The Science of Spirituality: How Belief Systems Impact Mental and Physical Health

The Science of Spirituality: How Belief Systems Impact Mental and Physical Health

1. Introduction

We have made major strides in the past half-century in understanding the brain, our biological makeup, and in developing mechanical systems. We have sent our computers as far out in our solar system as Saturn, on the lunar surface, and to Mars. But we have made no progress - NONE - in understanding the most amazing, complex, and subtle thing we know about in the entire universe - our consciousness. While spirituality and organized religion provide avenues through which some attempt to come to terms with the mind-body issue, it is still a difficult and unresolved question - perhaps it even lies beyond what we can understand.

This essay will define what religion and spirituality are, and then specifically explore the way that spirituality functions and its relationship with mental and physical health. Since spirituality is often defined in connection with a spirit, or soul, we will also explore these concepts. The human concern with a possible "spirit" within them is ancient and can be traced back to ancient Greece, or earlier, in cultures around the world. This concept has taken different forms in different cultures throughout different periods in history. Despite the historical roots of the mind-body and consciousness conundrums, these issues are particularly pertinent now.

1.1. Purpose of the Study

Participants included 286 undergraduate students who were mainly women, from four southeastern universities in the United States, representing a range of different religious affiliations. Participants completed a 29-item Life Meaning Stress Scale that was developed for people representing several faith traditions, along with inventories measuring spiritual transcendence, purpose in life, meaning in life, death anxiety, and mental health. Results showed that higher levels of purpose in life were related to lower levels of meaning in life and life meaning stress. Higher meaning in life levels were significantly related to lower levels of death anxiety. Although high levels of spirituality were found to be related to high levels of human mental well-being, higher levels of purpose in life were significantly associated with greater meaning in life and lower levels of life meaning stress. These findings are supported by the Soulmaking model and other research findings.

The purpose of this study was to explore the relationship between religiosity, spirituality, and mental and physical health, as well as to investigate variables that mediate such associations. This study examined the significance of the Soulmaking model with variables such as purpose in life, meaning in life, and stresses related to death, many of which previously have not been examined in relation to life meaning stress concerns in a multifaith context. Utilizing the Soulmaking model, exploring facing fears, seeking spiritual growth, and making life meaningful are important spiritual and existential resources that help protect and enhance mental health for individuals despite an acknowledgment of their own fear of death and concerns related to how they will face the end of their life and its course represented by the inevitable end of their life.

2. Understanding Spirituality and Belief Systems

Spirituality and religion are two domains that are vigorously studied topics related to health. A growing number of studies suggest that it is the characteristics of religious involvement, such as those that are an important part of the journey for self-transcendence, that are significantly related to greater psychological and physical well-being. In distinction to the connection between a person's peaceful beliefs in things immaterial and health benefits, it is the lack of peaceful beliefs in things believed on the basis of empirical or situational evidence that is connected to much greater risk of all health issues. Individuals who are agnostic, atheist, secular humanists and unbelievers (despite belief in an evidence-based system) in religious in having beliefs not shared by the broad attribute individuals from all over the world, so they are certainly not a 'set-up'. These individuals are not often included in the aspects of spirituality that are related to health but, according to reviews of the psychology of religion literature, believe spirituality includes humanism, scientism, secularism and atheistic religious systems.

In order to discuss spirituality properly, it is necessary to define it. Many people confuse the at-long-last growing academic discipline of psychology of religion, or the more popular term, religion and health, with something that had been mentioned thousands of years earlier than 1933, and which has its own unique characteristics. All positive psychologists pay at least lip-service to the concept and search for spirituality, and they are right to because a person is not whole impact if the meanings underlying that person's life are not addressed. In contrast to the rest of psychology, the discipline of transpersonal sciences, which emerged from the humanistic psychology movement of the 1960s, has defined spirituality as those aspects of self that refer to transcendent dimensions of human recognition, that may contribute in easy or the way for self-realization, and that may alternatively confirm or refute their connection with others in their ideas through their relationship with the harsh environment where they live.

2.1. Definitions and Concepts

In spirituality development contrast sets a stage-structured process of transformation that proceeds from an initial state in which concern with those things larger/smaller/nomadic contrast concern is absent or unrelated to later states in which concern is a central part of essence. Similar to religious transformation, spirituality development implies qualitative changes in the external and internal quality of the spiritual thought, in this case in clearing the constructions of a pervasive sense of personal embodiment of abstract spirituality or spiritual material world smaller; in the spiritual relationships with others in contrast including a superior/subordinate entanglement with some transcendent, abstract personality or spiritual guides; and in attention to the content of spiritual analysis as reflecting the transforming superior embodiment of spirituality or spiritual logic of existence. In essence, spirituality development provides access to spiritual thought content not generally apparent to those who have not attained the higher transcendental state of enlightenment.

