Shahin Ashraf

Written by

February 4, 2021


Three lockdowns later and without a doubt, I think we can all say that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken its toll on us as a nation – physically, financially, socially and emotionally.

Whilst many families are struggling financially after losing work or after being put on furlough, others are dealing with the pressure of being frontline workers. Socially isolated or dealing with intense fatigue after combatting Covid, the pandemic has affected everyone.

With increased worries, isolation and pressures, our mental health is suffering.

mental health
The pandemic has taken a grave toll on our mental health.

In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has declared that Covid-19 has created a ‘parallel pandemic’ of poor mental health.

Research by The Princes Trust found that one in four young people (aged 16 to 25 years old) declared that they are “unable to cope with life” since the pandemic hit.

It’s therefore critical that we stop and address how we can best look after ourselves and encourage others to do so.

So, here are our 10 key pieces of advice to best look after our mental health. Please do take a look and share with others.

 

1. Be kind to yourself

mental health
Don’t be too hard on yourself!

Few of us ever expected to be living through a global pandemic before news of the Coronavirus in China broke out. Yet, here we are – after a year of self-isolating, working from home, sticking to lockdowns and adjusting the way we live our lives.

That’s a lot to take in. And that’s why, first of all: we need to be kind to ourselves.

We’re going through a difficult time and it’s ok to find it challenging. We’re human and really: it’s not easy!

So, let’s not be too hard on ourselves if we’re not feeling our perkiest. Let’s instead take one day at a time. And of course, let’s also try and keep the hope.

After all: all bad things come to an end and as Allah (SWT) tells us in the Holy Qur’an: “… with hardship comes ease” (94:5).

 

2. Make time for self-care

mental health
Looking after yourself is critically important.

When we don’t make time for ourselves, life can seem overwhelming. And this is all the more true when we’re working and living in the same space and everything seems to merge together.

We must set aside time for ourselves – even if it’s just 30 minutes a day – to focus on us and only us! Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Pray or meditate: Take some time to reflect and to decompress
  • Chillax: Watch your favourite TV show or pick up a book you’ve been meaning to finish for ages
  • Pamper yourself: Ladies – put on a facemask, give yourself a hand massage or do a home pedicure. Gents – if that’s not your thing, don’t rush your daily shower and if you have a beard, make sure you’re keeping it nice and neat

Whatever it is, the important thing is that it’s something that you enjoy and something for YOU only. So relax, take some time out and reward yourself!

 

3. Eat healthily

mental health
It’s important to make sure you’re eating healthily.

As the saying goes: “You are what you eat”. We all know that eating healthily and avoiding food that’s high in fat and sugar is good for our bodies. But, did you know that food also affects our mood too?

Yes, eating more healthily helps improve our mood, give us more energy and think more clearly. When our blood sugar drops, we become tired, irritable and low in mood.

So, by eating regularly and choosing foods that release energy slowly, we can steady our blood sugar levels.

We can improve our diets by:

  • Having a good breakfast
  • Eating smaller meals at regular intervals (as opposed to fewer larger meals)
  • Choosing slow-release foods such as nuts, seeds, pasta, rice, oats and wholegrain bread and cereals
  • Avoiding foods which are high in sugar: sweets, sugary drinks, desserts and biscuits
  • Keeping hydrated – drink lots of water!
  • Ensuring you have your 5-a-day of fruit and veg – rich in vitamins and minerals!
  • Limit your intake of caffeine to regulate energy levels and sleep patterns

If you’re looking for ideas of tasty healthy meals, check out our Going Veggie, Going Green Series. We’ve got lots of tasty recipes from around the world: Palestinian delights, vegetable Thai green curry, aubergine parmesan bake, vegetable chilli and a vegan curry.

Go on, give them a go!

 

4. Keep a routine

mental health
Keeping to a regular routine is a must when working from home.

For many of us, our daily commute and stint in the office has been swapped for working from home, followed by – yes you guessed correctly – eating dinner at home and… staying at home after work!

What’s more, for parents now home-schooling and caring for children pretty much 24/7, the old daily routine has changed dramatically.

Of course, we’re not where we were before physically, but daily life still carries on. And with that: so too must a routine.

