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15 Ways Muslims Can Feel Just A Little More OK Right Now

When the going gets tough, the tough get into self-care.

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If you're a Muslim in the US or abroad, you might be dealing with intense stress and anxiety right now.

Kameelah Rashad, MS, MRP, MeD, Bisma Anwar, licensed mental health counselor

Anticipatory anxiety — where you're dealing with the intense stress of not just what has happened and what is happening now, but also what may happen in the future — is particularly psychologically taxing, Philadelphia-based mental health professional and founder of Muslim Wellness Foundation Kameelah Rashad (pictured above left) tells BuzzFeed Health. "Your mind is going, 'well, what if this [travel ban] extends to more than seven countries? What if I travel abroad and can't return?...' and this sends people into a tailspin that depletes emotional resources," Rashad says.

That's why it's crucial to commit to taking care of yourself. But what does it mean to practice self-care, especially when it can feel like any and all spare time should be spent protesting and resisting? BuzzFeed Health talked to Rashad and NYC-based licensed mental health counselor Bisma Anwar (pictured above right) for their best advice on what Muslims in the U.S. can do to take care of themselves right now.

And by the way, Anwar and Rashad were guests on episode 13 of BuzzFeed's podcast See Something Say Something where they discussed self-care for Muslims. Listen to their episode here.

1. Know that in times of crisis self-care is actually self-preservation.

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It might feel selfish to need to take me time in the midst of a crisis, when it feels like everyone is waiting for the next terrible thing to happen. Anwar tells BuzzFeed Health that it's actually in times like this that self-care is most important and should actually be thought of as self-preservation, something you must do to be able to keep living your life and meeting its obligations like work, school, relationships, and your social life.

2. First things first: Are you eating, sleeping, and drinking water?

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Self-care can definitely mean Netflix, ice cream, a facial, and bonding with your dog. But before you can tend to your emotional needs, you really just need to make sure you're physically OK, Rashad says. Like, when was the last time you ate? Have you been drinking water? How has your sleep been lately? Keeping yourself well not solely for the purposes of activism but also because you need to live your life — go to work, study, run errands, commute, babysit, whatever — will enable you to meet those next-level emotional needs that require tending to.

Rashad says you can really only function in a state of heightened anxiety for so long. That thing where you chug coffee and run on adrenaline because you have to attend back-to-back protests and then study for your test and then get through a shift at work — you can do that for maybe 48 hours. After that your body will demand rest, food, water, and just general TLC. And your mind will, too.

"There's a point at which you cognitively hit a wall. You actually have diminished effectiveness," if you don't find time to rest and, at least temporarily, take a break from being so engaged, says Rashad.

3. Maintaining your routine is really important.

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When things get really dark you might feel like you want to hide from life — take a day off from work, maybe not even get out of bed. But Rashad says that in times of total instability and anxiety when what's happening around you makes you feel scared and powerless, one of the best ways to cope is to actually live your everyday life the way you always have.

"Sticking to the normal routine allows you feel a sense of agency," she says.

4. And if that sounds like a ridiculously tall order right now, just take one tiny step.

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"If you can't get over that moment of not wanting to face the world, just take a shower. Don't commit to going to work and being productive. Just take a shower. Then get dressed," Rashad says. Basically just commit to one small thing at a time and keep trying to build on each one. Breaking it down into more do-able chunks might help you get out the door and into your daily life.

5. Think of self-care as an ongoing practice (rather than as a specific activity).

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OK, so once you've started to pay attention to your physical needs, you can start to think about taking care of your mind and spirit, too.

Anwar says when mental health professionals talk about self-care, they're referring to the ongoing practice of checking in with yourself to keep track of how you're feeling both physically and mentally in order to better identify your emotions, so that you can then cope with them, because it's not always obvious how we feel or why we feel it, says Anwar: "Emotions fester; things that have been happening can build up over time...it can get to the point where you have an overall feeling of sadness and you're not sure why."

It's only when you really know what's going on with yourself emotionally that you come up with things that will legit make you feel better, she says. "We need to check in with ourselves and see how we’re doing as opposed to numbing ourselves to our emotional experience."

6. If you're like "lol what are feelings," don't worry, there's a simple mindfulness technique you can use.

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Anwar says that the best way to start to become more aware of your feelings and where they come from is simply to practice being more present and thoughtful in your everyday life.

"Take a little bit of time out of your day or a few times a week to just focus on your present moment," she says. You can do it while walking around (notice the people you see and the buildings or trees or benches you pass), while you eat (put away any distractions and eat slowly, savoring the flavor and texture), or even while working out (concentrate on your breathing and how your body feels). You can even just sit there and breathe deeply for a little while. The point is to just practice letting your mind be quiet and present; notice the thoughts and feelings that are drifting in and out. This will help you get used to tuning into yourself and your emotions.

7. Study the history of protest movements.

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Learning about how communities practiced resistance as well as how people continued living their lives during times of threat, deep uncertainty, and fear might provide some kind of blueprint for coping. "It will really help inform you and reduce anxiety due to uncertainty," Rashad says, to learn how, for example, black activists fought for rights in the US in the 1960's and beyond.

Rashad points to Ava DuVernay's Selma, specifically to a scene in which Martin Luther King, Jr. and his fellow activists are eating food, laughing, just enjoying each other's company. She says this scene is crucial because it's a great reminder that taking time to relax and connect with your community is as important to your movement as protest and advocacy.