In the first sense, it is the idea of spirituality development contrast growing or expanding in the capacity for the ultimate, which is more spiritual than religious, in that it refers to a personal quality. A feeling of rightness in the world and a contented joy, or state of satisfaction, may be associated with the experience of the ideals and attributes of the core. Such experiences may be represented by a taste of mystical euphoria, a vision of god or a personified embodiment of spirituality, transcendental understanding, or panreligious experience alternating mystical/sensory events.

Two basic models have been utilized or proposed in the literature for describing the cognitive spiritual change of spiritual development. The idea of religious development suggests changes in spiritual beliefs over time, irrespective of changes in social, psychological, or biological development. It is most often associated with developmental stage theories of the process of religious transformation, such as James's (1902) varieties of religious experience, Kohlberg's (1981) theory of moral development, and Fowler's (1981) stages of faith drawing attention to the core changes underlying sequential transitions between nomadic, animist/ritualist, theist, and rational stages or some variant of these basic categories. There are also, however, psychoanalytic theories with a similar emphasis on content or qualitative changes in sustained belief in supernatural forces, contrast concern with existence or the meaning of life, the presence of intermediary kinship between adepts and a supreme being, ethics of right and wrong or duties and obligations, and beliefs and customs transcendental architecture or logic of pure existence.

Essential physical health refers to physical functioning, fitness, energy, overall well-being, and risk for disease or death. In contrast, essential spirituality refers to spiritual beliefs and practices, essence and meaning inferred from these experiences, and essential relationships both within oneself and with the transcendent or something larger than oneself. These contrasts and concepts of interest drive both the research trying to enhance physical health on the part of religion or spirit and in the psychological literature. With this foundation for the section on research within psychology, both within individuals and with society, the section on theoretical influences on physical health within individuals and, finally, the section on possible mechanisms mediating the effects of religion on health can be addressed.

3. The Mind-Body Connection

For instance, when an adverse rapid decrease in self-perceived health occurs, the activation of religious and nonreligious autobiographical memory networks can mobilize an array of reinforcing self-regulatory neural circuits that create a psychological and emotional construct which will enable and support that individual to once again build resilience and allow conduct flexibility in order to improve health. Hence, the primary caring function of neurotheology is the ability to identify exactly how and through which religious and belief systems the process of self-repair is accomplished, nailing that process down to its nuances and structure by unraveling its subjective yet measurable inner features. Obviously, that would be such a profound and unique triple challenge for us all.

Clinical studies and meta-analyses that have deployed the use of instruments that measure spirituality and religiosity can, in large part, attest to the possibility that the intellect has the ability to influence bodily health. In terms of the human capacity to self-regulate adverse stress conditions, the architecture of an individual's belief system impacts an array of biological processes such as genetic control, neuroendocrine function, neurochemical transmission, and neural plasticity, enhancing the mind's ability to deal effectively with psychological challenges so that the body remains healthy.

3.1. Historical Perspectives

Different belief systems arose and were subjected to observation and reflection associated with critical thought. What makes up the essence of belief in the supernatural? Another implication is that humans might grieve their own and others' mortality. Our ability to conceive of the existence of an afterlife implies our own Luciferian self-awareness, or an existential trait that reflects our unique cognitive ability to conceive of and count down our own, as well as others', eventual demise and, potentially soothe our anxiety by ascribing eternity-bound existence to ourselves. Before ending an exploration of the thoughts that ancient sages, material philosophers, and early theologians devoted to these perplexing problems, it is difficult to avoid contemplating the implications, if any, that the realization of these perennially fascinating issues and thoughts contained within the Old and New Testaments and other spiritual tomes, such as the Koran, the works of Confucius, the teachings of the Buddha, and other philosophers, have for those who engage in the medical field.

The roots of spirituality extend into the dawn of humankind: the first artifacts discovered from that period are a system of belief. As life evolved, so did the theories of its origins. It was only relatively recently in human history, about 2,000 to 3,000 years ago, that the science of human anatomy came into being. Unlike organic aspects of life that have long been the concern of meticulous study and classification because of their appearance in everyday life and their clear physical nature, such as the changing of the seasons and their sequelae, spirit or soul, specific to human beings, were difficult to pin down with scientific precision, develop concrete theories about, and use the scientific method to prove or disprove their existence or influence.

