University of Maryland Medical Centre
Spirituality has been defined in numerous ways. These include: a belief in a power operating in the universe that is greater than oneself, a sense of interconnectedness with all living creatures, and an awareness of the purpose and meaning of life and the development of personal, absolute values. It’s the way you find meaning, hope, comfort, and inner peace in your life. Although spirituality is often associated with religious life, many believe that personal spirituality can be developed outside of religion. Acts of compassion and selflessness, altruism, and the experience of inner peace are all characteristics of spirituality….
Spiritual practices tend to improve coping skills and social support, foster feelings of optimism and hope, promote healthy behavior, reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, and encourage a sense of relaxation. By alleviating stressful feelings and promoting healing ones, spirituality can positively influence immune, cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels), hormonal, and nervous systems….
Results from several studies indicate that people with strong religious and spiritual beliefs heal faster from surgery, are less anxious and depressed, have lower blood pressure, and cope better with chronic illnesses such as arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and spinal cord injury.
One clinical study at Duke University found that people who attend regular religious services tend to have better immune function. In another clinical study of 232 older adults undergoing heart surgery, those who were religious were 3 times less likely to die within the 6 months after surgery than those who were not. Not one of the 37 people in this study who described themselves as deeply religious died. Of course, the studies are not comprehensive, and many people find help in spiritual resources for numerous conditions.
Some experts warn that religious beliefs can be harmful when they encourage excessive guilt, fear, and lowered self worth. Similarly, physicians should avoid advocating for particular spiritual practices; this can be inappropriate, intrusive, and induce a feeling of guilt or even harm if the implication is that ill health is a result of insufficient faith. It is also important to note that spirituality does not guarantee health. Finally, there is the risk that people may substitute prayer for medical care or that spiritual practice could delay the receipt of necessary medical treatment….
Many medical schools in the United States have included spiritual teachings in their curricula. However, what role, if any, a doctor should play in assisting or guiding patients in spiritual matters remains controversial. In addition, given that there appears to be a growing belief in the connection between spirituality and health, scientists in this field feel that research should begin to focus on assessing the validity of this connection, a better understanding of why there is this connection, and how it works.