“The spiritual quest is not some added benefit to our life, something you embark on if you have the time and inclination. We are spiritual beings on an earthly journey. Our spirituality makes up our beingness.”
In an article by the Mayo Clinic staff in “Healthy Lifestyle Stress Management,” the discussion relates the concept of spirituality and the management of stress in our lives.
Many have heard of the idea of stress relief through: exercising more, eating healthy foods and talking with friends.
A less tangible but no less useful way to find stress relief is through spirituality. The article emphasizes taking the path less traveled by exploring your spirituality can lead to a clearer life purpose, better personal relationships and enhanced stress management skills.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality has many definitions, but at its core, spirituality helps to give our lives context. It’s not necessarily connected to a specific belief system or even religious worship. Instead, it arises from your connection with yourself and with others, the development of your personal value system and your search for meaning in life.
For many, spirituality takes the form of religious observance, prayer, meditation or a belief in a higher power. For others, it can be found in nature, music, art or a secular community. Spirituality is different for everyone.
Many people find that having a spiritual or religious practice helps with stress management. Having a spiritual side can give a person a boost by allowing reliance on God or a higher power and surrendering worries and troubles, rather than holding on so tightly to stress. With a spiritual practice you’ll find that no matter how tough it gets, you’re not alone.
How Can Spirituality Help With Stress Relief?
Spirituality has many benefits for stress relief and overall mental health. It can help you:
- Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
- Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you feel — even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
- Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
- Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
- Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual appear to be better able to cope with stress and heal from illness or addiction faster.
Combining stress management and spiritual principles can be a healthy outlet for self-growth and learning to handle anything that comes your way. Here are some ways to incorporate a spiritual stress management practice into your life: Yoga, mediation, prayer and even keeping a journal (have a journal that is focused on getting in touch with your spiritual side-and finding answers for every day problems).
Discovering your spirituality
Uncovering your spirituality may take some self-discovery. Here are some questions to ask yourself to discover what experiences and values define you:
- What are your important relationships?
- What do you value most in your life?
- What people give you a sense of community?
- What inspires you and gives you hope?
- What brings you joy?
- What are your proudest achievements?
The answers to such questions help you identify the most important people and experiences in your life. With this information, you can focus your search for spirituality on the relationships and activities in life that have helped define you as a person and those that continue to inspire your personal growth.
Example of Spirituality – Addictions
It can be extremely difficult to conquer an addiction. When a person is trying to be clean and sober, he or she may be tempted to take use more drugs or alcohol just do deal with the stress involved. A person may seek gratification though external resources by looking for the “quick fix.”
Addicts often have a very difficult time learning to live with frustration and uncomfortable feelings. This is why relapse is so common and long term recovery so hard to attain.
An addict’s mind is analogous to clothes in a washing machine. They have various colors, shapes and forms that are constantly changing. The washing machine is rapidly spinning around and its thoughts are going in circles, mixing together seemingly out of control. This “vicious cycle” inevitably leads to a chronic state of stress and anxiety.
Addicts and Stress
Stress is one of the most commonly reported causes of drug and alcohol use and is considered the number one cause of addiction relapse.
When the human body is under stress, hormones rush to the adrenal glands to suppress levels of cortisol, which affects other hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain.
Chronic stress can also reduce the levels of serotonin in the brain, which often leads to anxiety and depression.
When the body is exposed to high levels of stress, the SNS reacts by increasing the heart rate, raising blood pressure, constricting blood vessels, stressing the digestive system and preparing for the “fight or flight” response.
In contrast, the PSNS reacts in the opposite way by slowing the heart rate and relaxing the muscles.
Without having a mechanism to control stress, people often turn to drugs and alcohol to calm the nervous system. Many addicts are simply “self medicating” by trying to control or decrease the symptoms of these emerging levels of stress.
However, over a prolonged period of time, the body adapts to the drug or alcohol by developing a tolerance to the substance, and more amounts are needed to achieve the desired tranquil state.
Over time, one’s judgment becomes increasingly impaired and impulse control decreases leading to substance abuse and/or dependence.
Benefits of Stress Management
Stress reduction alleviates stress, relaxing the body and mind by calling on the parasympathetic nervous system. Today, many people are using meditation and other exercises in stress management as a means of the recovery process, as well as maintaining and keeping a balanced life.
When an individual finds a few workable strategy, a permanent change in attitude toward stress may develop. The person is then able to better cope, without turning to substances such as drugs or alcohol.
For example, meditation not only relieves stress by relaxing the body and mind, it also helps to develop frustration tolerance, and helps one learn to delay immediate gratification by increasing cognitive functions.
Research has shown that many physical and emotional ailments are caused by stress. Therefore, practicing effective stress management can have lasting effects in improving one’s emotional and physical well being. It improves one’s sense of control, increases self-confidence, and helps one experience a greater quality of life.
How to Use Stress Reduction as a Means of Stress Management
Stress reduction can be practiced as little as 10 minutes a day to have a lasting effect on one’s body, mind, and spirit. Stress reduction exercises can be practiced in a group and/or in individual sessions, at centers and communities. It is most important to have a comfortable environment.
Stress reduction focuses very much on the “here and now.” One technique can simply be closing one’s eyes and focusing on one’s breathing. Techniques of stress reduction include deep breathing, mental imaging, and focusing on one word or thought which relaxes the mind and body and can also incorporate muscle relaxation. Daily practice has been shown to have many long-term affects on health and mental well being.
How Counseling Can Help
When an individual enters treatment, therapists can give him or her many stress management tools:
- Individual Counseling: can teach their clients simple breathing techniques in a counseling session and then discuss it afterwards. Often, more concrete methods of stress management are required.
- Stress Management Groups: Groups for stress reduction and management. Whether it is open ended or closed, groups generally have six to eight people. Members have the opportunity to share their experiences with each other and foster each other’s growth.
- Self-help Groups: Alcoholics Anonymous, a 12-step program, recommend meditation in the 11th step as a means to achieve abstinence. Additionally, there are specific 12-step “meditation” meetings throughout the country and online. There are many meditation centers that offer weekly or daily stress reduction classes. People learn to practice meditation and relaxation techniques as a part of their daily routine.
Practicing effective stress management techniques helps to put the focus back on oneself. Such techniques aim to help calm the mind, while increasing awareness of one’s internal experience (thoughts and feelings). By learning how to effectively manage stress in ones life, one is able to better manage life itself – thereby decreasing the need for drugs and alcohol. It is the pathway to a healthy and more productive life.
Prayer beads photo available from Shutterstock