4. Impact of Spirituality on Mental Health

Empirical studies continue to underscore the important potential role of belief systems, and especially spirituality and religion, in the mental health of individuals. Epidemiological studies have consistently reported an inverse relationship between spiritual or religious involvement and symptoms of mental disorders. For example, in a small community-based study in the United States, the greater the level of religious commitment of the participants, the lower their depressive symptoms were, and higher self-reported levels of religious coping were associated with fewer depressive symptoms, even after controlling for the severity of the stressor or the degree of support the individuals were receiving. Other studies have echoed these findings when exploring depressed patients' self-reported religious coping. It appears that different religious-spiritual activities may be more helpful for depressive sufferers than others. In a study in the United States, frequency of participation in prayer meetings had the strongest suggestion of therapeutic benefit, whereas watching religious television was associated with higher levels of depressive symptoms. The suggested personal aspect of group worship may be why prayer meetings have been shown to have this benefit.

4.1. Psychological Well-being

Fear of freedom and isolation from social relationships, which are today more than ever superficial and often virtual, raise the probability of a certain type of depression that has led itself to proposals for treatment.

The decrease in religious practice is in step with an increase in the symptoms of psychological unease experienced by new generations. There is indeed empirical evidence, confirmed by large-scale social and epidemiological studies, which demonstrate the close and significant correlation between religious beliefs, religious affiliation, and mental health. Individuals with strong religious beliefs and those who exercise their faith by attending worship activities have lower rates of depression, substance abuse, deviant behaviors, and generally reach a higher level of subjective well-being than those who do not have faith. These beliefs can be of any kind of religion. Faith supports life by creating positive faith and increasing social interaction. Attitudinal characteristics such as resignation, sobriety, and capacity for forgiveness mediate these relationships that science is trying to understand and measure.

Hedonistic materialism is in contrast to the teaching of Christ, the aim of which is the charity of the other, even at the expense of oneself.

Anxiety, loneliness, anger, depression, pessimism, and similar issues as these emotions come from the internal externalization, concern for material and power, accumulation of wealth at any cost, competition, and aggressiveness. All this, which totally concerns protecting oneself, of security, is very fragile and therefore quite vulnerable. They forge an individual character and a society that is based on material progress and bypasses the interiority of individuals and of the collectivity.

In 2017, Oxford Dictionaries proclaimed that "post-truth" was the word of the year. Post-truth culture got rid of the distinction between truth and lies, and replacing the former was the concept of repetitive affirmations. As said by Mary McCarthy, the well-known American writer, "Every word that is an appealing advertisement of its usefulness as a human being has been stolen away and is now being tortuously used to put falsehoods in place of truth."

5. Impact of Spirituality on Physical Health

Finally, the potential biopsychosocial pathways and some possible explanations are summarized. Emphasis is laid on the approaches to the negative health impacts of manifestations of spirituality/religiosity (e.g., quiescence of faith, distressed faith or faith indicating pathology). The confusion of faith with its manifestation and treating them as just its specific subset, which may indicate varied predisposition to health protective behavior, is the cornerstone of radical dualism. (Faith as an internal and specific set of actions and beliefs, which is most often a part of a specific religion or belief system, yet its universal and non-religious form was also demonstrated in other contexts.)

The manner in which manifestations of spirituality/religiosity (particularly, church attendance, engagement in public/private religious activities, and dysfunction or quiescence of faith in times of crisis) are associated with negative health events (e.g., cardiovascular disease, hypertension, all-cause mortality) is characterized. These relationships are investigated from sociological, anthropological, psychological, and medical viewpoints while distinguishing between health promotional and health protective factors and called "a double-edged sword."

5.1. Biological Mechanisms

In a study published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, assistant professor of psychological science Melanie Shoup-Knox and her colleague Heather Feldman of the University of California, Santa Cruz, test a new theoretical model that explains how belief systems, such as spirituality and materialism, impact health. Using the primary tenets of religious and psychological research theories, the researchers gathered information related to each belief system's conceptual framework, identified biological systems linked to health, and hypothesized the biological pathways through which these beliefs affect mental and physical health. Drawing from religious and psychological theories, including attachment theory, the researchers then used stress as a theoretical bridge to examine the biological correlates, translating psychophysiological constructs, such as the body's ability to regulate stress, into the health of specified biological systems. Neuroendocrine associations associated with health impairments were then included, and biological areas and their pregnancy linkages were identified through converging evidence. The two belief systems were compared to test potential differences in health impacts between spiritual and materialistic individuals. The scientists' findings from the inquiry indicate a possible distinction between spiritual and materialistic worldviews, highlighting the significance of factors such as the nature of the belief system, the presence of key features in the measurement of health systems associated with stress, and methodological differences.

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