The Impact of Spirituality on Your Health and Well-Being

By Matt Narrett, M.D., Chief Medical Officer
October 7, 2021
woman meditating

Spirituality, which can represent a significant domain of one’s well-being, is central to the beliefs and lifestyle choices of over 80% of Americans.

Although it can act as a determinant of our health, spirituality is often overlooked in health care discussions and decisions. 

Spirituality can help provide an optimistic outlook on life

While spirituality is not the same as religion—the latter adds relation to a higher power—research demonstrates that both concepts foster tolerance to uncertainty and advance coping skills, resourcefulness, and optimism.

One general finding from these studies is that people who regularly practice some form of spirituality tend to live longer, have a better quality of life, and maintain an optimistic outlook when dealing with serious illness.

Cancer patients with a strong spiritual foundation tend to have less pain and are better able to enjoy their lives. Heart transplant patients who participated in religious activities adhered more closely to treatment and improved physical functioning within one year after surgery.

Connection between stress management and spirituality

Recently, researchers analyzed people’s reactions to stressful events over the past 40 years. In these studies, spirituality was shown to help in times of crisis, as spiritual practices spur relaxation and calmness.

Additional studies show that religion and spirituality had an important role in relieving suffering and minimizing consequences of social isolation, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse.

As we all adjust to the ever-changing dynamics of the pandemic, the need to manage stress has never been greater. Not only have virtual resources kept people emotionally connected to their families and to the things they are grateful for, but they also continue to support religious and spiritual practices, like church services and meditation sessions. These resources have comforted people who lost loved ones to COVID-19, especially as they navigate grief in the absence of traditional rituals such as funerals.

Seek out a spiritual support system

Research findings highlight the importance of discussing spirituality in the context of well-being. Spiritual strength helps us focus on hope, gratitude, and forgiveness, and gives us the ability to find positive meaning in stressful life events. Conversely, spiritual distress is associated with isolation, negativity, and a lack of meaning or purpose—and potentially, overall poor health.

Two simple questions that are often used during spiritual screenings are:

        1. How important is religion or spirituality in your coping?

       2. How well are these resources working for you at this time?

If you feel disconnected and isolated from your spiritual center because of quarantining, it might be time to reach out to family, friends, and community resources to reconnect.

While physicians have not consistently engaged in discussions about spiritual well-being, there is a growing appreciation of the role it plays in our lives. Please don’t hesitate to share your spiritual practices; and if your doctor asks you about religion or spirituality, it’s not just to make conversation. It’s because supporting your spiritual health is fundamental to supporting you through illness, grief, or emotional and physical challenges of any kind.

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