There are several different spheres in wellness—mental, emotional, physical, and social are the most commonly discussed. But one sphere that’s often ignored is spiritual wellness. It’s not talked about as much as all the other spheres, but it’s just as important because spirituality is a piece of who you are. Just as your exercise and eating habits (physical wellness) can affect your mood (emotional wellness), your spiritual wellness impacts all other aspects of your wellness. In this article, we’ll focus on the mental sphere of wellness, outlining how spirituality and mental health are connected.
Practicing spiritual wellness means paying attention to and caring for your spirituality by engaging with a higher power. Psychiatrist Abraham Verghese said the following of spirituality: “It involves the ways in which people fulfill what they hold to be the purpose of their lives, a search for the meaning of life and a sense of connectedness to the universe. The universality of spirituality extends across creed and culture. At the same time, spirituality is very much personal and unique to each person. It is a sacred realm of human experience.” Some common examples of spiritual wellness practices are mindfulness, yoga, serving others, listening to music, being in nature, and journaling. The spiritual dimension of wellbeing is relatively new—not new in the sense that it’s just now emerged, but new in that we’re just now starting to talk about it. In the decade 2010–2019, the use of the word “mindfulness” increased by 25 times!
The reason why mindfulness and yoga are so “in” right now is because everyone is starting to see how much we need spirituality. Everyone’s starting to notice something different, something good, about practicing spiritual wellness. And there is something special about spirituality. The benefits of spiritual wellness flow into all areas of your life. Spirituality can calm your mind, help you develop a positive attitude, and reduce stress. Establishing a spiritual wellness practice not only connects you to yourself and God but also establishes consistency in your life. It helps you develop resilience and strengthens you when life feels like it’s upside-down. These benefits are directly related to your mental health.
When we talk about “mental health,”we’re referring to overall psychological wellbeing. Your mental health affects you every single day—how you respond in social situations, what decisions you make, or how you deal with stress. The state of your mental health fluctuates throughout your life. It’s affected both by your circumstances and how you respond to them. Mental health is different than mental illness. A mental illness refers to a group of symptoms that have been identified by professionals in the mental health community. Not everyone has a diagnosable mental health condition, but everyone can still have times of poor mental health (Starting toThink About Mental Health). Therefore, everyone can benefit from developing coping skills for maintaining good mental health.
Your mental health, or your overall psychological wellbeing, consists of six major areas: (1) self-acceptance (accepting and loving yourself, your past, and your choices); (2) personal growth (becoming more mature and getting closer to your potential); (3) purpose in life (finding meaning in your life and making a difference in the world); (4) positive relationships with others (feeling loved, respected, and nourished by your interactions with people); (5)environmental mastery (feeling competent to respond well to your situation);and (6) autonomy (thinking for yourself without a strong need to conform).
These factors affect your mental health. For example, if you don’t have many positive relationships with others, then you might be less trusting when you meet new people and feel nervous in social situations. That anxiety affects you even when you aren’t actually in asocial situation—if you’re nervous about a social event at 8 p.m., those nerves can crop up in the middle of the day when you’re completely alone. This is how mental health works—it’s a holistic, rather than a compartmentalized, experience. Hence the importance of not neglecting your overall mental health.
How Spiritual Wellness Improves Mental Health
Spiritual wellness is all about healthy practices for your mind, body, and spirit, which are interconnected. It has a positive influence on mental health and psychological wellbeing. We’ve broken down how spirituality brings improvement in the six major areas of psychological wellbeing that we introduced in the previous section:
· Self-acceptance: When you practice spiritual wellness, you gain a strengthened sense of self. Spirituality often involves introspection, which helps you find and create your own identity. When you spend time with yourself in productive ways, such as meditation or journaling, you appreciate all of who you are: your past attitudes, choices, and behaviors, both good and bad.
· Personal growth: Growth can occur during sunshine and rain—whether life is good or bad for you, all of your experiences mold you into the person you are. When you involve God in your life, you can better recognize your personal growth. In difficult times, especially, a belief in God can give you appreciation for who you are and who you’re becoming.
· Purpose in life: One person in a study on spirituality and mental health said that the belief in “a God who gives meaning to the universe” gives them hope. When you feel like your life has meaning, you see your place in the world. You have a sense of purpose—what you’re here for, who you’re connected to. Seeking a relationship with a higher power can help you discover meaning and purpose in your own life.
· Positive relationships with others: A big part of spirituality is recognizing that all of us are interconnected by something bigger than ourselves. When you start to see humanity as a whole with this perspective, you’ll see individuals differently. You’ll give people the benefit of the doubt, show kindness to someone who disagrees with you, and be more benevolent towards strangers.
· Environmental mastery: A relationship with a higher power is a resource for coping with the ups and downs of your life. As you approach God for support, answers, or strength, you can let go of the need to control everything that’s happening in your life. Instead, you’ll be content with focusing on what you can control, putting yourself in a position of action and confidence.
· Autonomy: A spiritual wellness practice develops your sense of autonomy because you develop self-reliance and independence through spirituality. For example, when your actions are aligned with your purpose in life (which is foundational for your spiritual health),you do not worry about what others think of you. You trust yourself because you know yourself.
When you’re trying to create your own spiritual wellness practice, you can ask yourself how a certain exercise fits into one or more of these areas. For example, meditation can help with self-acceptance, personal growth, and purpose in life.Prayer can improve environmental mastery and autonomy. Serving others can strengthen positive relationships.
Three Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Through Spirituality
Beginning a spiritual wellness practice can be daunting, but change comes incrementally. Start small, less than ten minutes a day, in these three simple ways. You won’t have to make any drastic changes to your daily routine, but if you’re consistent with these practices, you will see positive results over time.
1. Spend deliberate time outside every day. When you are deliberate about your time in nature, no matter how short, you have greater potential for happiness. You might not have time to go for a long walk every day, but you can still connect to nature in some form. When you go outside to check the mail, get in your car, water your plants, etc., pause to take three long breaths and simply notice what’s around you. Maybe there are some new blooms on the tree in your front yard that you see every day, but you just haven’t stopped to look. When you appreciate your natural surroundings, you develop a relationship with the world that will bring you peace and calm in your everyday life.
2. Practice gratitude. Brene Brown says that gratitude is a spiritual practice “bound to a belief inhuman connectedness and a power greater than us.” It inspires you to slow down and helps you appreciate your life. There’s power in verbalizing your gratitude, more than just thinking about something you’re thankful for. You could do this however works best for you: over dinner with your family or friends, in a gratitude journal, or in prayer (see #3 below). You only need to find one thing you’re thankful for each day to make your gratitude practice meaningful.
3. Pray. Prayer is one of the most straightforward ways to connect with a higher power. The Skylight app has a five-minute guided prayer exercise called “Goodnight God” to help you relax before you sleep. You’ll be asked to consider the day that’s passed and invite your higher power into your consciousness. You’ll be prompted to think of three things: one thing you accomplished that day, one thing you’re grateful for, and one thing you hope for. Then, you’ll share those things with God. And last, you’ll have some time for silence, where you can listen for anything your higher power wants to share with you. It’s a simple but powerful way to wind down at the end of the day and prepare yourself for rest.
Taking care of your mental health is essential. And prioritizing spiritual wellness is a key to improving your overall mental health. Give these three practices a try and see the immense positive impact spirituality can have on your life.