Spiritual Tools for a Healthier Living & RecoveryAnna Ciulla
Spirituality is an important component of recovery from drugs and alcohol. Spiritual practices like gratitude, among others, have also been proven to support overall health and wellbeing. In this sense, just about anyone can benefit from the following spiritual tools for healthier living:
Since their popularization in the 1920’s by the French psychologist, Emile Coué, positive affirmations have been a source of self-help for many, whether their goal is making money, losing weight, overcoming fears of public speaking, or achieving a goal in the athletic or academic world. What we now know about the mind-body connection suggests positive self-affirmation is an effective spiritual tool for recovery and healthier living. Multiple studies have shown, for example, that our thoughts and beliefs directly influence our health, longevity and stress levels:
- A 1993 study in The Lancet revealed that a lower rate of longevity among Chinese Americans was directly related to Chinese superstitions that attributed shorter life spans to birth on certain days of the calendar. In other words, those who believed they would die at a younger age (based on when they were born) did in fact die at a younger age.
- Negative thoughts and attitudes have also been implicated in the onset of chronic stress and stress-related health conditions, including hypertension, cardiovascular disease, digestive disorders and infections, according to a University of Minnesota summary.
- Research in recent years suggests self-affirmations can also be effective for managing chronic stress, which is a known contributor to many diseases, including addiction. For example, a 2013 study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found self-affirmation improved creative and problem-solving abilities in stressful situations for underperforming students.
At Beach House Center for Recovery, clients are encouraged to recite positive affirmations daily, often in front of the mirror and throughout their day. The spiritual writer and healer, Louise Hay, is a great source to “google” for anyone looking to start a daily practice of self-affirmation.
The health benefits of gratitude have been a focus of much study in recent years. The overwhelming consensus of that research is that gratitude yields numerous physical and psychological benefits. An article in Forbes, “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude That Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round,” laid out some of these benefits:
- Grateful people are physically healthier, sleep better, and experience fewer aches and pains.
- Gratefulness also predicted better psychological and emotional health, such as lower rates of depression, higher self-esteem, more empathy towards others, and less toxic or negative emotions.
- Gratitude was associated with lower rates of stress and greater resilience to trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Findings detailed in the Harvard Mental Health newsletter have suggested that gratitude also improves mood and overall sense of wellbeing:
- In one 10-week study, those who wrote down what they were thankful for during the week (doing this exercise once a week for 10 weeks) were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than the control group.
- In another study, this one conducted by the well-known proponent of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, participants who were asked to write a letter of gratitude and then hand deliver it reported a surge in happiness levels.
Gratitude letters and journaling are only two of a host of gratitude-related exercises that can improve overall health and wellbeing. Below are some more ideas for how to apply the spiritual tool of gratitude to your health and recovery, and there are more here:
- Take a walk, giving thanks for what you see and experience along the way.
- Put together a weekly photo collage consisting of moments for which you are grateful. (This exercise is similar to journaling, but may be more enjoyable for those who aren’t keen about writing.)
- Say grace before meals. Saying “thanks” before every meal is an easy way to integrate a regular rhythm of gratitude into your day.
Prayer and Meditation
Over 85 percent of people facing a major illness pray, according to a University of Rochester study. Meditation is one form of prayer that has proven benefits for recovery from addiction and other health conditions. As catalogued in an overview by the National Institutes of Health, mindful meditation can reduce these symptoms:
- Reduced pain
- Reductions in high blood pressure
- Relief of Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Alleviation of anxiety, depression and insomnia
- Less flare-ups of ulcerative colitis
- Relief of menopausal symptoms
Meditation techniques abound. (That is evidenced by this review of 23 such techniques.) Often these incorporate a breathing component and mindfulness of one’s breath. For those just getting started, these “3 Meditation Techniques for Beginners” may be helpful.
Self-forgiveness and seeking forgiveness from others form an important plank of 12-step recovery. Letting go of past hurts and grudges towards others also has overall health benefits, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Findings published elsewhere provide more detail regarding how, more specifically, forgiveness can improve your health:
- A 2011 study found that those who practiced forgiveness had stronger immune systems.
- Another study, this one at Duke University, compared the pain levels of participants in an active forgiveness program with those taking medication for chronic pain. At the end of the study, the first group reported lower levels of pain.
- Being more forgiving correlated with lower cholesterol levels, according to a 2003 study.
- The conclusion of another study in 2003 was that forgiveness also reduces blood pressure.
Exercising forgiveness often does not come intuitively. This resource from Psychology Today is one of many available online that can help.