Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Allied Sciences, Nehru Nagar, New Delhi

By Namrata Gupta, MPhil, Clinical Psychology

In larger parts of the world today, spirituality is part of its fabric, in its very bases or is inextricably linked with the daily lives of its people. Individuals derive the meaning of their lives on the basis of the same, and act in accordance to the larger cultural fabric of the societies they live in.

Spirituality often comes as the derivation of one's own life, the trajectory one has been through, the individual challenges, one’s family & its learnings, collective experiences both as being part of certain social and cultural groups, or experience of one as mere a form of existence.

Often, beliefs and virtues in one’s life are entwined with the religion one is born in or choses to practice, for other’s it takes many other forms, out of which one is spirituality and various forms its derived in. Expressions of spirituality may vary in forms as art, literature, music, and the history it is derived from.

But, the more dominant parts of it contain:

  • The quest for finding meaning in life
  • The Sense of attachment and being detached at the same time
  • The Oneness of self and environment- connectedness
  • Acceptance and Surrender to a power above, the names may vary.
  • Sense of purpose
  • Sense of service to one's own and the society at large

There exist a plethora of traditions and practices through which spirituality is lived in one’s daily life, and to make meaning out of it simultaneously.

Since the times, Spirituality and Mental Health have seen to be inseparable and hence highly impacting one another. Spirituality has often been seen to be used as a support system in ways by which one makes meaning out of their lives, the schemas one forms and continuously works through and the larger support group one approaches in times of need and distress.

John Swinton posits spirituality as an intra/inter and trans-personal experience that is shaped and directed by the experiences of individuals and of the communities in which they live and shape their lives.

Spirituality and Depression

One of the classical symptoms of depression is losing one’s meaning of life, often translating into losing hope, hence hopelessness and helplessness start to set in

A loss of meaning makes an individual often question one’s life choices, the life thus far life they have been able to build, question one’s self worth cloud the mind.

But, spirituality with its practices as liturgies, prayers, group meeting helps to sail through challenging times and also view ones difficulties with a different perspective by internalising set of values that the spiritual practise is based on, which often acts as a protective factor against depression and thus in long term, might act as a factor to enhance resilience.

Physiological impact

Spirituality and as matter of fact religious practices too, activate areas of the brain that are linked to positive emotions and experiences. Beliefs – thoughts, and emotions encouraged in many spiritual traditions, include hope, contentment, love and forgiveness, which activate the neural pathways that lead to the endocrine glands and immune system. Negative emotions are channelized and hence resolved in one or the other way, be it for a relatively short period of time, extreme emotions such as anger or fear, trigger the release of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine and of the endocrine hormone cortisol are not encouraged. Elevated levels of negative emotions for a sustained period of time, are detrimental to one’s physical and mental health.

Practices such as meditations, silent prayers may reduce the levels of norepinephrine and cortisol, thus reducing feelings of stress and the mental health problems associated with it. These researches show an association between yogic activity and improvements in levels of stress, anxiety, post- traumatic stress, severity of depressive symptoms and psychosomatic complaints. Researches have proved that 30 minutes of daily yoga practice enhances well-being, mood, attention, mental focus and stress tolerance.

A Role for Spirituality

Studies show that people involved in a religious or spiritual group of some kind have a lower risk of premature death or illness than those not involved.

The fellowship, goodwill, and emotional support offered by religious or spiritual groups may also promote healthy living and mental health.

Some faith communities offer counselling services through churches, or places of worship, which can be an additional support to therapy and/or medication, and may help people cope with mental health challenges.

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