Spiritual well-being may improve health and quality of life, increase positive feelings like hope and optimism, and even help a patient live longer.
What is Spirituality?
For thousands of years, spiritual practices have been an integral part of worldwide healing traditions. When discussing spirituality, frequently the concepts of religion and prayer come to mind. Not all individuals take part in an organized religion or believe in prayer, but that doesn’t mean that spirituality is not, or shouldn’t be, a part of their life and self-care. So for our purposes, spirituality is simply defined as the unique connection between an individual and what they define as the source of healing. A spiritual practice may promote meaning or purpose in your life, a sense of connectedness, your personal values, religion-specific beliefs, or the belief that being human means more than just your physical existence on earth. There are countless ways that the practice of spirituality may enter your daily life. Examples include spending time in nature, being of service to others, attending a religious service or prayer group, reading poetry or inspirational literature, communicating with ancestors, meditating, or choosing to practice harmlessness.
Each person has his or her own spiritual journey—the type of journey one practices is less important than the fact that it works for you and allows you to continue growing.
Spirituality: The Evidence
Why should you consider nurturing your spiritual side as part of your healing journey? Consider reviews of the evidence that examine the association between religion, spirituality, health outcomes, and quality of life and find that religious involvement/spirituality are associated with:
- Increased lifespan
- Reduced mortality
- Less cardiovascular disease and hypertension; lower blood pressure
- Increased health promoting behaviors
- Fewer hospitalizations and shorter hospital stays
- Less or reduced depression and anxiety
- Improved coping when faced with illness
- Higher health related quality of life
Can we Explain how Spirituality Works to Impact Health?
How might spirituality impact health outcomes? Science can’t provide a definitive answer. What we do know is that religion and spirituality tend to involve social connectedness and community, which are beneficial to our health. Those who are religiously involved also practice health promoting behaviors like exercise, healthy eating, and less substance use. Spiritual practices such as meditation, journaling, and prayer can also illicit positive emotions, the results of which can have positive physiological impacts, such as decreased blood pressure and heart rate. However, there are health benefits to religion and spirituality that extend beyond what is known. Believing that a connection between spirituality and healing exists is more important than understanding why the connection exists.
Spirituality: A Reflection
What practices do I engage in that provide me with purpose or meaning?
What practices do I engage in that make me feel connected to others? To the earth?
What practices do I engage in that reflect my values?
How do these practices impact my feelings and beliefs? How do my feelings and beliefs impact these practices?
How can I continue to nurture my spiritual work throughout my healing? And what do I need from others (including my healthcare providers) to support me in this?