The Role of Spirituality in Healthcare
Spirituality is an integral part of the #healthhero experience. It can improve your health and well-being. It can support your ability to cope with illness and enhance your recovery. Spirituality can not only be an important part of your personal healing but also play a role in your entire healthcare experience.
In this article, I will discuss what spirituality is, its impact on your health, and its role in healthcare. I will also give you some tips to practice one of the most impactful spiritual tools, meditation, to improve your health.
What Is Spirituality
Spirituality means different things to different people. To some, it may be related to organized religion or a specific church, synagogue, temple, mosque, or another religious gathering place. For others, spirituality is a completely non-religious practice, while for others still, it is a combination of religious and non-religious activities. Spirituality can be a quiet time of reflection, meditation, yoga, rituals, drawing oracle cards, or private prayer. For others it can be simply connecting to nature through a walk, hugging trees, gazing at the stars.
Spirituality brings a higher purpose to people’s lives. Believing in something greater than yourself can bring more peace, connection, joy, understanding, and adventure than anything else. No matter how you practice spirituality and whether or not it is connected to religion, the type of faith it is, it can have a strong impact on your health. It can bring you more hope, meaning, guidance, vision, and trust.
In my experience, spirituality has an impactful role in your health. No #healthhero experience would be complete without it. Spirituality has its place in healthcare and can boost your treatment experience. (12, 13, 30, 31, 32, 33)
Role of Spirituality in Healthcare
Throughout history and across cultures, spirituality has been strongly linked to healthcare. It all changed in modern times. Technological advances and modern day medical research discoveries has no doubt brought phenomenal progress in medicines giving the ability to prolong and save lives. On the other hand, these modern approaches have also changed the focus of medicine from a caring, patient-oriented, service-oriented model to a cure-oriented, disease-oriented and technological model.
Understanding the historical role of spirituality in healthcare and seeing its benefits for patients, in the recent years, some physicians have been trying to balance their medical practice with spirituality. Many hospitals offer pastoral care and spiritual services to their patients and families. More doctors are practicing compassionate care aiming to serve the whole person, including their physical, emotional, social and spiritual well-being. (13, 30, 31, 32, 33)
Research has shown that spirituality can benefit people’s health and impact their mortality, coping and recovery. (13)
Research has shown that those who have a regular spiritual practice tend to live longer. Those involved in spiritual activities, such as attending church service, seems to have a 50 percent lower risk of elevated interleukin (IL-6) that is associated with an increased risk of disease. Spirituality can improve stress control, resulting in better coping skills, increased personal strength and more social support. (13, 14, 15, 31)
Spiritual practice can help patients coping with illness, pain and general life stresses. It can help them to have a positive outlook, to trust in the treatment plan, to believe in recovery and to create a better quality of life. Research has also shown that they more likely to have more fulfillment, meaning, and purpose in life. They are more likely to find meaning in their illness. Spiritual comfort and connection can help them cope with their illness and connection. Though the role of pain medication is very important, research has shown that relaxation, prayer, meditation, touch, and massage can all help with pain management. Lastly, spirituality can support family members and friends to cope with their loved one’s illness or death. (13, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 31, 32, 33)
Just looking at placebo studies, we can see that how powerful belief itself can be. Patients given placebo experience benefits 35 percent of cases simply because they believed that they were given real medication. They are able to tap into their ‘remembered wellness’ and feel better. Spirituality is a much deeper belief in something greater than us and faith in life itself. Only 10 – 20 minutes of meditation can lower patients metabolism, heart rate, respiratory rates and brain waves. Spiritual practices can lower anxiety, improve self-esteem, and improve physical functioning. Since 60 – 90 percent of patients visit their primary care physician with stress-related issues, spirituality can be crucial to lower stress and improve health. Finally, compassionate and spiritual care can improve the patient-physician relationship improving trust and recovery greatly. (13, 24, 25, 26, 27, 31, 32, 33)
Healthcare is more than identifying diseases and treating it with medication and surgery. People long for support. Helping patients should involve caring about them, spending time with them, asking questions, talking about what’s important to them and holding their hands.
