Prayer and Mental Health

Prayer keeps us anchored in our relationship with Allah. It reminds us that our lives are not random and insignificant, but purposeful, and everything we are experiencing is happening for a reason. It is your private space to feel, let go, reflect, meditate, question and re-centre – all in the certainty that with Allah you are not alone. And that whatever you’re going through, you can get through it. 

Prayer can be incredibly grounding, giving us a sense of safety and security when the world feels harsh and uncertain. It can stir up or intensify feelings of hope, forgiveness and gratitude, as well as being a space for our emotional outpourings of fear, longing and sadness.     

Remember, our mental health can be affected by so many different things, like; how people treat us, financial worries, work, exams, grief, family drama etc. And ultimately, how we perceive our situation has a big influence on how much life can shake us. 

Prayer can offer us an empowering perspective. 

It is a reminder that everything in existence is utterly reliant on Allah. The only judgement that matters is Allah’s – not the people stressing us out with their opinions. And that for Allah, anything is possible – even if we can’t see a way out, Allah can. 

“Sometimes I have these moments of absolute relief when I pray. I can be in the middle of what seems like the end of the world, and then suddenly it’s like, oh yeah, this will pass. I don’t know when, or how, but it will. Allah’s got me.” 

Sometimes praying can help us reprioritise: life is short, and some things we think are a big deal don’t really matter to Allah – like how we look, how much we earn, or where we live. What matters is our intentions and our actions – and remembering this can make complicated situations suddenly feel more simple.  

Abdullah ibn Mas’ud reported: The Messenger of Allah, (pbuh), laid down upon a reed mat and it left marks on his side. When he woke up… I said, “O Messenger of Allah, why do you not let us [get you a bed]?” The Prophet (pbuh) said, “What is the world to me? What am I to the world? Verily, I am in this world like a rider who seeks shade under a tree, then he moves on and leaves it behind.”

Everything in life is temporary. This does not mean the things in your life don’t matter. They do. Every little detail matters to Allah.

The point of Islamic practice, including prayer, is to develop your moral character so that you stand firm, with complete and total trust in Allah – even in the face of calamity. Often, the road to reaching this level of unshakeable serenity is a long and testing one. It usually involves a lot of prayer and self-discipline, alongside plenty of work on self-love, implementing a good self-care routine, a process of trauma-healing and having the freedom to explore your spirituality.

Remember, life will always be full of challenges. And as a human, you will always feel emotions – including uncomfortable ones. Prayer and spiritual growth are not going to turn you into an angel who never feels suffering. Even the prophets suffered. So let go of any guilt about the way you’re feeling. You’re allowed to be going through a tough time.  

Read more about making sense of suffering.

Personal prayer (du’a)

“Du’a is worship itself.” – Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

Speaking to Allah is easy. You don’t need any special skills; just faith and sincerity. No matter who you are, or what you are going through, Allah says: 

Call on me and I will answer you.” — Qur’an 40:60

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A life changing conversation with Allah can happen anywhere, anytime, and in any situation. 

“And when My servants ask you concerning me then [answer] I am near! I answer the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on me. So let them respond to my call and believe in Me, so that they may be guided in the right direction.” — Qur’an 2:186

Traditionally, it’s considered good etiquette to praise Allah, send blessings on the Prophet (pbuh) and express gratitude before asking for more. But a du’a is your personal conversation with God, so always speak from your heart.  

“It’s a relief knowing I don’t have to explain myself. Allah already knows.” 

“We indeed created man; and We know what his soul whispers within him, and We are nearer to him than the jugular vein.” — Qur’an 50:16

“Sometimes when I pray I get really angry. It’s like all my deep, dark frustrations come out. I know in front of God I can’t hide them, and I feel guilty, but it’s also kind of a relief.”

“Pouring out my heart to God is the absolute best feeling. I have nothing to compare it to. I think it’s because no one else understands you the way God does. And no one else has the power to help you the way God does. It’s sad my non-Muslim friends can’t relate to this part of my life.”

“Sometimes I feel a bit disconnected from my faith and don’t pray much. But when I don’t know what to do, I like having somewhere to turn.”

“Speaking to Allah is true freedom. Allah is the Creator, who has power over everything. Who else do you want to speak to when you’re in trouble? Who else do you want closeness with? Who could possibly love you more and help better? Who are you scared of when Allah is protecting you? Think about that and it really sets you free. Whatever you are going through, Allah hears you. The best reminder I had was that when you ask for something, the conversation between you and Allah keeps happening throughout your day – through your actions, intentions, level of effort, level of trust/fearlessness, level of patience, gratitude, and through your willingness to learn the lessons, seize opportunities, and humbly listen to the answers Allah is sending you to set you free.”

Dhikr

Sometimes prayer can be in the form of dhikr (remembrance of Allah) which could be as simple as consciously remembering Allah in your daily life, or contemplating Allah’s names, during meditation. 

Read more about dhikr and meditation.

Praying salah/namaz (the five ritual prayers)

During salah (the five daily prayers), by silencing our worldly desires and material concerns, we make a space to reconnect with our higher-self, and of course, with God. It’s our chance to turn away from the distractions and demands of the world and take a quick breather to reaffirm our faith in a Lord who is higher, greater, and more beautiful than anything we can imagine. It reminds us of our final destination, and invites us to reflect on our actions throughout the day to ensure we’re keeping aligned with our personal truth and purpose. As a result, this can:

  • eliminate anxiety
  • lower stress levels and blood pressure
  • increase feelings of peace, clarity, forgiveness, generosity, acceptance, confidence, optimism, humility and self-worth
  • increase our intuition
A short reflection on the mysteries of prayer

“When I do wudu I visualise a white light surrounding me and washing all the sins, bad thoughts, and feelings away.”

