By Wasim Kakroo
Allah says in Qur’an:
“Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop self-restraint” (Qur’ān 2:183).
The first instruction by Allah to Muslims in Qur’an about fasting conveys the fundamental wisdom behind why we should fast and that is to achieve a sense of self-restraint, which in other terms means self-control.
Self-control is a basic tenet in many faiths, and it's also one of the most important predictors of anybody’s long-term success. Most people find it difficult to leave a single meal even occasionally, much less for a month. However, studies show that self-control (e.g., practiced through fasting) has long-term implications. One study has shown that when young children were given an appealing toy or piece of candy and told not to touch it until sometime later, those who showed the most self-control by waiting for the prescribed time were found to have a better set of executive functioning skills 14 years later. Executive functioning is a term used to describe higher order cognitive abilities such as problem solving, good decision-making, and the ability to switch from one task to another. We as psychologists believe that self-control, one facet of emotional intelligence, plays a larger role in long-term life success of an individual than even IQ.
What role does self-control have in achieving success in life?
Self-control necessitates willpower and tenacity, which are essential factors in completing tasks and goals when they get difficult rather than leaving the task midway. Fasting, which by its very nature challenges people to abstain from eating food for extended periods of time, is one of the most powerful exercises in willpower and steadfastness, which together translate to self-control. And self-control is essential for success.
Weight loss, cell regeneration, slower ageing, and prevention of chronic diseases like diabetes and Alzheimer's are all well-known and investigated physical benefits of fasting. However, common people know less about psychological benefits of fasting, despite research pointing to a variety of beneficial effects on mental health, including:
1. Improved mood — people reported feeling more accomplished, rewarded, proud, and in control after fasting for many hours, indicating a boost in self-esteem and sense of success. These effects are caused in part by a raise in specific hormones while fasting, as well as the pleasure felt after completing a difficult activity, which serves as a powerful feel-good agent on the brain.
2. Lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression — fasting leads to production of brain proteins that imitate the actions of anti-depressant drugs, lowering stress, anxiety, and depression levels. Fasting has been suggested by professionals as a treatment for depression and other mood disorders due to the significant improvement in anxiety that was seen in those patients who fasted.
3. Enhanced vigilance and alertness — contrary to popular belief, fasting does not promote irritability or tiredness. Instead, people who fast appear to benefit from improved vigilance and alertness. Food is converted into glucose by our bodies, and too much of it causes sluggishness and tiredness, which most individuals experience shortly after eating. Fasting helps the body regulate glucose levels, which reduces sluggishness and increases alertness.
4. Improved memory — the key to a healthier memory is better attention. Remembering where you put your keys is more a function of how well you pay attention in the first place than of how forgetful you are. As a result, fasting may be used to treat inattention. Fasting improves memory by regenerating cells in the hippocampus, the brain's memory centre, and so acts as a "spring cleaning" for the brain, resulting in improved cognitive functioning.
5. Improved sleep quality - People who fast notice a considerable improvement in the quality of their sleep, which obviously is linked to improvement in mood. In psychology, sleep is often referred to as a "wonder medicine." Many elements of psychological and physical health improve for people who sleep the optimum number of hours daily.
For many people, fasting is difficult – denying ourselves of food is one of the most difficult things we can do. Fasting, on the other hand, is commanded by Islam with a clear indication of the benefits we may obtain – self-control, which ultimately leads to greater awareness of God and thus we are benefitted both psychologically as well as spiritually.
- The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar). He can be reached at 8825067196
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