylor University, where I’m studying Anthropology, International Studies, and Civic Interfaith Studies. Along with my professional and academic life, I’m also a person who has struggled with anxiety since I was very young.
My anxiety mainly manifests in racing thoughts and fear about future events. Having anxiety since childhood is strange because it becomes an unwelcome part of you. I’ve lived with it for so long that controlling anxious thoughts is almost second nature, but my anxiety had reached its peak at the end of my junior year. I was unable to sleep, eat, or study, I was constantly in a state of fear and dread, but I was not sure why I felt that way.
During the summer of my junior year, the anxiety attacks started, and it felt like I had absolutely no control over my thoughts- they were consuming me. It was then that I chose to get help for my anxiety. I was prescribed anxiety medication and enrolled in therapy, and almost instantly, I felt like myself- it was a feeling that I had not experienced since I was very, very young. I tell you all this because I experienced what it was like to live with anxiety for years and then be free from its grasp- and it was life-changing.
Taking care of yourself- whether it is spiritually, mentally, emotionally, or physically- is a form of worship. Worship is not simply the prayers that we do, it is the actions we take to better ourselves and the world around us. It is our intention to help the world, it can be through donating money or even as simple as throwing away a piece of litter. In a hadith (a saying of the Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings upon him), the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) was reported to have said, “Verily, your own self has rights over you, so fast and break your fast, pray and sleep.” This saying is evident that our bodies that the Lord has entrusted us with for this life have rights over us, and part of those rights is to take care of it.
Many times a prerequisite of physical self-care is mental and emotional well-being. Additionally, in order to fulfill our religious obligations, sometimes taking care of our mental and emotional well-being is necessary. Often anxiety and depression can make it difficult to get out of bed, to pray, to fast, to do the basics of our religious obligations, and to help ease these difficulties is nothing to be ashamed of.