While there is understandably a lot of focus and concern around everybody's physical health these days, emotional health is another important part of well-being that may be deeply affected by the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. For many people, religion has been a source of comfort and peace in the midst of a whirlwind of challenges and changes to the status quo. There is an argument to be made that religion is a powerful tool for promoting long-term emotional health, both during times of crisis and in the midst of ordinary day-to-day challenges.
Religion Preventing Despair
From people who have lost their jobs as a result of shutdowns to healthcare workers struggling to keep up with peoples' need for treatment, there are a lot of big stressors disrupting lives in today's world. While some amount of stress is a normal part of life, too much can lead to emotional and even mental health problems, including serious negative feelings such as despair, distress, and being overwhelmed. While these emotions manifest differently from person to person, in some cases they can be dangerous and lead to risky coping mechanisms such as drug abuse. In worst-case scenarios, tragedies such as suicide may even occur.
Despite the difficulties of the current situation, there is a potential answer for those who are struggling. Religion has been shown to reduce the chances of what are known as “deaths of despair.” These would be alcohol-, drug-, or self-harm-related deaths that are caused by intense sadness or hopelessness. Current research being done on the topic has specifically focused on healthcare workers and how they are coping with the added pressure being put on them. As healthcare employees are frequently under intense duress, they can be at high risk for emotional problems. Religion may help them by bringing a sense of peace, focus, and hope into their everyday struggle and has been shown to significantly decrease the chances of destructive behavior as a result of negative emotions.
Religion and Long-Term Emotional Health
In addition to assisting people with unusual circumstances and crises, religion may also help people in a more long-term way. While there is always some stress to be faced in life, individuals may go through hardships of their own at unpredictable times and could use the guidance religion can provide:
- Offering a support group for those who are struggling
- Creating a sense of community
- Suggesting a higher purpose in life
- Giving people a new mindset about challenges
These things may seem like small comforts at first glance, but they can be a powerful tool for boosting people out of despair and other types of emotional distress. The sense of community created by churches may be an especially strong factor. A person who is an active member in their church may feel like they always have a group of friends to help and support them. This support group can ease stress and create stability in what might otherwise be a very unstable-feeling situation. For people who commit to a religion, this friendship and community may even be a lifelong presence. For those who move to a new area, joining a new congregation or branch or their same religion may be a fast and easy way to build up new friends and connections.
Religion Boosting Emotional States
The ability of religion to help people maintain their emotional health can be especially important in today's world. By helping people feel like they are a part of something bigger, religion can cut down on feelings of despair and may even help protect people against distress-related deaths. The sense of community and friendship offered in many religious settings is a great tool for creating a sense of stability that has the potential to last for a person's whole life and foster long-term emotional health.