Ramadan is a sacred month when Muslims focus on their spiritual connection with Allah through prayer, fasting, increasing good deeds, reading Quran, and being in community together. Although the Prophet Muhammad advised that religion should be “ease” and encouraged sustainability and moderation in worship, Ramadan is not meant to be easy. It is supposed to challenge us.
Our bodies, minds, and spirits are pushed to their limits with fasting from sunup to sundown. Our sleep schedules are usually irregular due to nightly prayers and pre-dawn meals. Despite getting less sleep than usual, we are usually showing up for life more, becoming more active in the community, doing charity, visiting the mosque, and gathering for iftar parties. For those living in non-Muslim-majority countries, it’s likely that our workload is the same, without any consideration or accommodation for the spiritual journey that we are on. But if you’re wondering about Ramadan and mental health, it can certainly be tricky.
So how can we protect and manage our mental health despite the increased pressure during Ramadan? And how can we collectively engage with mental health challenges so that we are providing community care?
Here are a few general tips about Ramadan and mental health — but, these are not a cure-all. If you are in crisis, please seek mental health treatment. Help is available!
Know Your Triggers
While fasting for Ramadan has been shown to decrease stress and depression in some, it can also exacerbate mental illness symptoms in people with certain disorders. In fact, amelia noor oshiro, MPH, a doctoral candidate and suicide researcher at Johns Hopkins University, said in a recent Instagram video that screening for depression and suicidality should be increased during Ramadan “more than any other time of the year.” She cites a variety of potential risk factors, such as schedule changes, mood disruptions due to changes in sleeping patterns, irritability related to changes in eating habits, social anxiety regarding behavioral expectations and performance, a lack of religious accommodations available in the workplace, as well as the potential for social isolation.
If you have a history of mental health challenges and have found Ramadan to be difficult for you in the past, it’s important to recognize that and identify what your triggers are. Knowing your triggers can help you manage them and focus on finding solutions. For example, if you know that a lack of sleep contributes to your mental health challenges, you may want to skip tarawih and head to bed after isha (night prayer), as tarawih is a Sunnah (practice of the Prophet) and is optional, not compulsory. If you know that you struggle with isolation, try to reach out to friends and family and ask that they make efforts to include you in their activities and celebrations.
You May Be Exempt From Fasting
Many people know that there are exemptions from fasting, such as those for children, the elderly, those who are traveling, pregnant, or ill. However, when most people think of the illness exemption, they think of physical illnesses. But mental health challenges are a valid reason for not fasting. For example, people with eating disorders may opt out of fasting, as doing so could cause a relapse in recovery, or worsen an existing disorder.