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Religious and spiritual practices can help people cope with illness [Image: Dustin M. Ramsey - Wikimedia Commons]

Spiritual beliefs benefit those facing chronic illness

27 October, 2011

Natural Health News — Science has shown that people who practice religion and spirituality have better physical and mental health and greater longevity than those who do not.

Now, a new study has shown that religious and spiritual support – including care from congregations and pastors and spiritual interventions, such as religious counselling and forgiveness practices – improves health outcomes for both men and women who face chronic health conditions.

“Our findings reinforce the idea that religion/spirituality may help buffer the negative consequences of chronic health conditions,” said lead author Stephanie Reid-Arndt, associate professor of health psychology in the School of Health Professions at the University of Missouri.

“We know that there are many ways of coping with stressful life situations, such as a chronic illness; involvement in religious/spiritual activities can be an effective coping strategy.”

Reid-Arndt and her fellow researchers studied how people used spirituality/religiosity to cope with chronic health conditions and disabilities, including spinal cord injury, brain injury, stroke and cancer.

Using measures of religiousness/spirituality, general mental health and general health perception, the researchers found no differences between men and women in terms of self-reported levels of spiritual experiences, religious practices or congregational support.

The findings are also noteworthy because of the longstanding assumption that women are more spiritual or participate more frequently in spiritual or religious practice than men.  In this study religious support was associated with better mental health outcomes for women and with better physical and mental health for men.

For women, mental health is associated with daily spiritual experiences, forgiveness and religious/spiritual coping, the study found. This suggests that belief in a loving, supportive and forgiving higher power is related with positive mental coping for women with chronic conditions.

For men, religious support – the perception of help, support and comfort from local congregations – was associated with better self-rated health both mental and physical.

The study was published in the Journal of Religion, Disability & Health.