For many people around the world, from many cultures, faith and spirituality are deeply associated with health and healing. In the Western world, science has dominated medicine until very recently. We are now though more seriously examining the intimate connection between medicine and spirituality.
Spirituality appears to be very beneficial for good mental and physical health. Research shows that people who are more religious or spiritual, and use their spirituality or religion to cope with life, experience numerous benefits to their mental and physical well-being. Older adults use prayer more than any other alternative therapy for health. In one study, 96% of participants used prayer specifically to cope with stress.
There are differences between spirituality and religion. Spirituality is concerned with matters of the human spirit. It deals with big questions of meaning, purpose, and existence. Being spiritual means thinking about, wondering about, and exploring the deepest aspects of reality, values, morals, love and meaning in one’s life. Religion, on the other hand, is defined as a set of beliefs, values and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader, like Jesus Christ or Buddha.
One study showed that college students involved in campus ministries visited the doctor less, scored higher on tests of psychological well-being and coped better with stress. Another study reported that older women are more grateful to God than their male counterparts, and as a result, they received greater stress-buffering health effects.
Science is also studying the powerful effects of prayer on physical and emotional health. In general, prayer is associated with overall better health, decreased hypertension, less stress even during difficult times, more positive feelings and attitudes, less depression, and greater psychological well-being. It has also been found that religiosity may help preserve healthy cortisol levels, reduce the effects of arthritis, enhance immune function, reduce blood pressure and help in coping with chronic illness.
The bottom line is simple. Spirituality and/or religiosity can have powerful effects on physical, emotional and mental health. People of all ages can benefit from thinking deeply about life, feeling connected to something far greater than one’s self and striving to find purpose and meaning.