How Spiritual Health Affects Mental and Physical Wellbeing (2023)

How Spiritual Health Affects Mental and Physical Wellbeing (1)

Discover how spiritual health affects your wellbeing.Photo: Penywise/Morguefile

If it wasn’t already clear, an individual’s spiritual needs change over the course of a lifetime.

But according to a Gallup poll, 69 percent of respondents noted that they want to experience spiritual growth in their daily lives.

While most Americans rely on their faith and spirituality for deeper meaning in their lives, this internal struggle can impact overall health as well.

– Updated 2/11/2020

Table of Contents

  • 1 What is Spiritual Health?
  • 2 How Spiritual Health Impacts Physical Health
    • 2.1 The Placebo Effect
    • 2.2 Studies Show Positive Perks of Spiritual Health
    • 2.3 The Role of Spirituality in Health Care
  • 3 How Spiritual Health Impacts Mental Health
    • 3.1 Religion and Spirituality: It’s All in Your Head
    • 3.2 Spirituality and Treating Mental Health Disorders
  • 4 How to Promote Spiritual Health
    • 4.1 Start Early
    • 4.2 Yoga
    • 4.3 Meditation
    • 4.4 Altruism
    • 4.5 Forgiveness

What is Spiritual Health?

The basis of spirituality rests on the idea that life is meaningful and that each person has a purpose.

While religion may serve as a component of spiritual health, people do not have to follow any specific religion to be spiritually healthy.

However, a common misconception is that people must maintain religious affiliations to reap the benefits of inner peace.

But beyond religion, values, ethics, principles, and morals help shape one’s spiritual identity.

These elements can exist independently of religion or coexist with your devotion.

Despite the varying religious views of Americans, Gallup’s poll found that 80 percent of respondents believe in absolute good and evil.

This moral common ground highlights the fact that spirituality is farther reaching than religious ideologies alone.

But how do you know when you have achieved spiritual health?

When it comes to recognizing spiritual health, signs of spiritual wellness, according to the University of New Hampshire, include:

  • Developing a purpose in life
  • Being able to spend reflective time alone
  • Taking time to reflect on life events and their meanings
  • Recognizing right and wrong and acting accordingly
  • Understanding and articulating what you believe in
  • Caring for others
  • Practicing forgiveness and compassion

Maintaining spiritual health does not mean there is no conflict in your life.

Instead, it means that you feel strong and balanced enough to manage conflict as it arises and that you process events and move on rather than dwell on what you cannot control.

That said, spiritual health is a lifelong journey, not something you can visit one time.

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Keeping tabs on your internal compass and your spiritual health can affect every area of your life, including relationships, family, and work.

How Spiritual Health Impacts Physical Health

Ancient cultures may have turned to their religious idols to ask for good health and wellness, but modern spiritualists and psychics understand that there is an intricate connection between spiritual health and physical health.

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The relationship between the mind and body is stronger than you may think.

The Placebo Effect

One clear example of the impact our mentality has on our health is that of the placebo effect.

One cardiologist at Harvard School of Medicine called the placebo effect “remembered wellness,” one medical journal reported, echoing the sentiment that our beliefs can influence health outcomes.

Further, the article’s discussion of Herbert Benson, MD, and his placebo research highlighted the fact that in his studies, anywhere from 16 to 60 percent of patients benefited from placebo use versus taking pharmaceuticals.

Benson also suggested that the patient-physician relationship had an impact on the likelihood of the placebo effect, as both the patient and the doctor must believe that the therapeutic method will work.

The bottom line is that when people believe they are ingesting something that will make them better, their bodies respond to this positive thinking.

When you feel optimistic about your course of treatment, that may just make said treatment work better.

That said, there are tragic stories of profoundly spiritual or religious populations who rely on spiritual healing in cases where medicine could have saved a life.

For that reason, it’s essential to maintain a healthy outlook on one’s spirituality and work with professionals when dealing with life-threatening diseases.

