The Wellness Formula: The relationship between religion and well … – UT Daily Beacon

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Columnist Sana Boghani says that in her experience, religion and spirituality can help to improve mental and physical wellness.

Columnist Sana Boghani says that in her experience, religion and spirituality can help to improve mental and physical wellness.
Throughout my childhood, my parents instilled in me several values based on our deeply held religious beliefs, from treating every human being with respect to constantly seeking positive energy from the rituals we partake in at our place of worship. Indeed, my parents were my first religious education teachers, informing me about the history of our faith and teaching me some of the longstanding devotional literature that I began reciting when I was two years old.
All of these practices are a significant part of my life to this day. Having the good fortune to continue living with my parents as a college student, I continue to attend our place of worship as regularly as I can. I love how the ceremonies always take place in the evening, allowing my day to always end on a delightful note. I have yet to fully understand my faith in the context of our current world and how thousands of years of history can still be relevant to my life.
When all is said and done, my religious beliefs are the cornerstone of my existence. They have kept me grounded in difficult situations and humble in times of success. And my feelings are in no way abstract or surreal.
In fact, according to Frank Newport, Dan Witters and Sangeeta Agrawal at Gallup, religious individuals have a more positive outlook on life, are less likely to have been diagnosed with depression and experience fewer negative emotions on a daily basis. They also “make much better health choices than do those who are not as or not at all religious.”
Furthermore, substantial research confirms the existence of a “significant relationship between religiosity and well-being and self-reported mental health.”
It is important to clarify that I am not concerned about naming a particular religion, nor am I questioning the nature of one’s religious beliefs. Rather, the question that has long fascinated me is, what characteristics does religion bring to enhance an individual’s well-being? This is the idea I want to explore in this article.
Improved Mental and Physical Health
Based on an extensive literature review by Harold G. Koenig, professor of psychiatry at the Duke University School of Medicine, various mental and physical health benefits are associated with being religious and/or spiritual. For instance, Koenig refers to several reports that explain how religion and spirituality help people to cope with adversity and stressful situations. These even include physical health problems, from something minor like a common cold to something severe like cardiovascular disease. In other words, religion provides the willpower to endure a difficult situation with even more courage and confidence.
Koenig’s analysis also illustrated a largely inverse relationship between being religious and/or spiritual and various suicide variables, including attempting suicide and thinking about doing so. In fact, of 49 most methodological complex studies, “39 (80%) reported less suicide, fewer suicide attempts, or more negative attitudes toward suicide among the more (religious/spiritual).”
Religion provides an avenue for self-care, which paves the way for healthier behaviors, such as maintaining a healthy diet and obtaining sufficient amounts of physical activity. Additionally, fear and anxiety often prompt religious and/or spiritual individuals to use their faith to cope with anxiety in order to find a sense of peace and comfort.
Therefore, using religion as a coping mechanism can explain reductions in stress levels, which in turn points toward the decrease in emotional disorders like depression, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.
Positive Emotions
The list of positive emotions that can be attributed to being connected to one’s religion are endless. Happiness, love, peace, confidence, courage, you name it. I certainly feel many of these emotions myself when practicing my faith, which can be explained by a variety of contributing factors.
First, Newport points out how religion can give someone a sense of control. While some may perceive this locus of control to be external – that is, the belief that almost all events are controlled by transcending forces – I would add that religion also provides individuals with an internal locus of control. By believing that everything is in the hands of a higher power for a good reason, people may recognize their control over managing stressful situations in a healthy way.
Secondly, religions not only provide benefits on an individual level but also at the communal level. By attending congregational services or simply meeting others who follow the same religion, close-knit friendships can come into being. In addition, many religions emphasize the importance of treating one another with kindness and compassion, as well as supporting one another in their trials and tribulations. Thus abiding by a shared set of values can strengthen the unity of a religious group, as well as improve one’s interpersonal relationships.
Religion, Spirituality, or Both?
I have mentioned the terms “religion” and “spirituality” throughout, and they are sometimes used interchangeably as both terms involve some belief in a higher power. As many scholars have noted, religions are often also embedded with a set of guidelines that believers are expected to follow.
Spirituality, on the other hand, may be thought of as a more personalized journey towards finding one’s inner self and searching for a higher purpose in life. Hence, every individual’s perception and experience of spirituality is unique, creating an environment for personal progress no matter one’s stage of life or level of spirituality.
An individual can be spiritual but not religious or vice versa. However, it is possible to be both spiritual and religious by using religion as a foundational guide to take one’s spiritual journey in a way that’s best suited to one’s beliefs.
Regardless of the path you choose, or even if you don’t choose a path at all, I hope you are able to find a beautiful way to uplift yourself and your overall well-being.
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