Most people know that eating healthy foods, exercising appropriately, and getting enough sleep contribute to good health. Another factor, spirituality, has also been shown to positively impact health and overall quality of life. As we head into the holiday season, there’s much talk about spirituality. But what does it mean to be spiritual and how can it impact our overall health and wellness?
Spirituality resides within an individual and what they personally believe. Some of these beliefs are shared with others and expressed through religious traditions. Spirituality can also be expressed in ways not considered religious.
Wherever our beliefs originate, they become our guides to making daily decisions that shape our lives. Our priorities, and therefore our choices, are based on what we see as our highest good. Having meaning and purpose in life can promote self-care and loving relationships with ourselves, others, and with the world at large.
While hostile relationships cause stress and fear, healthy relationships provide peace and security. Forgiveness, developing a strong sense of personal worth, and affirmation allow us to live life more fully.
There is a connection between our mind, body, and spirit. Research shows that our beliefs and spiritual practices change our biology. Just as brushing our teeth helps prevent cavities, there is evidence that having purpose and engaging in spiritual practices such as meditation and gratitude, directly impact our body’s healing properties.
Most forms of meditation, religiously based or not, involve techniques – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state. This training of our attention has been shown to have many benefits including lower blood pressure, improved immune system, and decreased stress.
The practice of gratitude – the appreciation of what is valuable and meaningful to oneself – can also lead to an overall increase in well-being. We can train ourselves to be constantly grateful for the little things in life. Some individuals find that they have a better night’s sleep when they name three things they are grateful for before bed. The more we practice gratitude, the more we default to positivity instead of negativity.
Spirituality can prevent some health problems and help us cope and recover better from illnesses. Caring for ourselves, our neighbors, and the world with gratitude and compassion not only brings us greater peace, but healthier bodies.
Rev. Jonathan Scott serves as Chaplain at Day Kimball Hospital and leads the Hospital’s Pastoral Care department. For more information about Day Kimball Healthcare visit www.daykimball.org.