Still, thinking positive thoughts can do wonders when you’re having a bad day, so why shouldn’t it work when it comes to your physical recovery and wellbeing?

Studies Show Positive Perks of Spiritual Health

In general, most studies surrounding the topic of spiritual health rely on participants’ religious affiliations to guide research.

Since many people feel that spirituality and religion are deeply intertwined, many studies look at the relationship between religious services and patient health outcomes to determine the impact of spiritual health.

For example, a review of studies on chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, and other religious support services in hospitals concluded that patient satisfaction rates were higher with spiritual support in-hospital.

Although figures connecting chaplaincy to positive patient health outcomes are hard to come by, the review noted that patients who are happier and more comfortable with their healthcare teams are more proactive about recovery and future wellness.

The review also discussed the potential adverse effects of spiritual struggle in patients who are facing health challenges.

If people are experiencing an internal battle regarding religion or spiritual beliefs, they may suffer poorer health outcomes.

One solution is for medical professionals to inquire about and offer referrals to professional chaplains or other caregivers.

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The Role of Spirituality in Health Care

Because people often turn inward to their spiritual beliefs to get them through stressful situations, medical professionals must recognize and accommodate patients’ spiritual health while addressing physical ailments.

This perspective supports the holistic or whole-patient view of many modern medical professionals, but spiritual support is currently uncommon in hospitals and doctors’ offices.

Unfortunately, many patients are often on their own when it comes to developing and maintaining spiritual health, whether they’re dealing with significant health challenges or not.

How Spiritual Health Impacts Mental Health

Because spirituality is an internalized perspective, it is more closely related to mental health than most people acknowledge.

While some religions refute the existence of mental health conditions in the first place, a healthy approach to spirituality can help promote mental wellness, too.

How Spiritual Health Affects Mental and Physical Wellbeing (3)

There is a balance between your mental health and spiritual wellbeing.Photo:Jared Rice/Unsplash

Religion and Spirituality: It’s All in Your Head

Kenneth I. Pargament, Ph.D., knows a lot about religion and spirituality as they relate to mental health.

He wrote two books that discuss psychology, religion, and psychotherapy, and has observed that religion and spirituality often help people cope with stressful and grief-related situations.

In an interview with the American Psychological Association, Dr. Pargament explained that religion and spirituality are helpful for people who are coping with major life stressors.

Further, he notes that apart from support from religious clergy, people often deal with difficult life transitions through healthy rituals and spiritual forgiveness.

In practice, Pargament clarified, psychologists should address patients’ religious and spiritual beliefs as part of diagnosing conditions.

He also notes that “spiritually integrated approaches to treatment are as effective as other treatments.”

Because psychologists already receive cultural sensitivity training, addressing spirituality with patients only takes that understanding a step further.

At the same time, Pargament says, framing such spirituality and mindfulness exercises as meditation and yoga in a secular way helps make them accessible to all people seeking out spirituality.

However, he does point out that taking all “sacred” connotations out of the spirituality equation doesn’t help, either.

Ultimately, transcendence, finitude, and connectedness are all crucial elements of spirituality, and those topics are not always entirely secular.

Spirituality and Treating Mental Health Disorders

For centuries, people thought that adherence to religion was a form of mental illness.

But as one review of spirituality and mental health studies elaborated, recent research supports religion and spirituality as sources of stress reduction and positive coping strategies.

Psychiatrists recognize that spirituality is an integral part of patients’ lives, and therefore, their recovery.

According to the paper on spirituality, mental health has two dimensions: absence of mental illness, and presence of a well-adjusted personality.

Spirituality addresses many aspects of adjustment in daily life, with many of these elements buried deep in our subconscious minds.

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One study involved 226 patients who received care and rehabilitation for alcohol dependence, where people who reported spirituality had better outcomes with maintaining abstinence from alcohol.

Another study showed that patients with schizophrenia who spent more time engaging in religious activities faced better prognoses than those who were nonreligious.

These studies all reinforce the fact that spirituality has a complex impact on mental health, and regular spirituality practices can help mitigate the effects of mental disorders.