Sticking to a daily routine is critical for maintaining a sense of “normality” and ensuring that we don’t get side-tracked by our beds, the sofa or our own thoughts. It reduces stress levels and can stop us ruminating.

So, if you are working from home, or are currently not working, our daily routine should include:

  • A good breakfast: This helps us to get ready for the day ahead, get enough energy and prepare mentally for work
  • Lunch: Do not skip lunch. You need time out and again: food is important!
  • Fresh air: Try and go out once a day to breathe in some fresh air and stretch your legs away from your phone/work desk/computer
  • Dinner: Once you’ve finished work, mentally “clock out” and sit down to a nutritious meal
  • Socialising: If you’re living with friends and family, have a meal together or sit down to watch an evening film. If you live alone, be sure to connect daily with others via phone call, messenger, video call or text
  • Sleep: Stick to a “normal” sleep schedule. Don’t stay up late to ensure you get a good night’s quality sleep!

By sticking to a routine, we can gain some sense of a regular “working week”/day amidst the madness of the pandemic. With less stress, a good night’s sleep, regular breaks and meals, we can look after our minds and keep healthier.

 

5. Get active outdoors

mental health
Getting fresh air out in green spaces is great for your mental health.

So, we’ve established that we need to get some fresh air to break up our time at home. And the perfect way to do this is….. Yes – going for a walk!

Physical activity is great for our mental wellbeing. Just 10 minutes a day of brisk walking can improve our mood, energy and alertness. Power walking, jogging, a long walk or even cycling are great ways to get out of the house and beat the blues.

What’s even better though, is if we can do this in a lovely green space such as a local park.

Not only is exercise good for our mental health, but so too are green spaces. Research by Warwick University has shown that Londoners who live within 300 metres of a green space “have significantly better mental wellbeing” than those who do not.

The study concluded that:

Overall there is a very strong relationship between the amount of green space around a person’s home and their feelings of life satisfaction, happiness and self-worth.

So, at a time when we’re feeling trapped, unhappy and fed up, put on your walking or cycling shoes and head to your local park for some exercise. Remember though that at the moment, you can only do this alone or with one other person.

 

6. Connect with others

mental health
With Zoom, WhatsApp, Skype and lots of other ways to keep in touch, do connect with loved ones!

For people who are living on their own, maintaining contact with friends and family is one of the most important things we can do at the moment. This is crucial to fight loneliness.

Loneliness is often short-term and by keeping in touch with those outside of our home, we can expand our social life – albeit virtually!

You can even make an activity out of it. Why not set up a weekly film night with a friend or host a Zoom party? With a little bit of creativity and a lot of technology, there are many ways to connect and do something fun with other people.

It’s critical that whatever you do, you do it with other people. Long-term loneliness is damaging to our mental health and can even lead to depression, anxiety and increased levels of stress.

Even if you’re living with family and friends, it’s important to maintain our regular individual social relationships. You can still feel lonely if you feel disconnected, even if you’re not physically on your own.

Talking to our loved ones who we can’t see face-to-face but can chat with over video, gives us back some sense of control over our life and a change in the working-at-home schedule.

 

7. Seek specialist help

mental health
Medical professionals are here to help us when we need care – do reach out.

Given the pandemic and the effects it’s having on all of our lives, feeling sad, lonely or unsure of the future is completely normal. We all feel this way from time-to-time.

However, if you’re finding your mood is affecting your ability to work and/or you’re struggling significantly with your mental health, please do seek professional help.

Speak to your GP or reach out to a mental health charity such as Mind for specialist advice. There is absolutely no shame in doing so – in fact, it’s an incredibly brave step.

You can also search for local service providers here or if you’d prefer to speak to a mental health charity, a full list can be found here.

During the pandemic, we’ve been supporting the Muslim Youth Helpline (MYH). With a 313% rise in calls since March 2020, we’ve been covering the running costs of MYH so that they can offer their critical listening and advice service to young Muslims.

So, if you’re a younger person need someone to talk to or are unsure of the next steps to take, do call their free helpline on 0808 808 2008. They operate every day from 4pm to 10pm.

If you’d prefer to write to them, you can also get in touch via:

Please do reach out – you deserve the very best of care.

