Can Spirituality Help Manage Anxiety?

Anxiety disorders can have a crippling effect on quality of life, especially with the number of sufferers on the rise. 

Researchers looked at a large, nationally representative survey of Canadians with a history of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Out of more than 2000 patients, 7 out of 10 are now free from the disorder, with 4 out of 10 deemed to have excellent mental health. A number of factors were considered in the research to have contributed to these recoveries, but a key finding was that spirituality appears to have a role in mental health healing.

The research shows that those who use spiritual or religious beliefs to help them cope with their anxiety disorder are 36% more likely to recover and to regain excellent mental health than those without spiritual beliefs. Esme Fuller-Thomson, lead author of the study, says there is a ‘strong link between recovery from a mental illness and belief in a higher power’. 

Interestingly, another key factor credited with mental health recovery in the study was the existence of personal support for the patient – ie a close friend or family member who provides the patient with a sense of emotional security and wellbeing. Those with such support were much more likely to make a good recovery than those without. Could this and the spirituality factor be linked in some way? A sense of connectedness and oneness has been shown to have mental health benefits, and this sense can come from either spiritual experiences or good interpersonal relationships. It is also known that loneliness or a sense of disconnect has adverse mental health implications – again, this something that both strong personal networks and a transcendent sense of spirituality tend to counter.

Researchers at Dartmouth in 2012 found that cardiac surgery patients who had spiritual or religious beliefs survived longer following surgery than others.

Spirituality Brings Acceptance of the Present Moment

Many spiritual people have learned a certain amount of acceptance of the present moment, whether through mindfulness or other practices. They are perhaps able to take a more objective view, therefore, of their mental illness, rather than trying to ‘fix’ it, which in turn can create more stress and more problems. By accepting where one is, and letting go of expectations, the healing process may become easier.

 An Appreciation of Imperfection

Through prayer, meditation or simply leading a more spiritual life, many people come to acknowledge that nobody is perfect. This may help mental health patients to feel loved and more secure just how they are, without feeling pressure to conform or to ‘improve’ or ‘get better’. Common sense tells us that the less pressure someone feels, the more likely they are to be able to resolve a mental health crisis.

Spirituality Brings a Sense of Purpose

If one believes that they have a higher or spiritual purpose in life, then it is easier to find meaning in life, even in adversity. Research has shown that spirituality and its associated sense of purpose can help to prevent people slipping into addiction, it’s possible that a similar mechanism may help to protect people from developing poor mental health in the first place, or make them more robustly able to recover.


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