Particularly for people with a family history of significant mental health challenges, maintaining spiritual health can prove a pathway to overall health.

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How Spiritual Health Affects Mental and Physical Wellbeing (4)

Social support is a part of good health.Photo:Omar Lopez/Unsplash

How to Promote Spiritual Health

Just like physical health requires active participation, so does spiritual health.

You cannot expect to experience optimal spiritual health if your life is consistently in a state of chaos.

That said, regardless of what is going on in your life or the lives of those around you, developing spiritual health can happen despite hectic daily living.

Here are a few strategies for promoting spiritual health.

Start Early

Spiritual people are less prone to self-destructive behaviors, Kids Health reports, and that means starting early in life is a massive step in the right direction.

That might mean partaking in religious activities as a family or outlining the household’s spiritual guidelines.

People who feel strongly about their personal beliefs are happier with their lives, and built-in social support through religious groups and events can contribute to those overall feelings of positivity.

The benefits continue into adulthood and beyond, too, giving people strength as they move through life’s phases.

Apart from religious involvement, Kids Health recommends other measures to encourage family spiritual wellness. Those include:

  • Explore your family’s roots, history, and values
  • Get involved with your community
  • Reminisce about positive family events
  • Share meditation or quiet time as a family
  • Explore nature
  • Read about spirituality and share together

Yoga

Is yoga a spiritual thing?

It’s a common question for people who are just beginning to explore the benefits of this centering physical activity.

While many of the poses have roots that come from religious interpretations of ancient Indian culture, practicing yoga doesn’t require any devotion.

Yoga does, however, require focus and concentration.

It encourages people to exercise their bodies, but it also prompts self-reflection during prolonged poses.

Focusing on breathing, balance, and maintaining proper posture will earn the most benefits from yoga.

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According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, yoga can help reduce back pain and lower the risk of depression that comes with chronic pain.

Yoga also seems to help lower blood pressure and heart rate, both of which skyrocket when people experience stress.

How Spiritual Health Affects Mental and Physical Wellbeing (5)

Yoga and meditation have been shown to improve wellbeing.Photo:martinlouis/morguefile

Meditation

Without zeroing in on a specific set of religious beliefs, meditation “primes the mind for spiritual experiences,” Huffington Post reported, as a psychologist and his colleagues tested their theory.

The first step in meditation is mindfulness, and that openness leads to awe, researchers found.

Participants in the study who listened to a mindfulness audio tape were more likely to experience a “greater awe reaction,” while people who listened to non-mindfulness control audio reported a lesser reaction.

Altruism

Altruism is both a selfless method of helping others and a means of achieving improved spiritual health.

People who support others often feel happier about themselves, but according to Stanford, altruism is not an innate trait in all of us.

Altruism tends to develop based on relationships, and whether we feel like people care for us.

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While selfishness may be the default setting for most of us, given humans’ inclination toward self-preservation, intentional acts of altruism can help improve our spiritual wellbeing.

Choosing to pay forward an act of kindness can improve your mood and prime you for continuing to act selflessly in the future.

Forgiveness

People who carry around grudges can tell you; it’s hard to find positivity and inner peace when you’re harboring hateful feelings.

The good news is, even people who have experienced severe trauma can learn to apply forgiveness and move on.

While most religions have rules about doling out forgiveness, you don’t have to subscribe to a specific set of beliefs to reap the benefits.

John Hopkins Medicine notes that unresolved conflicts can affect your physical and mental health, setting you up for higher risks of heart attack and depression.

Feeling angry all the time puts your body into a constant battle between fight and flight, and holding onto negative feelings can lead to depression, anxiety, stress, and other harmful side effects.

As John Hopkins’ experts agree, forgiveness is a choice, but a critical one when it comes to your health.

The health benefits of forgiveness don’t only apply to others.

Forgiving yourself for past mistakes is an essential part of moving forward in life, both in spiritual and mental terms.

