UAE experts underline mental health benefits of fasting during Ramadan

UAE experts underline mental health benefits of fasting during Ramadan

While physical health benefits of fasting, including weight lost and increased metabolism, are very well-known in society, there are several lesser-known mental health advantages as well. 

According to 35-year-old Dubai resident Farha Ali, fasting provides a sense of control and gratification.

"A sense of completion"

Ali underlined that fasting has helped her with both spiritual benefits and shaping her personality. For her, every Iftar is a feeling of achievement as she practices self-control during fasting. 

"The complete change in routine helped me be more adaptable to change. I also felt my threshold for stress increased, which helped in high-pressure career roles," she said. 

The one month of Ramadan has helped the Dubai resident in finding more peace and growth than the other 11 months combined. 

"You have water and food in front of you, nobody’s watching and you’re still not reaching for it — that’s quite something," she underlined. 

She has become immune to irritable and moody behaviour during the fasting period. Refocusing has helped her in thinking of those who are less fortunate and celebrate what she has every day. 

“Realising the hunger pangs I feel for a few hours is what some people experience all year was a game-changer," Ali, who has been fasting since 12 years of age, pointed out.

All these efforts have resulted in a deep feeling of gratitude, which is a state of mind linked to greater happiness by psychologists globally. 

She also stressed the need for starting positive mental health care early which helps children in fasting during the holy month.

"Starting with an incremental hour each year helped by taking the pressure off and instead building excitement and self-esteem. I remember feeling good about challenging myself, about being able to join my parents and older siblings. I liked being given the choice to do it; there were no expectations and no guilt if I failed, and that helped boost my sense of self and mental state as a whole," she added.

Journaling and charity

25-year-old Sharjah resident Annie Batool said Ramadan helps her in reducing anxiety. While it may be due to the reduced intake of sugared coffees and sugary foods, she is able to find herself thankful for all the privileges she has during the holy month.

"Slowing down during the month helps me feel like I’m undergoing a reset mentally, an overhaul of sorts. A way of stopping and smelling the rooh afza or Vimto, if you prefer," she said. 

Batool also recounted her struggles, with the most challenging being a disrupted sleep schedule. It affected her mood and agility, with caffeine withdrawals becoming brutal. 

During the holy month, she turned to journaling, noting down every aspect of her fasting journey with the aim of monitoring how she has grown as a person. 

"How much forgiveness had I practised, how much kindness and giving? I recorded my good deeds so I could feel motivated to be my best self. That coupled with charity was therapeutic for me," she said. 

Self-care, spiritual connections and precautions

According to Nashwa Tantawy, counselling psychologist at Open Minds Centre, while fasting can be challenging, it helps in increasing a sense of reward, achievement, pride and ability to control. It has several positive benefits on mental capacity due to the physical changes in the body during fasting.

Furthermore, spirituality is a positive impact of fasting on well-being with various supporting factors in dealing with stressors in life. It also gives a sense of acceptance, peace, hopefulness, purpose and forgiveness. 

"During Ramadan, several practices can emphasise this impact, including fasting, praying, charity and family connections. This is also a chance to reduce unhealthy habits such as smoking and drinking," the psychologist added. 

However, Tantawy has cautioned people with psychological and mental conditions as they can find fasting challenging. There are people who experience eating disorders and mood disorders such as depression.

In such cases, changes in eating routine and sleep schedule can be a trigger to worsen the case. Therefore, she recommended a proper assessment of the conditions by a professional. 

“Adjusting to a new routine is not easy for the human body and mind. It takes time to regulate physical and mental activities after a major disruption in the daily routine," she underlined. 

Tantawy suggested various steps to protect mental health to fasting people. From taking care of the body through dialectical behavioural therapy to focusing on spiritual connections, these ways can have a positive impact on one's mental health.

"There is a skill set called the Please Skills. It is based on the concept that taking good care of your body decreases emotional vulnerability and increases willpower and a sense of control. Also, focus on the spiritual connection, the sense of giving and the connection with family and friends, which have a positive impact on our mental health," the expert said. 

In conclusion, she stressed that it is a matter of perception. If people perceive the holy month as an opportunity for a new start, they will experience it as an enhancement of resilience and relationship with themselves, others and God.

"It will make a big difference to the positive emotional, psychological and physical benefits of this wonderful experience," she added.

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