The following is an abridged version, edited by the author. The full article can be read here: How Faith Can Improve Mental Health and Reduce Stress Levels.
Life today is as stressful as it has ever been, and this is reflected in the fact that anti-depressants are being prescribed at a higher rate than ever before. However, there is one age-old method that can reduce stress levels for free and without a prescription. People around the world rely on faith to see them through hard times. Faith and spirituality are abstract concepts, but they can lead to concrete results in mental health improvement and stress reduction.
Using Faith to Reduce Stress
Faith is a belief or trust in God, while spirituality is an attachment to religious values. Faith and spirituality provide a sense of purpose, allow people to connect to something greater than themselves, and enable them to release control.
Once people have discovered their sense of purpose, they often learn that there are others who share these same goals or reasons for existing. This sense of connection can lead to greater interaction with others, and also allows people to release control. Being connected to others and to something greater lets people share responsibility, and the various burdens that they carry. We realize that we don’t control everything and are not responsible for everything, which can be a great relief.
Faith also leads people to expand their social networks, bringing people together with a common purpose and goal. Interestingly, a cycle is created. Not only does faith enable relationships, but those relationships then serve to reinforce and deepen faith.
The Importance of Prayer
A relationship with God is no different to other relationships in that it requires frequent, honest and personal communication. Prayer is the spiritual exercise that allows people to communicate directly with God.
Prayer provides stress relief in a variety of ways. A prayer for help is a great source of comfort and relief because a person does not feel they have to bear their burden alone. The belief that God is listening to their prayers and will help them is a source of hope to many individuals. With hope comes the strength to carry on.
Scientific Evidence That Faith Improves Mental Health
There have been numerous attempts to establish a scientific link between faith and mental health. In 2012, the American Journal of Psychiatry published the results of a longitudinal study that also sought to establish the relationship between religiousness and the onset and course of major depression. The study found that in the 10 years of follow-up, subjects who both described religion as highly important and also affiliated themselves with either Catholic or Protestant denominations had a 76% less chance of experiencing an episode of major depression. Researchers feel that the findings suggest religion and spirituality should be considered by clinicians during the psychiatric evaluation.
Faith and spirituality are more than just comforting rituals to religious individuals. They have the ability to have a positive impact on mood and mental health. Aspects of faith enable tangible reductions in and protection from stress by generating optimism, enriching interpersonal relationships, creating support systems and improving quality of life.
Fawne Hansen is an author and wellness coach specializing in stress and stress-related conditions. You can follow her online through Google+, Pinterest and Twitter. Her website adrenalfatiguesolution.com is dedicated to helping people make healthy choices, reduce stress, and more. Fawne lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with her husband and two children.