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Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Research indicates that fasting combined with the spirit of philanthropy is empowering, calming and works well to improve mental health and well-being.

‘Ramadan is not just about abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset but also cutting back on hectic social routines, looking inwards, focussing on charity and prayer,’ says Dr Muhammad S. Tahir, Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist, Director and Chairman of Dubai’s American Wellness Centre.

Dr Muhammad S. Tahir

Such activities naturally release endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones that vastly improve an individual’s mental health, says the doctor who is a founding member of Emirates Child Mental Health Society UAE.

He elaborates on how fasting during Ramadan could help an individual declutter the mind and help reset one’s system for the rest of the year:

Tips for a more meaningful fasting process

Make it a point to inculcate acts of charity while you fast during Ramadan. Charity or Zakat is an important pillar of Islam. Studies have shown that acts of charity, however small, help lessen feelings of depression and anxiety, improve self-esteem and general mood of an individual and help stimulate a person mentally thereby helping them to focus and have a sense of purpose.

Practise meditation and deep breathing

While fasting, it helps to allocate some time to meditation and deep breathing. This can help people be calmer, feel more centred, and take the mind off food and drinks. It can also help the person be non-complaining and more patient.

Focus on group activities to be more tolerant and accommodative

Focus on community activities. During Ramadan, seek the company of extended family and community members. Group or collective activities such as participating in acts of philanthropy at community kitchens or reading or praying together, teaches an individual the important lesson of tolerance and empathy. Collective action always has an empowering impact on one’s personality.

The art of resilience

An important survival skill, it can be honed to perfection during this month. Keeping away from overt physical stimulation, parties, loud music, and not buckling under peer pressure can help people, especially youngsters, bring a sense of order to their lives, pare it down to the basics and understand how little is required to keep one centred.

In fact, this is also a good time to detox from technology and free up the social calendar so that an individual realises his own levels of resilience.

Tune in to the inner self for a better insight into one’s own temperament

Focus on self-reflection while fasting. This provides a person the luxury of pondering on one’s own life, mistakes and right decisions you made and the lessons you learnt from such experiences. Reflection and retrospection are two important processes in self-improvement. The slower pace of life with less work hours helps a person focus on the self and provides opportunities for working on being a better human being.

Holistic transformation

Elaborating on how fasting triggers holistic transformation within an individual, Bushra Khan, a transformation coach and holistic psychotherapist from Wellth Clinic, Dubai, says: ‘Fasting triggers the release of orexin in our body. Orexin is a chemical that regulates wakefulness allowing you to feel more awake.

Bushra Khan

Higher levels of orexin makes one feel uplifted, in a better mood, which in turn increases your dopamine (feel-good hormone) levels.

‘Another benefit of fasting is the that it increases the production of endorphins which help relieve pain, reduce stress and improve one’s sense of well-being. Therefore, when people observe fasts, they experience a lift in their mood and experience an overall feeling of positivity.’

Get the best from fasting

When you wake up in the morning say positive affirmations such as ‘I am so happy and grateful, I am safe...’ Affirmations help build positive pathways in the mind by disrupting a negative pattern of thinking. This helps a person be open to learning new skills and feeling energised and enthusiastic.

Focus on your inner being

Try and hold a dialogue with yourself. Giving up on excessive socialising, technology and other distractions help a person detox physically and mentally. Seeking answers to one’s own requirements and queries is the best way to shed negativity.

Perform one random act of kindness

Looking out for others and focussing on their needs is the best way to distract oneself from physical needs such as for food and drink. Once you focus on what another person might need and direct your energy towards this, it gives one a deep sense of fulfilment that empowers and energises from within.

Inculcate meditative practices

This will not only help release positive and calming hormones but also help mitigate any stress that the body might be feeling from food, water or sleep deprivation.

Start a gratitude journal

Every day, write at least 3 things you are grateful for. Once again focussing on counting one’s blessings and achievements can help you appreciate your situation in life.