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Does the healing spirit work?

Created date

February 21st, 2012

Trying to explain spirituality in concrete terms is like trying to explain love, says David Wierzchowski, M.Div., spiritual care specialist and supervisor of counseling services at Family Hospice and Palliative Care in Pittsburgh, Pa. Spirituality is a relationship with God, no matter how someone perceives that God or a higher power. Spirituality may be a way for some people to find meaning in their lives. Religion is one way to go about it, but others use nature, art, or music to nurture their spirit. Tapping into your spirituality will not likely cure you of any medical condition, but it may help you cope with it and give you a greater sense of well-being. The body, mind, and spirit are all interconnected, Wierzchowski says. The health of one can affect the health of the other.

The science behind it

There is ample evidence of a relationship between spirituality and health, but why or how that happens is currently unknown. Nevertheless, there have been several studies on the topic, and many of them have focused on seniors. According to the Nemours Foundation, studies show that spiritual people engage in fewer harmful behaviors such as smoking and alcohol abuse. Research also supports that people report less stress and greater life satisfaction if they consider themselves spiritual. Spirituality has been associated with better blood pressure and a stronger immune system. Studies show that it may have a positive effect on chronic pain. Other research data seem to indicate that people who are spiritual may be less vulnerable to illness, disability, or depression, says Janice Gable, M.D., medical director at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va. In a study of residents at Erickson Living communities, people who answered yes to the question of whether a spiritual life is important to them were found to be healthier, Gable adds. Many losses come with aging, and spirituality can help you deal with those changes. Some people can cope well with severe disease because their spirituality is strong, Wierzchowski adds. I ve seen people with serious illness live a long time past their life expectancy simply because of a strong spirit and a will to live. Science supports Wierzchowski s observations. One seven-year study showed that death rates were lower among seniors before significant religious holidays, which suggests that spirituality may be linked to the ability to postpone death in some instances. The potential benefits of spirituality are becoming more accepted in the scientific and medical community. Complementary and alternate medical treatments often have a spiritual component, Gable explains. These are becoming more popular and accepted as valid treatments for many health conditions.

Becoming more spiritual

Spirituality does not necessarily mean going to church, Wierzchowski says. You can start by reading religious or philosophical writings, or poetry. Some people might find their spirit strengthened by a beautiful sunset or a walk in the woods. If you were raised in a certain faith, you may find that it is easy to return to that. Some people find volunteer work, prayer, or yoga can help. Simply setting aside quiet time for yourself on a daily basis may be beneficial. Along with your physical and mental health, your doctor is interested in your spirituality, but it might not be obvious. Your doctor may not necessarily ask you about your spiritual life, but may rather ask how you cope with your specific health problems or other life stress, Gable says. Although your doctor may not be able to directly help you with spiritual concerns, he or she may be able to suggest some resources for you. With the concept of spirituality, you are essentially opening your heart to a force that is greater than you. This is scary to some people because it can make them feel vulnerable at first, Wierzchowski says. A spiritual relationship can begin slowly, grow in intensity, and then settle in as a strong but steady force in your life. Never underestimate the power of the spirit, he continues. I believe some unexplained things that happen in medicine are directly related to someone s spirituality.