- Research supports that spirituality can help improve symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.
- Engaging in spiritual practices changes the prefrontal region of the brain; additionally, it serves as a shield against stress.
- When we turn to our spiritual nature, or focus on a higher power, we become more optimistic and those hopeless feelings characteristic of depression dissipate.
- Additionally, our spirituality provides new means for coping with and managing our depression, due to a shift in attitude and behavior.
- Finally, spirituality helps us change our entire outlook on life—rather than viewing our difficulties as obstacles, we view them as opportunities to grow.
Most research shows spirituality, not religion, helps lower depressive symptoms. Spirituality and belief in a higher power serves as a protective factor against depression. Speaking as a neurotherapist, I have seen depression and other mental health conditions improve as a result of the inclusion of spirituality in treatment. Neurotherapy alone helps improve symptoms, but those who incorporated holistic health practices including spirituality appear to show quicker and more long-lasting symptom improvements.
How Does Spirituality Improve Symptoms? It Changes the Brain
Why is this? The brain and the mind are powerful given their ability to think, concentrate, and make decisions. In the past, it was believed our brains were hardwired and unchanging. However, our brains are plastic, meaning they can adapt and change. Through neurogenesis the brain cells grow and develop, which helps to tear down negative thoughts and create a new, healthier mind.
Research by Lisa J. Miller, editor of The Oxford University Press Handbook of Psychology and Spirituality, found those with regular spiritual practices showed cortical thickening in the prefrontal region of the brain. She also found spirituality could buffer the effects of mental health stress. Therefore, spirituality can change the brain. There is a wealth of power in how we can positively change our brains through our minds. Spirituality and focus on a higher power are ways in which the mind may change for the better as optimism increases and hopelessness associated with depression decreases, particularly in those with mild to moderate depression.
Coping Mechanisms and New Perspectives
Furthermore, spirituality opens the mind to finding new ways of coping with and handling depression. So, the mind is not stuck ruminating over the same things or situations that lead to depression. As the mind and brain changes, so does one’s attitude and behaviors. Individuals may experience more self-acceptance and begin to engage in different behaviors, such as socializing instead of staying in.
Spirituality also helps individuals change their outlook on life in which they no longer see difficulties as challenges but instead view them as opportunities to learn and for growth. Spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, walking in nature, and/or attending church are beneficial to improve depression and overall mental health. Thus, spirituality can play a role in treating depression.
*Dr. Catherine Jackson is a Licensed Psychologist and Board-Certified Neurotherapist. She works in private practice and is the founder of Dr. J’s Holistic Health and Wellness.