Western cultures often separate the body, mind, soul and spirit, focusing on the things that are good for each as different practices. Research shows, however, that they are more connected than people often realize. Faith strengthens the spirit, but it also has many other benefits.
Improved Mental Health
Many people who have a regular faith practice are aware of its positive influence on their lives, and their report of this experience is backed by social science. Psychological researchers have repeatedly found that high levels of spiritual practice tend to have a positive correlation with better mental health. Specifically, religiosity has been shown to correlate with lower severities of several common disorders:
- Substance abuse
- Suicidal ideation
Connecting to a greater power can have significant effects on your mood and overall outlook on life. In her course on the science of well-being, Yale professor Laurie Santos cites a daily meditation practice as one of the ways participants can improve their overall happiness. Rather than ignoring the self to focus on the outer world, both meditation and prayer seek to connect the self with a greater purpose, giving practitioners of faith a stronger sense of the meaning in their lives and the way their lives fit into the big picture.
Better Physical Health
Good mental health can improve physical health, so it does not take a large logical leap to see how spirituality can also lead to better physical health. A strong faith can reduce stress, which in turn lowers blood pressure and strengthens the immune system's response. Just these two results can help maintain good heart health and protect the body from infection.
The positive effect that spirituality has on health may also be due to the behavioral modification proposed by many faiths. Most religions tend to discourage overindulgence, such as gluttonous food consumption or excessive drinking, and encourage the practice of moderation. The Christian scriptures liken the human body to the temple of God's spirit, the implication being that to fail to take care of one's body is to mistreat the very place God resides. To practice a religion is to strive to adhere not only to its theological tenets but also to its moral and ethical guidelines, some of which mirror common self-care principles.
Greater Capacity To Serve
In valuing connection, religions often exhort followers to give back to their communities and all those in need throughout the world. Without a consistent faith practice to energize and inspire them, however, many people may feel as if doing so just adds to their already full to-do list. Regular self-care is necessary to avoid burnout. For the faithful, daily meditation or prayer gives them time to focus their minds on God or their purpose in life. In this way, faith is a type of rest, and it can restore their zeal for living well and helping those around them.
An empty well does not provide a refreshing drink. The busyness of life can easily become overwhelming if people don't take time for themselves. As a result, they may grow irritable or lose focus, which means that soon they are unable to accomplish everything they meant to do anyway. It's better to take a pause and rejuvenate before this happens. The concept of Sabbath rest is spiritual self-care, and it may look different for different people. Some need to be out in nature, while others curl up with a good book. Even taking time to make a wonderful meal thoughtfully and thankfully can be restful. By caring for themselves, people are better equipped to take care of others.
Practicing faith can be an effective type of self-care. It restores its practitioners' minds, bodies, souls and spirits as it connects them to God and the world around them.