FAQs

How does spiritual health affect physical health? ›

Spiritual practices can help build the strength and alleviate the effects of depression or other mental illness, which in turn affects physical well-being. Dealing with a chronic illness, pain, or disability is stressful and often leads to depression. Spirituality can help in coping with the stress of illness.

How are spiritual mental and physical health-related? ›

Spirituality and health-related behaviors can play a significant role in defining psychological well-being. Personal focus on physical health and the human body or psychosocial health and the human mind and spirit, might also determine psychological well-being.

How is spirituality related to health and well-being? ›

Patients who are spiritual may utilize their beliefs in coping with illness, pain, and life stresses. Some studies indicate that those who are spiritual tend to have a more positive outlook and a better quality of life.

Why is spirituality important to wellbeing? ›

Spiritual wellness acknowledges our search for deeper meaning in life. When we're spiritually healthy, we feel more connected to not only a higher power, but to those around us. We have more clarity when it comes to making everyday choices, and our actions become more consistent with our beliefs and values.

How does spirituality improve physical health? ›

Being a spiritually awake individual has the ability to prevent spiritual illness as well as physical illness. Studies have shown that prayer and meditation have the ability to bolster your immune system, meaning fewer days laid up in bed with the flu and more days out living your life.

Does spirituality improve mental health? ›

Both religion and spirituality can have a positive impact on mental health. In some ways, they provide the same impact. For example: Both religion and spirituality can help a person tolerate stress by generating peace, purpose and forgiveness.

What promotes physical mental and spiritual well-being? ›

Yoga is a physical technique that can help improve your spiritual wellness by reducing emotional and physical strains on your mind and body. Yoga is taught at all different levels and can help lower stress, boost the immune system, and lower blood pressure as well as reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia.

What are some examples of spiritual health and wellbeing? ›

Examples include volunteering, being positive and optimistic, contributing to society, connecting with others, feeling a sense of belonging and practicing self-care. Finding meaning and purpose may be a lifelong process that evolves based on unique circumstances, individual experiences and global events.

What are the benefits of spirituality to happiness and well-being? ›

Benefits of Spirituality

Since spirituality is so deeply rooted in providing meaning, it is a direct access point for greater happiness. Spirituality brings a sense of meaning to a chaotic world. When life events (large and small) take on greater significance, spiritual people are better able to cope with stress.

What is the purpose of spiritual health? ›

Spiritual health includes a purposeful life, transcendence and actualization of different dimensions and capacities of human beings. Spiritual health creates a balance between physical, psychological and social aspects of human life.

How is spirituality linked to the development of well being? ›

(2009) found that higher levels of spirituality were associated with higher levels of well-being (positive affect, purpose in life, positive relations with others, personal growth, self-acceptance, environmental mastery, autonomy), with some associations stronger among women than men.

What is the best way to improve your mental spiritual well-being? ›

8 ways to boost your spiritual health
  1. Connect with your faith community. According to a Gallup study, 43% of Americans say they belong to a church or other religious body. ...
  2. Volunteer or help others. ...
  3. Practice yoga. ...
  4. Meditate. ...
  5. Keep a journal. ...
  6. Spend time in nature. ...
  7. Focus on your hobbies. ...
  8. Speak with a chaplain or someone you trust.
26 Jun 2021

What role do religion and spirituality play in mental health? ›

Spirituality and religion often provide a sense of security and social structure and those beliefs can be a strong coping mechanism through trying times. Being an active member of a close-knit religious community can provide structure, support and sense of acceptance, all of which are beneficial to mental health.

How does spirituality affect the brain? ›

These findings tell us that spiritual experiences shift perception, and can moderate the effects of stress on mental health. This study saw decreased activation in the parts of the brain responsible for stress and increased activity in the parts of the brain responsible for connection with others.

How do you take care of yourself physically mentally emotionally and spiritually? ›

Self-care activities can range from physical activities such as exercising and eating healthy, to mental activities such as reading a book or practicing mindfulness, to spiritual or social activities such as praying or catching lunch with a friend.