 

8. Don’t overwork

mental health
Don’t burn the candle at both ends – it’s not healthy.

For those of us who are working from home, the good thing is that keeping busy gives us a sense of purpose – and help ease financial worries. However, we mustn’t run the risk of overworking. And that’s all too easy when our home and office merge into one physical space!

By reminding ourselves of our work duties, sticking to our working hours and prioritising self-care (see above!), we can help reduce our stress levels.

This is crucial, as overworking can lead to:

  • Over-reliance on caffeine: This can raise our blood sugar and anxiety levels
  • Poor sleeping patterns: This in turn can lead to worry and stress
  • Bad eating habits: Not allowing time for home-cooked meals, eating quickly or eating sugary and fatty foods or nothing at all can all cause low moods

As we’ve seen above, maintaining a healthy diet, good routine and self-care timetable are critical for our mental health. Overworking disturbs this balance and steals our time, energy and ultimately: happiness.

One great way of ensuring that you separate work and “home life” is by dressing for work as you would do as if you were going to the office. Put on a shirt or smart jumper and then when it’s time to “clock off”, you can then dig out the loungewear!

For those of you who are still working in your normal place of work, make sure that you’re factoring in breaks wherever possible and are staying hydrated. Try to get a good night’s sleep to recuperate and make sure you’re eating properly!

 

9. Access financial support

mental health
Financial help is available so don’t suffer alone.

Financial worries are incredibly stressful and sadly this is something that’s been affecting a high number of individuals and families across the nation – in particular during the pandemic.

Before Covid-19 hit, 1 in 2 Muslim households in the UK were already living in poverty and deprivation, compared to 1 in 5 of the general UK population.

At the start of the current pandemic, a staggering 58% of Muslims were worried about paying bills over the coming months. That’s compared to an average of 33% of people across the national population.

Now, the pandemic has increased financial hardship as jobs have been furloughed or terminated, businesses shut down and family members have died, leaving behind loved ones ensure of how they’ll cope financially.

In fact, it’s now been predicted that a Covid-driven recession will push a staggering 2 million families across the UK into poverty.

And that’s where we’re here to help. We’ve donated critical funds to the National Zakat Foundation to go towards their Hardship Fund. This is enabling vulnerable people to get cash so they can buy essential urgent items such as food, toiletries and nappies.

So, if you’re facing financial hardship, please reach out and apply here.

Do also ensure that you’re receiving any government support for families, individuals and businesses that you may be entitled to. To find out more, click here and here.

 

10. Speak out

mental health
For women living in abusive homes, the pandemic is making it even harder to leave.

In addition to the deadly threat of Covid-19 on our lives, one of the worst outcomes of the pandemic is the negative effect of Coronavirus on women.

For women stuck in abusive relationships, lockdown has increased the risks and/or frequency of being abused. Stuck at home, potentially financially insecure, socially-isolated and cut off from friends and family, these women are incredibly vulnerable.

Heartbreakingly, within just three weeks of the first lockdown, domestic homicides more than doubled.

Research has found that the pandemic has “exposed” a domestic abuse crisis. Quite notably, this isn’t due to a greater number of abusers but the social and economic pressures that have arisen as a result of Covid, which have in turn made it more difficult for women to leave abusive relationships.

The impact of domestic abuse on women’s emotional, psychological and physical wellbeing is devastating. Leading to depression and anxiety – and in some cases suicidal thoughts – domestic abuse ruins women’s self-esteem and sense of dignity and worth.

We must honour all women. As Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said:

The best of you are those who are best to their wives. (Tirmidhi)

So, if you or someone you know is in danger, please seek help.

As part of our work in the UK, we’ve partnered with Advance  – a London-based organisation specialised in providing dedicated one-to-one support for survivors of domestic violence. Helping women in crisis, they provide critical support.

Please get in touch. Full information about police and charitable services across the UK can also be found here. Please don’t suffer in silence.

 

We should all prioritise our mental health. Please look after yourself and seek the support you may need.

May Allah (SWT) protect and bless us all, ameen.

 

Here at Islamic Relief, we continue to offer psychosocial support to children affected by conflict. We’re also working with organisations across the country to help communities affected by Covid-19 and across the globe.

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