While they coincide, spirituality and religion are not the same. However, when paired with counseling or therapy, spirituality and religion can be helpful in playing a role toward providing hope and support for our mental health.
We do not need to hold a formal religious belief in order to participate in religious practices, belong to an established faith tradition, or experience spirituality. It is important that we all have a place or community that makes us feel safe and secure, treated with dignity and respect, and reassures our sense of belonging, value, and trustworthiness. When we struggle with mental health issues, spirituality and religion can offer us the chance to make sense of our lives, illness, and loss. Having spiritual well-being provides us with the permission and support to develop our relationships with ourselves and something more, whether that is God, Gaia, Spirit, or Mother Nature.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is the meaning and purpose we look for in our everyday lives. It gives us a sense of our worth and value. Spiritual practices may include belonging to a community of faith, participating in mediation and prayer, practicing mindfulness and gratitude, living by a set of rules for how to treat others, observing nature, and focusing on values such as honesty, kindness, hope, and compassion. Anyone can be spiritual without being religious.
What is Religion?
Religion links to a particular faith, tradition, or institution that often believes in a god or gods and shares community values and beliefs of a cultural nature. Religion can be interpretive, meaning that shared core beliefs may align with values that differ for each individual. Religious beliefs may call on or encourage us to pray and worship at a particular time and place or in private. Some may inspire opportunities to explore spiritual concerns, deepening of faith, and forgiveness.
The Mental Health Benefits of Spiritual Well-Being
Spirituality and religion benefit our lives and our well-being by helping us manage stressful life events and situations. Further, spiritual well-being can help us develop inner strength, peace, hope, and optimism in our daily lives, especially when we face a mental health struggle. When we cope with hardship, our spiritual beliefs and practices, along with our community of support, become mechanisms that aid in our resiliency and lead us to breakthroughs in our recovery. Studies conducted by researchers have focused on the impact of spiritual well-being and mental health, demonstrating that spiritual beliefs and practices benefit people across the world.
When we have a spiritual tradition that provides a positive influence in our lives, it is important to examine how these practices may serve as a source of meaning, wellness, and emotional support. Like any exercise, it is beneficial to consistently set aside time for our spiritual practices, remembering that spiritual well-being is a journey, not a destination. Taking time to reflect on our spirituality can help us to accept change, as well as strengthen our ability to adapt to new paths in life.
Ways Spirituality Can Help
When we are part of a spiritual or religious community, we may be fortunate to have additional support and friendship beyond our professional care when we are suffering from a situation impacting our mental health. It can be helpful to connect with people and causes that are bigger than ourselves. Spirituality may be helpful in making sense of our experiences, while offering an outlet for us to feel more at peace with ourselves and others around us.
Whether we are religious or not, there are a plethora of spiritual practices we can do that may benefit our mental health journey. We may:
- Belong to a faith tradition that participates in providing services for our community.
- Partake in rituals, symbolic practices and other healthy forms of worship.
- Spend time enjoying nature.
- Go on pilgrimage and retreats.
- Spend time in mediation, deep reflection, or prayer.
- Follow traditions of yoga, Tai Chi, and other disciplined practices.
- Read or study scripture.
- Listen to, sing, or play sacred music, such as hymns, psalms, and devotional chants.
- Join sports teams or other activities involving cooperation and trust-building.
- Spend time in contemplative reading of literature, poetry, etc.
- Appreciate the arts.
- Be creative in painting, sculpture, cooking, baking, gardening, etc.
- Develop and maintain good family relationships.
- Create and keep friendships rooted in trust and intimacy.
- Light candles or put on an aroma diffuser filled with our favorite scent.
- Take a warm bubble bath to relax our mind and body.
- Write down our thoughts or feelings about a situation in a private journal.
How to Start Your Own Spiritual Practice
Spirituality can be deeply personal. Discover what you enjoy and what works best for you. If you are unsure of where to begin, this simple daily routine may be helpful to get you started:
1. Plan for regular quiet time to reflect, meditate, or pray.
2. Study spiritual or religious material that aligns with your values and beliefs.
3. Develop supportive friendships or mentorships with others who practice similar spiritual or religious habits and exercises.
Many complementary therapies have a spiritual or holistic element that is not directly associated with any particular religion. Find out more about spiritual practices and traditions from sources on the internet, in books, and through religious organizations.
If you have questions about mental health, please contact us at Diversus Health to schedule an appointment or consult with our behavioral healthcare professionals. If you need immediate care, stop by our walk-in crisis center or call our crisis hotline at 844-493-8255, or text ‘TALK’ to 38255.