How does spirituality influence your life? ›

Spirituality seems to help people cope with illness, suffering and death. Spirituality also influences end-of-life decisions. All people, with or without a connection to organized religion or any spiritual practices, seem to benefit from finding their own sense of meaning, purpose and connectedness.

What does spiritual wellbeing mean to you? ›

Spiritual wellbeing is often a misunderstood concept. It refers not to any particular religious or spiritual practice or ideology but to the human need for meaning, purpose and connection to something greater than ourselves.

What is spiritual and emotional wellbeing? ›

Spiritual wellness is the development of the mind-body connection to foster personal growth and support mental and emotional wellness.

What are the benefits of spiritual care? ›

Spiritual care has positive effects on individuals' stress responses, spiritual well-being (ie, the balance between physical, psychosocial, and spiritual aspects of self), sense of integrity and excellence, and interpersonal relationships (1).

What are the benefits of spiritual development? ›

Developing our spirituality can help us deal with life's challenges and grow into a better, more whole and happy person.
...
So, here are five benefits to developing your spiritual nature.
  • Hopefulness. ...
  • Compassion and Understanding. ...
  • Sense of purpose and meaning. ...
  • Inspiration and appreciation. ...
  • Peace of mind.
9 Nov 2014

How does religion affect physical health? ›

For example, researchers at the Mayo Clinic concluded, “Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills, and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression, and suicide.

How do you balance your spiritual and physical life? ›

Balancing Work and Spiritual Life
  1. Remember God while you work. ...
  2. Consciously serve as a channel for the Divine. ...
  3. Be calmly active and actively calm. ...
  4. Work with concentration and absorption. ...
  5. Prioritize your daily activities. ...
  6. Everybody is on the spiritual path.
1 Aug 2015

How does spiritual care affect patients? ›

A study on end-of-life outcomes showed that spiritual support from a patient's medical team resulted in greater hospice utilization, less aggressive interventions, and fewer ICU deaths.

How does religion and spirituality affect physical activity? ›

Conclusions. This study found that individuals who are more spiritual are also less sedentary, and this association was stronger in men than women. Findings provide insight for developing future interventions to promote activity in this high-risk population, which has been greatly understudied.

How does spirituality affect your life? ›

Positive impacts of spirituality.

You may feel a higher sense of purpose, peace, hope, and meaning. You may experience better confidence, self-esteem, and self-control. It can help you make sense of your experiences in life. When unwell, it can help you feel inner strength and result in faster recovery.

How does religion affect wellbeing? ›

Religion may be associated with positive emotions and cognitions (e.g. optimism, sense of meaning and purpose to life), and these have been found to be linked to good cardiovascular, endocrine and immune functioning.

How can you improve your physical and spiritual fitness? ›

8 ways to boost your spiritual health
  1. Connect with your faith community. According to a Gallup study, 43% of Americans say they belong to a church or other religious body. ...
  2. Volunteer or help others. ...
  3. Practice yoga. ...
  4. Meditate. ...
  5. Keep a journal. ...
  6. Spend time in nature. ...
  7. Focus on your hobbies. ...
  8. Speak with a chaplain or someone you trust.
26 Jun 2021

What is balance in a spiritual? ›

Balance is a result of an unimpeded flow of energy that is expressed through the body, mind, emotions, soul, and spirit. It is like a superhighway of connections and streams of consciousness, all working to relate together.

Why spiritual health is important as a healthcare? ›

Your spiritual health is as important to how you feel and how well you heal as your physical and mental health. It is not unusual for patients, family members and caregivers to feel physical pain or discomfort that comes from spiritual dis-ease or dis-connection.

What are 5 examples of spiritual health? ›

Practice Spiritual Wellness
  • Practicing meditation or yoga.
  • Praying or taking part in organized religion.
  • Spending quiet time alone pondering the meaning of life.
  • Building awareness through journaling.
  • Serving your community, spending time in nature, appreciating music and the arts.

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