By Doug Bisbee, M.Div., MAC, LPC, at Samaritan Counseling Center
When it comes to mental wellness, research and earned wisdom have proven that having a faith tradition genuinely helps people navigate the struggles of life. No matter a person’s religious affiliation, here are three reasons why the structure and purpose of religion are assets to well-being:
Faith traditions help ground us. Our beliefs are the lenses through which we interact with the world. Religious creeds express our core values; help us negotiate loss, grief, and other challenges; and assign purpose and meaning to our lives. People with anxiety have an increase in their symptoms when there are no clear rules or boundaries and they are faced with too many choices. They drift without a set of fixed life-navigation tools. A religious belief system can help narrow and affirm good life choices in the midst of confusion or stress.
Faith is practiced in community. Faith is not meant to be practiced in private. However, mental illness tends to be myopic; that is overly-focused on one’s self and how one is feeling at a certain moment in time. Faith traditions by their nature bring us out of ourselves—out of our heads—to participate in meeting the needs of the community. When people focus on helping others, they take back their power from the depression or anxiety that entangles them. Secondly, people with mental illness tend to make choices based on how they feel (as in, “I don’t feel like visiting my elderly mother,”), but when our faith dictates that we honor and care for our parents, these values prod us to act in accordance with a higher set of expectations, beyond what we simply feel like doing at a given moment.
Our suffering is assigned meaning. Religious belief systems give us a framework with which we view human suffering. For example, Christianity was born of trauma and suffering with Christ’s crucifixion, but shifted and changed with his resurrection. Believers learn how to work through their own suffering, stand together in community with others who also suffer, and celebrate the wisdom and goodness that can result from otherwise painful experiences.
Doug Bisbee, M.Div., MAC, LPC, at Samaritan Counseling Center