Maintaining a spiritual connection is an integral component to developing good mental health habits and negotiating conflicts between ourselves and others. Current research suggests that the health advantages of spirituality are long term: one recent study found that women who went to any kind of religious service regularly had a 33% lower chance of dying within 16 years than their secular peers. However, spirituality also plays a role in overcoming short-term and ongoing health issues, including mental health concerns, as they emerge in our everyday lives.
Confronting Our Stressors
Though they may seem obvious at first, it’s important to address the root causes of your daily stressors, so that you can better understand why you experience stress. For instance, many individuals become angry during cycles, or phases, of high stress, such as when facing a big deadline or travelling constantly for work. During these moments, playing and talking to God plays a fundamental role in helping persons of faith heal from stress and panic. According to many psychiatrists, spirituality is actually a form of preventative medicine, because it helps foster good mental health habits to cope with the onset of negative emotions.
Stressing A Community Focus
Researchers hypothesize that a central reason spirituality positively impacts mental health is because of the community-building emphasis held within churches and other religious services. Going to church provides parishioners with support from their community and affirms a sense of belonging. In fact, one study found that a third of people who go to church every week were ‘extremely satisfied’ with their lives. Of course, not all churchgoers are ‘extremely satisfied’ with their lives and many do, in fact, experience ongoing mental health issues like stress. However, the Church is a form of communal and emotional support for those looking to heal from their distress.
At its most basic level, mindfulness is the practice of staying in touch with your spiritual wellness during everyday life. Though mindfulness has Eastern origins, many Christians and other religious denominations use mindfulness as a tool to talk to God and practice humility. Clinical approaches to treating anxiety with mindfulness are called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) therapy. MSBR therapy is highly effective: in fact, many studies indicate that MSBR is on par with anti-anxiety medication in lowering levels of stress. To begin, use your five senses to focus on the present moment instead of the future stressors. Staying focused on your breathing is also a good way to be mindful and steady yourself during times of high stress.
Overcoming mental health issues takes time and contemplation, but spirituality plays a critical role in helping patients understand the root origins of their symptomatic distress. Increasingly, individuals with mental health disorders are turning to their parishes, and in fact their larger communities, for guidance towards a path of healing and reconciliation.
By Lucy Samuels