“Man is not destroyed by suffering; he is destroyed by suffering without meaning,” said Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, and Holocaust concentration camp survivor. Spirituality helps find this meaning to get through illness, cope with pain and find healing. A physician can support patients and their families in this through compassionate care. A physician who is there cares, and listens can provide true support. The role of spirituality has been more widely recognized when supporting permanently ill and dying patients, but the same support should be there for those with less serious issues, treatable diseases, and chronic illness.
Understanding a patient’s spirituality can help a physician to treat patients better. Spirituality may play a role in a patient’s understanding of their diseases and their decision to seek treatment. Religious convictions can also play a role in their decision making of treatment. Spiritual practices can be an enormous role in patients’ and their families coping. Spirituality can also play an integral role in a patient’s holistic care.
To provide compassionate care, physicians can practice compassionate presence, prove a safe zone, listen to patients’ pain, fears, hopes and dreams, obtain their spiritual history, suggest spiritual practices (eg. meditation, yoga) as appropriate, being attentive to the whole patient from a holistic point of vies including their body, mind and soul. Physicians don’t need to replace spiritual counselors, chaplains and other spiritual leaders, initiate prayers or other religious activities. Physicians can provide medical care for their patients while practicing compassionate care and supporting spiritual aspects of their healing.
As a patient, you are encouraged to talk to your doctor about your spiritual beliefs and practices and discuss how it may support your health and healing. Be a #HealthHero and take charge of your health and engage in spiritual practices to improve your health and well-being. Meditation is one of the best practices you can learn to support your health and recovery. (13, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33)
Meditation is something that anyone can practice regardless of their faith, religion or spirituality. It can dampen the flight-or-fight mechanism in your body, lower cortisol, bring you relaxation, create more balance, and increase your physical and mental health. (12, 13)
Health Benefits of Meditation
- Reduce stress (1)
- Improves anxiety (2)
- Decreases depression (3)
- Promotes emotional health (4)
- Increases a positive outlook on life (4)
- Increases self-awareness (5)
- Reduces age-related memory loss (6)
- Generates kindness (7)
- Helps fighting addictions (8)
- Improves sleep (9)
- Helps controlling pain (10)
- Decreases blood pressure (11)
- Improves overall physical and mental health (12)
12 Steps to Meditation (12)
- Set your intention.
- Eliminate all excuses that can stop you from completing your meditation routine.
- Find a place to sit comfortably. It can be a chair, a cushion or just the floor.
- Don’t get too comfortable. Stay calm, but alert. Don’t fall asleep
- Keep your spine tall. Inhale by rolling your shoulders to your ears and exhale by lowering them.
- Close your eyes.
- Maintain a simple breath through and out your nose.
- Be patient. Give it time. It is a learning process.
- Observe your thoughts without judgment.
- Don’t engage in or follow your thoughts. Just sit and be. Let them go as they arise.
- Shifts happen. Distraction is part of the process. Accept it and continue.
- Move if you must. If you must scratch an itch or shake your arms, do it then go back to your breath.
- Your focus doesn’t have to be on God or organized religion, since a belief in anything greater than yourself, including the interconnectedness of life and nature, brings the same health benefits.
- It’s not just that you believe in something, but it is also the repetition of taking time every day to practice.
- With the hope and optimism generated by spirituality, people not only have fewer illnesses but also tend to live longer.
- People who embrace their spirituality are more forgiving than their nonspiritual counterparts.
- Spirituality also offers social support, which is a huge benefit to anyone.
Spirituality has a positive role in healthcare, coping and recovery. It can help you create a positive outlook on life, find purpose, reduce pain, improve physical functioning, reduce the risk of disease, increase relaxation, reduce stress, increase hope, increase the feeling of belonging, and increases lifespan. There is no question that spirituality is an integral part of your #healthhero journey.
I hope you’ve found this article helpful. If you have any questions or feedback and want to share how your spiritual practice benefits your health, share them in the comments below.