“Praying on time has helped me with depression because it forces me to get up off my bed even when I feel like I can’t move. Having to make wudu (wash before praying) snaps me out of it and wakes me up. I feel like I’ve achieved something when I manage to do all five prayers. And especially in the evening, I feel like I get a lot off my chest when I speak to God.”

“When I feel anxiety I pray two rakats [units of prayer] just asking for help or istikhara [guidance]. It calms me down knowing my worries are in the hands of The Most Merciful.”

“Self-care to me is fajr (dawn prayer). It is my favourite time. It’s like the whole world has stopped, there’s peace and silence. It’s my sacred time where I can just breathe. I try not to look at my phone or get distracted. I sit on my prayer mat and thank God for everything I have. Then I set my intentions for the day ahead and ask for help with anything I’m worried about. It was hard at first to get into a routine, but I’m glad I pushed myself because it’s had the biggest impact on my mental health.”

“It’s a timeout from my worries. A tiny but mighty reset built into my routine.” 

Struggling with daily prayers 

There can be lots of reasons why we might struggle with the daily prayers. These struggles could be faith-based, lifestyle-based, culture-based, or sometimes even trauma-based. 

If you’re struggling with any feelings of guilt or shame around not praying salah, or not praying how you think you should be, carrying these feelings can affect your self-esteem and lead to depression, anxiety, or low confidence. In order to feel better you might seek distractions, or turn away from things that remind you of prayer – but the more you run away from these feelings, the bigger they’ll become. And that’s not great for your mental wellbeing. But things can change.

Read more about healing from trauma.

First of all, acknowledge your feelings.

Feelings don’t make you a bad person.

By accepting how you feel and being honest about where those feelings might be coming from, you might start to understand more about what you need to feel better.  

If you’re struggling to keep all your prayers, or when you pray you feel absent-minded or robotic, it’s a sign that you might be in need of some spiritual nurturing. You might find it helpful to take the spiritual health check to figure out if you have any spiritual blocks getting in the way. 

One thing is clear, if you keep approaching salah, or the concept of salah, in the same old way, you’re likely to feel the same way towards it. It’s possible that a deeper look at what’s causing your negative feelings around prayer will help elevate your practice. 

Read about healing from trauma or abuse

Salah doesn’t have to feel like a box-ticking exercise, it can feel like an enjoyable spiritual and mental wellbeing essential. 

“I used to shout at anyone who would even mention praying to me. I didn’t like being told what to do, or being given religious lectures by literally anyone. I saw everyone as a hypocrite. I think it was because deep down I felt like a hypocrite. I carried a lot of pain from my religious upbringing and it had really gotten in the way of my relationship with Allah. Praying used to trigger me, so I didn’t do it, even though I knew I should. Healing my religious trauma and childhood trauma was a really big deal for my mental health and quality of life generally.”

“Personally, I think there’s a huge learning curve that comes with praying salah that is so underestimated. Dua is easy – you are literally just talking to Allah. But salah requires you to take a huge psychological leap and realise – if I want Jannah, I have to make sacrifices. I have to organise my life around it… but I guess that’s why Islam means submission. You’re constantly having to remind yourself to let go. You’re not the one in control – which is incredibly freeing at soul level, but at mind/body level it’s not always easy. You’re constantly pulling yourself out of whatever is going on and bringing yourself back to your core beliefs.”  

“I think what people forget is that salah takes practice and perseverance. I think sometimes we’re taught, ‘if you have faith, salah will be super easy and you’ll never want to do anything but praying. Oh and if you struggle with salah it means you’re a bad Muslim.’ When actually prayer was introduced gradually into the community of the Prophet (pbuh), over a period of years. Habits take a while to form. My advice is keep making an effort – slowly you’ll see changes.” 

“Salah always felt a bit irrelevant to my life until I started studying Islam more deeply out of personal interest. I had to really get to grips with the concept of Allah, and what life means, in order to get a perspective on how praying is genuinely better for my life than not praying. Without that I think I’d still have a really on-off, distant relationship with salah.” 

“Praying was something we were forced to do as children. And when you’re young it feels like way too much. I was taught Islam in a very strict way – it was all, ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, haram, haram, haram, don’t have any fun.’ I think religious trauma is a huge problem in our community. We’re taught so many toxic things about something that should be joyful and fulfilling. If you’re struggling with prayer you’re not alone.”

“Honestly as a teen I struggled with praying generally. In my early 20s I started praying five times a day, but it was mostly quite robotic. It was only after I went through a bit of a turbulent time and started my ‘healing journey’ that praying clicked into place. But it wasn’t an overnight thing. I feel like what no one teaches you is that it’s meant to be a journey and your relationship with prayer keeps on evolving. Don’t worry if everyone is pretending to be a saint. They’re having ups and downs too. You won’t always feel amazing after every prayer, but over time you’ll wonder what you ever did without it. Take your time, enjoy the process. And don’t be hard on yourself – Allah is more merciful than you realise. Your best is good enough – keep going.” 

If you’ve never been taught how to pray salah, or if you’ve just forgotten, don’t worry.

A good place to start is by trying the ‘Namaz App’ available on Google Play and the Apple App Store. You could also ask to a Muslim friend to pray with you, or a local imam, or check out YouTube for ‘how to’ videos that make you feel comfortable. And remember, you can ask Allah to guide you to the perfect resource(s) for your individual needs.

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