Spirituality and faith, although highly personal and often private, play a significant role in the health of many people.
That’s why it’s an area of focus on the Wheel of Health, part of fulfillment and purpose, and why it’s a topic we can discuss in health coaching.
Spirituality is at the core of a person’s being.
While the number of Americans who identify as religious have declined in recent decades, others consider themselves spiritual but not religious.
Spirituality is at the heart of what’s most important for many people. Nature or the arts creates a spiritual connection for some, helping them feel most alive and vibrant; for others, it’s believing in a higher power and/or connecting within through spiritual practices and community.
Those deeply held values and beliefs help people find strength and hope when times are tough. And conversely, they often prompt them to prioritize their own health and well-being.
What’s the research on spirituality and health say?
Ongoing studies show that in addition to spirituality being central to one’s being, it’s also healing. Faith and spiritual practices such as prayer and meditation provide solace and peace in the face of adversity, illness, suffering or death.
Dr. Harold Koenig, director of Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, noticed decades ago as a family physician that religious beliefs were important to many of his patients. Since then, he’s built a career around exploring the connection between faith and health. And based on years of research, he says spirituality and faith still are good for our physical and mental health.
Stanford University anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann, author of “How God Becomes Real: Kindling the Presence of Invisible Others,” says that people of faith repeatedly report feeling better and healthier. Religious involvement with God improves immune function and reducing loneliness, Luhrmann notes. And one explanation for this is that for those with an intense faith, God becomes a social relationship. MRI results indicate that in terms of brain function, talking to God resembles conversing with a friend, Luhrmann notes.
But the nature of that relationship also is key. The more that God is seen as judgmental, the more mental health symptoms are reported. And conversely, those who represent their relationship with God as loving and satisfying pray more and report fewer mental health symptoms. “The data suggest that when it’s a good relationship, it’s better for the body,” Luhrmann said.
Connecting your Spirituality and Health
What are the connections between your own personal beliefs and your health?
Ask yourself these questions and perhaps record them in a journal:
- What does spirituality or faith mean to you?
- In the past, when faced with little hope or motivation, what’s given you strength?
- What gives you a sense of inner peace, comfort, love and connection?
- Which of your activities support you spiritually, and to which would you like to devote more time?
- How does your spirituality connect to other areas of your health and well-being?
My own personal faith has been important in my journey to better self-care, and it’s part of what drives me to take better care of myself. What’s your experience? If you’d like to share it, I’d love to hear your story. You can use this link to send me a note.
Welcome! I’m Amy, an integrative health coach, offering grace and space for a healthier you. This article, newly revised, first appeared in October 2017 as Step 27 in the “31 Steps to a Healthier You” series. You can access all posts in the series here. Also, if you’d like to stay in touch, I invite you to subscribe to the Well Check e-letter and other updates at this link.