Spirituality and Mental Health

When I think about total body wellness, I consider the connection between the mind, body, and spirit.  However, in most health fields, including psychology, the focus is generally on the mind and the body.  Some people focus solely on physical health and believe that exercise and nutrition are “it” and if they look and feel good physically, all is well.  However, what happens when these same individuals experience a bout of depression, anxiety about a career decision, have significant relationship problems, or lack a sense of purpose in life?  The thought of seeking mental health or spiritual guidance may not even cross their mind.  In other cases, a person may understand the value of psychotherapy and feel secure in their spirituality; however, they may have poor eating and exercise habits or never seek treatment for chronic aches and pain.  These individuals may endure physical issues that hinder their overall well-being and actually prolong some symptoms of anxiety or depression.

The connection between the mind, body, and spirit is not one to be disregarded and given that the spirit component is oftentimes the most disregarded, I thought it’d be worth it to research actual statistics of the impact of spirituality and religion.  According to Dr. Harold Koenig (Duke University Medical Center), people who attend religious services at least once a week are 46 percent less likely to die from poor physical health habits (i.e., smoking).  Apparently, these individuals benefit from many things including the social networks they form, the encouragement they receive, and the peace of understanding the power of God.  According to webmd.com, some smaller studies have also shown that people who attend religious services or identify themselves as spiritual beings experience lower levels of depression and anxiety, have better physical health (i.e., lower blood pressure, fewer strokes), say they generally feel healthier, and engage in less risky behaviors (i.e., alcohol consumption, smoking).  A strong sense of spirituality also improves one’s coping abilities for daily stressors.

The purpose of all of this is not to say “Go to church and you’ll feel great.”  It’s simply to encourage you to equally consider the mind, body, AND spirit when focusing on total body wellness.  Physical health consists of taking care of our bodies with nutrition, consistent exercise, and routine medical examinations.  Mental health includes our cognitive and emotional well-being, and for many, may require improved coping skills, relaxation training, or other psychological or therapeutic intervention.  Spiritual health may consist of prayer, meditation, exploring your life’s purpose with a spiritual guide, and/or attending a church or synagogue to develop positive morals, ethics, and values.   Overall, focusing exclusively on one area of health may be the very reason we feel emptiness, inadequacies, and self-doubt, or endure ongoing health problems.

My hope is that this blog will be helpful to you on your life’s journey.  As you proceed, keep this quote in mind: “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” – Joe Lewis.