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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Spirituality For Stress Relief

By January 7, 2013

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While not every reader may express their spirituality in the same way (and some may not consider themselves spiritual at all), I often recommend spirituality and religious expression as a way to relive stress, and many of those who use it tend to really get a lot out of it. I do not recommend spirituality as a means of converting anyone to a particular belief system, but rather because religion and spirituality are proven to bring greater wellbeing, both physical and emotional. By utilizing religion and/or spirituality, you are able to meet many needs at once: you can find spiritual support from a higher power, social support from like-minded others in a religious or spiritual community, and new ways of understanding the distressing events and challenges you face. You can also find a way to "surrender" to something outside yourself and, in the process, give up any need to control an outcome, to an extent, which has been shown to be beneficial as well.

The benefits found from both religiosity and spirituality are numerous, and should not be ignored if they could be a good fit for you. The incorporation of religious and spiritual coping mechanisms can be an important, effective tool for health, and unlike many other aspects of a healthy lifestyle, has a very attractive price tag: free.

For that price, people have seen many benefits. Studies find that those who are rated as religious require fewer medical services, and could be adding 7 to 14 years to their lives with their religious participation. A study conducted with brain injury patients found that religious well-being (defined as a sense of connection to a higher power) was a unique predictor of life satisfaction, lower distress, and higher functionality, where public religious practice or existential well-being alone were not. Research on meditation, which is a popular spiritual practice used in many major religious, demonstrates a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, panic, and depression, as well as a reduction in perceived pain. One specific form of meditation, transcendental meditation (TM) has been found to reverse the effects of stress on neuroendocrine functioning, decrease hypertension, cholesterol, insomnia, as well as posttraumatic stress and other negative symptoms and conditions. Prayer has been found to have a positive effect on health as well, including reductions in stress and pain, though this is more difficult to qualify with research, and some believe that this may be due to the placebo effect. (Regardless, there is a connection between prayer and wellness that should not be ignored, particularly if you experience it as helpful.) Many people, including those in the medical profession, use spirituality and religion to bring about healing, relieve stress, or ease physical or emotional pain.

How can you use spirituality or religion to build resilience and find better ways to cope with stress? The following resources can help.

    Spirituality and Stress Resources:

    Bryant-Davis, Thema; Ellis, Monica; Burke-Maynard, Elizabeth; Moon, Nathan; Counts, Pamela & Anderson, Gera. (August 2012). Religiousity, spirituality, and trauma recovery in the lives of children and adolescents. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol 43(4).
    Clements, Andrea D. & Ermakova, Anna V. (May, 2012). Surrender to God and stress: A possible link between religiosity and health. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. Vol 4(2).
    Freeman, L. W. (2009). Mosby's complementary and alternative medicine. (3 ed.). St. Louis, MO: Mosby.
    Koenig, H.G. (2000). Religion, spirituality, and medicine: Application to clinical practice. JAMA, 284:1708.
    Koenig H.G. et al. (1999). Does religious attendance prolong survival? Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. (5(2): 131.
    Waldron-Perrine, Brigid; Rapport, Lisa J.; Hanks, Robin A.; Lumley, Mark; Meachen, Sarah-Jane, & Hubbarth, Paul. (May, 2011). Religion and spirituality in rehabilitation outcomes among individuals with traumatic brain injury. Rehabilitation Psychology, Vol 56(2).

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