Fasting in the month of Ramadan can have many advantages for some individuals living with various psychological disorders such as mild degrees of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. According to Dr Suhaila Ghuloum, Senior Consultant Psychiatrist at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), fasting, and the spiritual and social practices that accompany it, can help some individuals cope with certain stresses in daily life.
6% of the world’s population suffer from depression; this is approximately 350 million people of all ages according to the World Health Organization. Research studies revealed that fasting can help promote self-restraint and also supports anger management in individuals who may be more inclined towards being easily angered.
Fasting and associated acts of worship, such as Taraweeh (the evening prayer usually performed in a congregation with other worshipers) during the holy month of Ramadan helps to promote communication and social interaction among people. ‘Qiyam al-Layl’ (the special late evening voluntary prayers) in Ramadan can also contribute to peace of mind and thereby curb frustrations associated with the burdens and pressures of life.
There are studies showing that in addition to the established physical health benefits of fasting, there are also benefits on mental health. Fasting increases the release of some endorphins, these are the body’s naturally released ‘happiness’ hormones, the deficiency of which is linked with depression and anxiety disorders. Patients with mild to moderate degrees of depression participating in such activities tend to get removed out of their secluded lifestyle and think more positively of themselves and others around them.
During the first few days of fasting, the body starts to release these ‘feel good’ hormones. As a result, individuals may find that their ‘mood’ improves. Sleep is known to improve in quality during fasting, though cultural practices of staying up late may partially interfere with that.
According to Dr Ghuloum, international research has revealed that fasting had a great positive impact on individuals undergoing therapeutic treatment for addiction and substance abuse, as this act of worship promotes positive behavioural change in these individuals. In fact, there has been some research suggesting that spiritual practices result in structural changes to the brain in areas associated with depression, thereby offering a protective element.
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