You can listen to Rashad talk about the importance of studying the history of protest movements on BuzzFeed's podcast See Something Say Something here.

8. Be proactive about keeping your social media space as safe as possible.

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First of all, consider just seriously limiting your social media exposure, says Anwar. Choose a time you'll look at Facebook or Twitter once a day and then scroll mindfully — don't necessarily follow every single link or read every article.

And also try to be careful with your online interactions. "I would remind people that their online interactions with people are always optional," says Rashad. If someone is posting stuff you find offensive, not only do you not have to engage (in fact, you probably should not if you anticipate the conversation becoming combative and antagonistic, says Rashad) you can also mute, unfollow, or block them.

When you feel the urge to engage with someone online ask yourself why you feel compelled to do so in this particular moment, says Rashad. If you feel compelled because you think you have a chance at having a thoughtful back-and-forth with someone who seems open to an alternative point of view, you can try to engage. But you don't have to. "It's doesn't mean that you're retreating or backing down down or that you can't hold your own. It's about whether you have the bandwidth to do this right now," Rashad says.

9. Spend time with other Muslims.

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"Part of what's so difficult about being part of any marginalized group is that everything around you serves to undermine your sense of what's real...the mind starts to think 'maybe I just imagined that,'" says Rashad. An affinity space provides an opportunity to check in, to commiserate with others, and realize that you're not overreacting or blowing things out of proportion. "You will draw strength from people experiencing similar circumstances," Rashad says.

This is especially important for anyone whose school or workplace is particularly hostile or where microagressions against Muslims and other marginalized groups are the norm, says Rashad. If you're a student, be on the lookout for a Muslim student group and/or campus groups where students of the same background gather and connect. If you're not a student, consider creating a get together where you and your Muslim friends hang out and share.

"Even if it's a 15- or 20-minute check-in, a time where you can feel that you're in an environment that will explicitly or subtly acknowledge you," Rashad says. "Connection with other Muslims is a huge part of self care. I can't emphasize that enough."

10. Also, start a group chat.

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Since we spend so much time on our phones, it makes sense to use them to connect with your community, especially if circumstances prevent you from meeting up with fellow Muslims IRL.

Whether you use it to express your sadness or fear to other people who get it, trade funny memes, or ask each other for advice on how to handle a particular situation or hardship, staying connected online or via text can provide some of the connection and comfort of an IRL safe space.

11. If things get really bad, consider getting extra (professional) help.

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The bad news and the anxiety about what's to come can become intrusive and disruptive. "It's something that has infiltrated into our everyday functioning. We wake up with this. We go to sleep with this. We spend our day with this," Anwar says.

If things get so bad (both externally and internally) that all the self-care strategies in the world aren't enough to make you feel even semi-OK, it might be time to look into going to therapy, says Rashad. If you start to get so distracted by your feelings and stress that you're not able to concentrate on tasks or are having trouble getting out of bed, it's definitely time to seek a pro. And you can also be on the lookout for some physical symptoms that are clues that your stress is getting out of hand, like:

• Headaches or migraines

• Stomachaches

• Changes in appetite (not eating enough or eating way too much)

• Changes in sleep routine (sleeping all the time or not being able to sleep)

• Lethargy, lack of energy

12. Definitely shop around for the right therapist.

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Think of finding a therapist the way you'd think of your next big tech purchase, says Rashad. You'd do your research — ask friends who have the iPhone 7 what they think of it, read reviews online, maybe read Consumer Reports. Finding a therapist that's the right fit will require roughly this level of research.

"The greatest predictor of success in therapy is the relationship" between the therapist and patient, says Rashad. You can and should ask prospective therapists about their backgrounds, their training experience, their approach to therapy, even their theoretical orientation. You can ask them if they feel equipped and open to talking about the issues that are important to you.

Anwar recommends seeking out a Muslim therapist if possible. But even if that's not a possibility, you can definitely make it clear that you need someone who feels equipped and open to talking about issues that pertain to your religion, ethnicity, race, gender, etc. And you should do this pretty much as soon as you can so you don't spend time (and money) seeing someone who ultimately isn't a fit. Anwar says it's as simple as saying "I really feel like my religious identity is a big part of who I am. I know you don't have the same religion but can you give me what I need?"

13. When it comes to activism, know your limits.

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Participating in a resistance movement without burning out is a balancing act, says Anwar. Try to limit yourself — maybe you don't have to go to every single protest or demonstration.

Remember, self-care is not about indulging yourself, it's about staying well for your own life and for your future activism. "I tell people to think of self-care as caring for yourself so you can continue to care for others," says Rashad.

14. Find ways to be an activist that aren't so labor-intensive.

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Going to protests, calling reps, and phonebanking can be really energizing but also require a level of engagement and focus that can be pretty draining. Rashad says that there are plenty of other ways to keep contributing.

You can make or bring food and water to protestors or volunteers, make signs for events, maybe volunteer to provide rides or even do clerical work for organizations that need it. This way you can feel like you're still taking part in resistance without totally depleting yourself.

15. Identify your well: the place from where you draw joy, strength, or relaxation. And go there often.

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Rashad says to ask yourself "Where do I go to feel nourished and affirmed? To feel understood?" Maybe it's a friend who always makes you laugh, someone who texts you loving things, a conversation with your mom, being in nature, meditation, prayer, or even watching a video of your adorable baby cousin. Just make sure you know what your well is and that you go there often, using it as a chance to take a moment to breathe and gather your strength.

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