How Spirituality Affects Stress Levels
Take a moment to close your eyes and think about what a 'spiritual' person looks like. Whether you see them as sitting lotus-style in saffron robes or speaking emphatically from a pulpit, I'd bet one thing you won't see them as is 'stressed'. Relaxed… serene… beatific. These are all adjectives we associate with the super-spiritual. But stressed? Kind of defeats the purpose of all that spirituality, doesn't it?
I'm going to take a moment here to make the all-important distinction between religion and spirituality. Different people have different definitions of each, but for the purposes of this article, it's important to be clear about what I mean by each term. A religion is a codified set of beliefs and practices shared by adherents. Spirituality, by contrast, is about an individual's relationship with Spirit (however they might see it) and their connection with their own spiritual aspect. Please note that the two concepts can co-exist, but that religion doesn't have to be spiritual, and equally, spirituality doesn't need to be religious.
In this article, I want to focus on spirituality, rather than religion. If you do follow an organised religion, feel free to apply the information to your own spiritual path. If not, I invite you to keep in mind the difference between religion and spirituality as you read. This is because there's a great deal of evidence that a healthy spiritual belief system can both help lessen the impact some of our stressors have on us, and deal with the consequences of our stress responses. The first half of this article covers some of the suggested reasons for this, while the second (which will appear in the next issue of Optimum Stress News) explores how we can use this link to help with our stress management. SUPPORT NETWORKS
Most stressors seem bigger and more difficult to deal with if we're feeling isolated and as though we're dealing with them alone. Knowing that we belong to and can connect with a group of people who care, and who can offer solace, strength and possibly even solutions, can do much to offset that feeling. And interestingly enough, that sense of belonging doesn't necessarily have to be to a group of people. If we see the natural world as something we can interact with, or Spirit or our Higher Selves as beings with whom we can talk, then they can become part of our support just as much as actual people could. PERSPECTIVE
In the thousand and one things we all have to do to keep up with the demands work, study, family, and friends; problems that would seem fairly minor if they attacked us one-by-one can seem unbearably huge. At such times, believing in something bigger than ourselves (or bigger than the day-to-day self who has to deal with all of these problems) can sometimes help to shrink our stressors back down to something approaching a manageable size. MEANING
It's a hard thing to accept when we're going through tough periods, but it's not the things that happen to us that upset us. What upsets us is the meanings we give those events. For example, if I've just failed a job interview, it's not actually failing the interview that's upset me – it's all the things I've made it mean. Perhaps, in my mind, it means I'll never get a job, that I'm just no good at interviews, that I'll always be broke, or even that I'm a useless person in all areas of my life. Whatever it might be, unless I had my heart set on that specific job, it's unlike to just be the interview results. When this happens, a sense of spirituality can help me to look for positive meanings in seemingly negative events – enabling me to ask what I can learn, or how I can grow stronger, instead of asking why it's always me that gets dumped on. SPACE & STILLNESS
Something most spiritual systems emphasise is the need for time spent by ourselves in quiet and stillness. In this still space, our minds - weary of thoughts rushing around at breakneck speed – can find rest. The time alone can be spent meditating, praying, or just listening and appreciating what is there around and within us in that given moment. The form doesn't matter – whatever is right for you is what's right for you. It's the peace and respite we're accessing – the simple 'time out' that makes this so helpful for stress management. These are just four of the possible suggested ways that developing a personal spirituality can
help in keeping our stress at optimum levels.
In Part 2, we'll look at how we can start to develop the kind of spirituality that's true to our own individual values, and how to make use of it as a tool for managing stress. If you have any questions or comments on the first half of the article, please don't hesitate to contact me. Otherwise, until the next issue, may every day bring you closer to your optimum life.
By Tanja Gardner
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