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My Feelings are Overwhelming Me; What do I do?

Difficulties in life are inevitable, and so are the emotions we experience as a result. As we encounter struggles as Muslims, we know to trust in Allahﷻ and that He tests whom he loves. However, it’s not uncommon for our emotions to overwhelm us. In the heat and confusion of tough moments, we may be tossed into the waves of anxiety, anger, or grief, leaving us feeling lost and uncertain about how to move forward. In this article, we’ll explore three strategies for navigating overwhelming feelings effectively.

1. Recognize Your Feelings.

Acknowledging and accepting our emotions is the first step towards managing them effectively. Start by becoming aware of your feelings. One practical way to identify and explore your emotions is by using a feelings wheel. This tool can help you pinpoint the underlying emotions driving your feelings and provide insights into their root causes. Follow these steps:

      1. Start at the center of the feelings wheel, and keep identifying the feeling that most closely resonates with you as you move outward.
      2. Ask yourself: where in my body do I feel these feelings? Is the feeling good, neutral, or bad? What does the feeling make me want to do? Scream? Rest? Talk to someone or be alone? Does it make me feel numb? 
      3. Simply sit with the feeling and breathe through it. Allow it to be there. The goal is to observe and name your feelings so that you are aware of them, which allows you time to process rather than automatically react to or judge what you are experiencing (this is what can sometimes cause overwhelm).  

    A circular chart with different colored words Description automatically generated with medium confidence

    2. Dig Deep; Recognize where these feelings are coming from. 

    Once you’ve identified your feelings and allowed them to be there, take time to understand their origins. Strong emotions can come from a place where similar emotions have been building up for a while – from an unmet need, an automatic response you learned as a child, or a pattern of thoughts in your mind. Or they can just be products of circumstance, hormones, or our stage of life. Explore all possibilities, taking the time and space to properly and thoroughly self-reflect. Here are some ways to dig into the source(s) of your feelings:

        • Go for a walk alone. Sometimes movement can help the mind settle, making it easier to sort out where your feelings are coming from.
        • Talk it out – alone, or with someone who is a good listener.
        • Jot down some of the thoughts that might be related to the feeling. They don’t have to make perfect sense. Just follow the lead of your emotions. Sometimes they may take you to the past to explore something that needs to be processed or worked through, or they may take you towards what you need to do next to make things better. Allow your emotions to be the impetus, and your writing will take you where you need to go. You can also journal using the following questions: Is there a specific event or circumstance triggering these feelings? What are your emotions trying to tell you or compelling you to do? What do you feel like you need? 

      Sometimes, simply observing, naming, and reflecting on a feeling can give us a lot of insight and clarity about what we need or want. Once we identify the source of the emotion and the message it’s trying to send us, and we allow it some space, we can learn to redirect that strong emotion in healthy ways.

      3. Regulate your feelings in healthy ways 

      Once you’re able to identify your feelings and their potential sources using the strategies above, try different strategies to regulate your emotions and keep them from overwhelming you. 

          • Engage in activities that nourish our body and mind, such as reading or regular exercise. Spending time in nature is particularly effective in grounding us and providing a sense of inner calm. Sitting near a tree, taking a walk, or listening to the sound of a creek or the falling of rain can all be so helpful to settle your mind, body, and heart. In fact, this specific hadith acknowledges the significant role of getting grounded when facing overwhelming emotions: 

        “Anger is an ember in the heart of the son of Adām. Do you not see the redness of the eyes and bulging of the jugular vein [when a person becomes enraged]. Anyone who [goes into a fit of rage like this] should cling to the ground [until the anger subsides].” (Sunan al-Tirmidhī)

