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Overcoming Anxiety – a Faith-Inspired Approach

Allah tells us humans were created anxious (Q70:19), so if you’re struggling with anxiety, feeling overwhelmed with worries, or you feel the need to always be in control, you are certainly not alone. But there are steps you can take to protect and maintain your peace.

It’s normal to experience anxiety – we’re supposed to feel anxious sometimes. It means the chemicals in our bodies have shifted, putting us on high alert, so that we can be ready to deal with a potential threat – so that we’re ready to fight or run from a predator. But when we experience anxiety outside of stressful situations, it can be very unhelpful to say the least. 

There can be so many different life stresses adding to your anxious thoughts and feelings: responsibilities, work, relationships, existential dread, uncertainty about the future, worry about people judging you, money worries, painful memories, guilt… that’s why it’s important to speak to someone you trust about what you’re going through to help you untangle it all and find perspective.

But there are other things to consider too.

Many typical mental health approaches to anxiety are simply about dealing with symptoms, identifying causes, and then dealing with those causes until you feel better. But dealing with the symptoms alone means that when something else difficult happens in your life, you start the process all over again.

A longer-term solution simply cannot ignore one crucial aspect of your being in particular – the nature of your soul and the purpose of your existence in relation to the Divine source of peace – Allah.    

The calming sounds of birds and nature

What makes us prone to anxiety?

Have you ever noticed how two different people can experience the same event, but one person is wracked with anxiety and another seems far more at peace with their situation. Are there simply ‘anxious types’ of people and less anxious types of people? Or is it something else?

Remember, experiencing anxiety does not make you a bad person – we all experience these feelings sometimes because we are human.

If anxiety is affecting your daily life, it can be an indication of an underlying spiritual imbalance which could be amplifying the stress response you’re having to the difficult things going on in your life.

“Indeed, mankind was created anxious. Fretful when evil touches him, and when good touches him, grudging.” — Qur’an 70: 19-21 

“Their Lord’s displeasure is the opposite of peace and tranquillity.” — Qur’an 70:29 

So what are the hallmarks of a person who exists in a state of peace and tranquillity? According to Allah, who are the people who exist in Jannah – the garden of heaven – a place entirely free from anxiety? Allah describes them in Surah Al-Ma’arij (Qur’an 70: 22-34), as those who have eight specific characteristics.

These are: 

1. Consistent in their prayer

  • Consistent acts of mindfulness and reflection built into our day – whether through salah or du’a, can literally be a God-send for an anxious soul. Prayer can take us out of our worldly bubble for a few minutes, calm us down, and remind us to release all our worries into the hands of Allah, the All-Merciful.
  • Of course we still need to take action to resolve our difficulties, but praying reminds us that while we can control our own efforts, but the outcome is not in our hands.  

Read more about prayer and mental health

2. Give a share of their wealth to the needy, or deprived

Generosity and gratitude can help us remember that we’re all in this life together. We’re all connected. We all face challenges of different kinds. 

We can feel a sense of empowerment when we give – realising that we have the power to make positive choices that impact people for the good. 

Giving also encourages us to take a moment to see beyond our own problems when we give, which can disrupt a negative spiral. 

Charity is an act of purification for your wealth, and for your soul – the same way you shower to feel clean – it washes away bad deeds. And it increases your good deeds – remember, all your deeds come back to you. We realise that what we have and cling on to for safety, does not ultimately belong to us – it is God who provides us with different measures of provision.

Ultimately giving is all about letting something you care about go, and trusting that when you let go, it is actually for the best. 

Read more about gratitude and mental health

3. Accept the truth of judgement day

Yes, it is true this can be a big source of anxiety for people – worrying about sin, judgement and being punished – leading to all sorts of mental health troubles. So why is it in this list?  Because this acceptance helpfully puts our everyday worries and concerns into clear perspective. 

In the grand scheme of things does it matter that you made a fool of yourself once at a party? Or that you fluffed an exam? Or if you’ll get that promotion in three days time? 

Yes, life matters, and we can still appreciate the beauty of even the most fleeting moments, but seeing things for what they are is important. Glitter on the ocean looks shiny, but you wouldn’t waste time trying to catch it in a fishing net. 

Grounding yourself in the truth that we all come from and return to Allah can lighten your everyday concerns and make your priorities feel different, and much easier to put in order. 

4. Fear their Lord’s displeasure

As above, it is definitely true that we can become anxious out of fear of upsetting Allah and find this awareness painful or burdensome. So what is the link between this characteristic and finding inner-peace? Fearing making a moral error invites you to always check back in with your core values. 

Your core values can anchor you in every situation – hold on to them. 

Think about what you value: kindness, honesty, fairness… Your anxiety can ease when you remind yourself that your core values are the road signs you need to follow, whatever your destination, and no matter the outcome. 

5. Stay chaste (avoid sexual promiscuity or indecency)

If you’re seeking tranquillity, chasing after desire and the fleeting pleasure of the world may only bring temporary relief to a troubled soul; or cause unrest in a content one. 

It is important to think about how love, safety, connection, consistency, commitment, reliability, clear agreement of rights, responsibilities and expectations, not to mention spiritual alignment etc. enhance and uplift a relationship and relieve anxiety. 

Like the difference between sailing through crashing waves in a stormy sea, and clear calm waters and a consistent breeze – rather than chasing the insatiable whims of the ego, making space for God’s rights in any relationship (romantic or otherwise), invites the blessing of peace on your soul.  

6. Keep their promises

When you make a promise you know what to do next – follow through. There’s no second-guessing, no doubts, no what-ifs.

Pay close attention to what you say you will do. And then, just take the next step – implement your intentions for a smooth way to a clear, fulfilled conscience.

And when the people around you, no matter who they are, know that they can trust you completely it can ease any anxiety they may have in their interaction with you too.

Remember, before the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was called to prophethood, he was known and highly respected in his community as Al-Amin – the trustworthy one.

7. Are truthful and steadfast in their testimony

This annihilates that nagging worry we all feel at many points in our lives: ‘what will people think of me’. When you make a commitment to the truth – that’s it.

The truth speaks for itself, no matter what anyone thinks. 

Trusting that if you are truthful no matter what, Allah will be your supporter is one of the most empowering feelings a human being can experience – but achieving this level of serenity requires a lot of practice, patience and reflection.  

8. Guard the sacredness of their prayers

Prayer has already been mentioned in this list, so let’s pause to reflect on why it might occur twice.

This list takes us on a journey that starts with prayer and ends with prayer – first referred to as a consistent act, and then as a sacred space to guard in your heart and life.

If you’re finding prayer doesn’t do it for you, and you could take or leave it – that is a very common experience. It may be a sign that your heart is not yet fully engaged in what you are doing – for any number of reasons, and that’s probably more normal than you think. At times, we’ve all probably prayed and our minds have wandered, or the day has run away with us and we’ve forgotten Allah completely.

It’s important to remember that turning prayer into a sacred act takes effort, understanding and building connection and trust with God. And when we get there, we are required to be vigilant about not letting that sacredness slip away until prayer just becomes a mechanical formality instead of a transformative experience. And this vigilance against hypocrisy is how we maintain our peace and avoid anxiety.

Read more about prayer and mental health

Those shall be in gardens, honoured…” — Qur’an 70:35

If you’re in the middle of an anxious episode there are lots of different things that can give you relief – and it’s important to try different things until you find what works for you. These include:

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