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Can your spiritual and religious beliefs impact your mental and physical health?

If you’ve caught my previous articles on the connection between these topics, you probably won’t be surprised by the answer.

They most certainly do!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve explored how religion and spirituality are important factors in many people’s lives. These beliefs also play a powerful role in treatment and wellness outcomes.

Now, in this conclusion to my series on this subject, I will explore in more detail how spirituality and religion literally impact our mind and body.

The Mind-Body-Spirit Connection

In a comprehensive report that reviewed the research on how religion/spirituality (R/S) effects mental and physical health, the author found both benefits and negative implications. This systematic review included original data-based quantitative research published in peer-reviewed journals between 1872 and 2010. In the overview, it was stated:

…I review research on R/S and mental health, examining relationships with both positive and negative mental health outcomes…where positive outcomes include well-being, happiness, hope, optimism, and gratefulness…

and negative outcomes involve depression, suicide, anxiety, psychosis, substance abuse, delinquency/crime, marital instability, and personality traits (positive and negative) …

Next, I review research on R/S and health behaviors such as physical activity, cigarette smoking, diet, and sexual practices…

 followed by a review of relationships between R/S and heart disease, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, immune functions, endocrine functions, cancer, overall mortality, physical disability, pain, and somatic symptoms.

Overall, the author states, “The majority of studies report significant relationships between R/S and better health.” Yet, the mixed positive and detrimental findings between mental health outcomes and religion are intriguing.

I believe the adverse effects could be based on the fact that one with different brain functioning patterns could have a more damaging interpretation and perception of their religion than others. This could trigger additional imbalances in cognitive processing and an aggravation of psychiatric symptoms.

For example, if one’s brain is “stuck” in negative patterns, believing they have sinned may predispose them to suffer more depression or anxiety. In these instances, correcting the underlying brain health factors and proper psychiatric care may not only improve mental health, but also spiritual and religious health as well.

When one uses their religion to seek forgiveness and move away from the sin with a clear mindset, they may gain from consulting their religion for guidance and repentance to change this destructive behavior pattern. Furthermore, it has been shown that characteristics that religions hold in high regard, such as forgiveness, positive affirmations, and dealing with regret have additional wellness benefits.

In the context of integrative psychiatry, these examples provide a few imperative reasons for doctors to ask about their patients’ religious and spiritual practices. These beliefs could be playing a role in aggravating one’s mental health condition, and, when properly applied and processed, helping to treat it.

Spirituality and Coping with Illness and Optimizing Health

Previously, we explored how finding a purpose can fuel posttraumatic growth and improve mental health outcomes. Religion and spirituality can offer meaning in bad times and are especially relevant to those who are struggling.

Perhaps this is most recognized in critical and end of life care when understanding suffering can help with acceptance of one’s illness:

Caring for critically ill patients requires that physicians and other health care professionals recognize the potential importance of spirituality in the lives of patients, families, and loved ones and in their own lives. Patients and loved ones undergo tremendous stress and suffering in facing critical illness. Professional caregivers also face similar stress and sadness. Spirituality offers people away to understand suffering and illness. Spiritual beliefs can also impact how people cope with illness. By addressing spiritual issues of patients, loved ones, and ourselves, we can create more holistic and compassionate systems of care. (source)

Spirituality that serves as a source of coping with illness is also a form of stress management that modulates physiological imbalances. According to the Institute of Functional Medicine, incorporating spirituality into healthcare could help to optimize health behaviors and reduce the impact of stress-related effects:

Spirituality is an important determinant of health that can affect patient healing, outcomes, and quality of life. Its effects on stress and physiological dysfunction have been widely studied, particularly regarding cardiovascular function…

Spiritual coping can be defined as using belief systems, attitudes, and mindfulness practices to manage emotional distress or hardship. While spirituality can have a religious connotation, coping behaviors like prayer do not need to be overtly religious in nature and may be reframed as taking a few moments in the day to set a goal or reflect on an accomplishment.

Spirituality, more broadly, is the feeling of connection, purpose, meaning, and balance in life. Mindfulness and awareness practices can help achieve this by giving patients the tools to recognize and transform stress and help navigate adversity…

Spiritual coping mechanisms may help patients to self-manage stress and reduce the impact of stress-related cardiovascular reactivity1 such as increased blood pressure…

Attending places of worship is associated with positive improvements in health-related behaviors that influence cardiometabolic dysfunction.12 Religious attendance was associated with lower incidence of all-cause mortality and marked improvement in nutrition and exercise habits, along with lower rates of smoking and alcohol consumption…13-15

Spiritual coping mechanisms, especially during times of crisis or illness, can influence a patient’s recovery and ability to self-manage their illness and related stressors.

Body, Mind, Soul…Oils

The information above gave several reasons why spirituality, religion, and integrative medicine are integral in healing the mind and body and overall healthcare. One modality that I find enhances the connection between the physical, emotional, and spiritual is the use of essential oils.

Since biblical and ancient times, essential oils and herbs have been used as a means to enhance body, mind, and spiritual balance. (See here) I’ve written previously about the emotional and bodily support that the famous trio of essential oils provided that were brought to the Christ Child. I also submitted, for my readers’ approval, the initiation of a quadruplet to the mighty three, Palo Santo due to its healing potential. Sacred sandalwood was another holy oil I reviewed which also has reference for restoration of the body and mind in modern and ancient times.

Sacred trees have been honored in religious and spiritual traditions throughout history. The spiritual properties of these oils on the psyche and body have been written about in more detail in books on the healing oils of the Bible. An article by Dr. Eric Z also highlights 12 of them here that you can learn about.

Summary- Honoring the Body, Mind, and Soul

We can no longer deny that the body is interconnected to the mind and the soul, and vice versa. Allowing space for spiritual and religious practices is a form of healing.

It is now time to advocate for a healthcare system that incorporates the whole person on all levels and integrates modalities that support mind-body-spirit wellness.

Last week, I asked you to consider talking to your doctor about your spiritual and religious beliefs.

Now, I ask you to honor your own practices and truly incorporate them into your wellness regime.

Let me know how it goes and provide your feedback in the comments.

Please share this information with those who would benefit and spread the word on social media.

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Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)

This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.

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