            • Avoid anything in excess. Soothing and nourishing distraction, like watching an old movie that gives you comfort, is not necessarily a bad thing, but excessive avoidance will likely provide only temporary relief before feeling worse in the long run. 
            • You don’t have to be alone. We know from our tradition that being with the jama’ah or “collective” brings blessings to a person’s life, and difficult times are no exception. Spend time with people who you love, and who understand you and can be there for you. Bake or cook together, play sports, go outdoors, or pray and read the Quran together. 
            • Remember, getting help is not a sign of weakness – it is a proactive step towards healing and growth. Just like we would go to the doctor for a physical ailment, it’s an obligation upon us to care for our minds, too, so make this your attention as you work through your feelings. For self-help, see our resources on resilience and well-being, and visit our therapy guide for answers to common questions about therapy and what to expect.
            • Turn to Allahﷻ. This looks different for each person: it could be getting up to pray at night, making more personal duas, or surrounding yourself with friends who will support you and remind you to trust in Allahﷻ as you navigate your circumstances. Remind yourself that Allahﷻ is As-Salam and Al-Qadir; the Giver of Peace and the All-Capable. He tests every one of us and compensates each and every one of us for our hardships. Trials like these are part of Allahﷻ‘s plan. He promises to never test us beyond what we can handle, and has promised us that with every hardship comes ease. 

          The goal of regulating is not to get rid of your strong feelings but to help you channel them in healthy ways and act from a part of yourself that is centered and calm. 

          Considering therapy? Click here for The FYI’s Therapy Guide. 

          In Closing

          Sometimes, in the midst of overwhelming emotion, you might feel that what you are experiencing is just too much to handle, that you absolutely feel broken, and that you can’t pull through this test. When feeling this way, it can be hard to reconcile those feelings with the belief that Allahﷻ doesn’t test us with more than we can bear. In these moments, know that the promise of Allahﷻ doesn’t mean you won’t break. You can absolutely break, and it’s okay – but you’ll be able to pull through, and put those broken pieces together into something better. You won’t succumb, and He won’t give you something that He thinks you would not be able to pull yourself out of. 

          “Be mindful of Allah, and Allah will protect you. Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you. If you ask, ask of Allah; if you seek help, seek help from Allah. Know that if the nation were to gather together to benefit you with something, they would not benefit you with anything except that which Allah has already recorded for you… The pens have been lifted, and the pages have dried.” (Sahih Muslim)

          Life is hard sometimes, and we will encounter hardship, struggle, and experience intense emotional reactions. In these moments, we are reminded that Allahﷻ does not burden a soul beyond what it can bear, and every trial is an opportunity for personal and spiritual growth. By recognizing the sources of our feelings, taking proactive steps to address them, and seeking support when needed, we can effectively manage our overwhelming emotions.

          The article was compiled by Hana Mahyoub and Huda Khwaja. It was edited by Issra Killawi, Duaa Haggag, LPC, and Dr. Madiha Tahseen, PhD. 

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          Zakat eligibility of The FYI

          The Family & Youth Institute, or The FYI, is a well-known Muslim organization in the United States. It works to promote mental health and wellness by strengthening and empowering individuals, families, and communities through research and education. It has been working for many years to bring Islamic perspectives to understanding and promoting mental health in our communities.

          It is dedicated to serving and supporting Muslims – safeguarding our deen, our families, and our future generations. Therefore, the work of The FYI comes in the category of ‘fi sabeelillah’ or the Path of Allah, within the eight categories where Zakat money can be used.

          Zakah expenditures are only for the poor and for the needy and for those employed for it and for bringing hearts together [for Islam] and for freeing captives [or slaves] and for those in debt and for the cause of Allah, and for the [stranded] traveler – an obligation [imposed] by Allah, And Allah, is Knowing and Wise.”
          (Al-Tawbah 9:60)

          According to scholars who widen the meaning of fee sabeelillah to include any activities that promote Islamic growth, The FYI is indeed eligible to receive part of the Zakat funds for its programs and services. I urge Muslims in America to support this organization through their donations, general charity, and through their Zakat. I ask Allah swt to strengthen and guide The FYI to continue its good work in supporting Muslims.

          Shaikh Ali Suleiman Ali, PhD

          About Shaikh Ali

          Sh. Ali Suleiman Ali was born in Ghana where he spent his childhood studying with various Muslim scholars. He then moved to Saudi Arabia and enrolled in the Islamic University of Madina.  He graduated with a degree in both Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dr. Ali went on to complete his Ph.D. in Islamic Studies at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

          Sh. Ali serves on the Advisory Council of The Family & Youth Institute. He is the Senior Imam and Director of the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton, Michigan. Additionally, he serves as the Director of Muslim Family Services in Detroit and is a council member of the Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA). He is also a member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and the Association of Muslim Jurists of America (AMJA).