I’m Dr. Jeffrey Mark, and today I’d like to share with you 7 steps towards better spiritual health. As a physician providing medical care for over 30 years, I’ve been part of a medical system that primarily focuses on the physical and mental health of an individual. Many people intuitively feel that physical, mental, and spiritual health are all intertwined to maintain overall health. Spiritual health provides the fabric to be the safety net and reserve resiliency when there is a strain on the physical and mental. Here are some studies to demonstrate why spiritual health is important to overall health. Studies show an associated spirituality with increased quality of life. A meta-analysis performed by the American Cancer Society’s Study of Cancer Survivors found that spirituality was an independent predictor of a better quality of life and emotional well-being. In one study nearly 70% of participants reported that religion and spirituality helped them through their cancer experience. Another study of patients with serious illness not related to cancer found that 80% of participants were comforted by their spirituality and 75% found a strengthened religiosity due to their illness.
Many physicians and healthcare providers may not recognize the importance of spirituality in people’s lives. In one study, patients, their families, and clinicians were asked to prioritize seven different factors that were important to them when making treatment decisions. This study found that for patients and their families, “faith in God” was the second most important factor. This was not even close to resembling the clinicians that listed “faith in God” as least important (number seven out of seven). A study on end-of-life outcomes showed that spiritual support from a patient’s medical team resulted in better outcomes in the use of healthcare resources, less aggressive interventions, and fewer ICU deaths.
With the understanding of the importance spiritual health through these studies how do you cultivate and maintain spiritual health? Here are 7 practices for spiritual health.
- Maintain ties to your community of faith. In a recent Gallup poll it was found that 43% of Americans belong to a church or other religious organization. These places of worship allow connection, support, and an opportunity to help others. Finding family, friends, or other spiritual leaders that share your beliefs can help you get started in finding communities of faith.
- Help Others. Even without a community of faith you can still reap the benefits of being generous and grateful (see the blog links) by furthering a cause you believe in. Examples include being a tutor or mentor, a youth counselor, or volunteering in a food pantry or animal shelter.
- Meditate or pray. Time spent in the quite with deep controlled breathing mindful of your surroundings or expressing thankfulness, confessions, and supplication. Meditating (see Meditation blog link) for as little as five minutes can help reduce stress, depression and anxiety and increase your mindfulness.
- Scribe. Keeping a journal of your daily activities can help you be aware of events that influence your emotions, decisions, and allow for a different perspective of things from a future point of view. It also helps keep track of things to be grateful for.
- Walk and spend time in nature. Studies show that the sounds of a forest can decrease anxiety. Birds, waves or other water sounds, wind swaying the trees are all soothing and remind us that we are part of the earth around us. We have to much exposure to cell phones, computers, and electronic music.
- Work on a hobby. We all need to have something we like doing passionately to express ourselves, drown out any worries or concerns, and just focus on enjoying the moment. It also helps fulfill our human need for purpose.
- Share openly with people you trust. Chaplains, pastors, and other spiritual leaders, can help you process spiritual issues that may present as mental or other physical issues. We need to express our deep or hidden feelings about things that have happened or are happening to us in order to deal with them in in a healthy way.
Hopefully, you’ll be able to do at least one of these seven practices if not all of them and continue in good spiritual and overall health.
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