What Is Spiritual Health?

Spiritual well-being, and the role it plays in your life, is stronger than you may believe. The word “spiritual” refers to that core dimension of YOU – your innermost self. It provides you with that profound sense of who you are, where you came from, where you’re going and how you might reach your goals.

Spiritual wellness may mean different things to different people. For some, spirituality may be synonymous with traditional religion, while for others it relates primarily to the quality of personal relationships or love for nature. A basic foundation for spiritual wellness may be the sense that life is meaningful and you have found your place in it. The search for meaning and purpose in human existence leads one to strive for a state of harmony with him/herself and with others while working to balance inner needs with the rest of the world.

Many of the behaviors associated with wellness are key components of a healthy spiritual life. Examples include volunteerism, social responsibility, optimism, contributing to society, connectedness with others, feeling of belonging/being part of a group, and love of self/reason to care for self.

To cultivate your spirit, an organized religion can provide powerful insights and tools and sharing a religious community can act as a support group for motivation, and education. In many ways, practicing a religion might be thought of as taking physical and mental steps to exercise the spirit.

The unity of mind, body, and spirit can have either positive or negative effects on the balance of health. For example, the National Cancer Institute warns about spiritual distress and its effects in those whose bodies are affected by a cancer. (They define spiritual distress as unresolved religious or spiritual conflict and doubt.)

A serious illness like cancer may challenge a patient’s beliefs or religious values, resulting in high levels of spiritual distress. Some cancer patients may feel that cancer is a punishment by God or may suffer a loss of faith after being diagnosed. Other patients may experience mild spiritual distress when coping with cancer. For example, when prayer is used as a coping method, some patients may worry about how to pray or may doubt their prayers are being answered.

On the other hand, a number of studies demonstrate the positive effects of those seeking to cultivate their spirituality.

* In a 7-year study of senior citizens, religious involvement was associated with less physical disability and less depression. Before a religious holiday, death rates were lower than expected, which suggested to researchers that faith might have postponed death in these cases.

* Elderly people who regularly attended religious services had healthier immune systems than those who did not. They were also more likely to have consistently lower blood pressure.

* Patients undergoing open-heart surgery who received strength and comfort from their religion were three times more likely to survive than those who had no religious ties.

A conscious effort to seek spiritual health impacts all other aspects of the balanced health equation. 

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