When some people get down, they turn to spirituality and religion in the hopes that it will turn things around providing them a lift. For others, feeling depressed makes them feel alienated from their higher power. A review of the literature shows that spirituality (more than religion) can help even a person who is clinically depressed.
Here are some ways that you can draw on your spiritual side when emotionally you are feeling down:
1. FIND HOPE from your spiritual sources. Many faith traditions have stories of people of faith who have gone through trying times, for example Joseph or Job in the Hebrew Scriptures. So, do read or recall the stories in your spiritual tradition.
2. FIND HOPE from knowing that your higher power is there for you. Prayer is something that some people make complicated, but it isn’t. You should feel free to speak using your own words as they naturally come out, or if you prefer use words from others that resonate with you. In the Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), the Psalms often relate to our emotions. In some Eastern traditions, words are not important and just being aware of being in the presence of a higher power, even in silence, can be important. So, do pray the way that you find comfortable and fitting.
3. DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE when the response you receive is different than the one you expected or hoped for. There are times that your spiritual resources and practices do not give you the outcome that you expect or even desire. For instance, when reading an account it can be discouraging to see all that others had to go through even if they were “better” than you. Similarly getting bad news after praying for good is disheartening. However, these different responses do not necessarily mean you’re disconnected from your higher power or lack of concern of your higher power; rather they open up new possibilities on your journey. So, do not allow news that on the surface is discouraging to take away your hope.
4. RECALL THAT YOU HAVE MEANING by focusing on your own sense of vocation. Vocation is not only for people who are professionally doing religious work, but is for everyone. What is it that you feel you have been called to do in life? Is there a special role that you feel your higher power has you taking on this earth? This may be seen in your professional life (from caring for children as a teacher to ensuring that “city people” get fresh food as a truck driver) but may also occur in your personal life (such as being a parent or the one who remembers birthdays at work).
Living out what you feel called to do in life is an important part of your spirituality. As you do, you recognize increased meaning for your life and changes your response to whatever is making you feel down. So, do focus on and engage on what you are called to do with your life.
5. RECALL THAT YOU HAVE MEANING by finding connection to others through your religious practice, if this is already part of your history. Religious practice is much less significant than spirituality in helping depression, however if you are part of a religious community, reconnecting with people in that community can be helpful in making you feel less down. You have meaning from being in connection with others, and going to temple, synagogue, church, … can be a way to both practice your spirituality and connect to other people, both of which can help change your mood by helping to refocus you. However, if you have not practiced a religion, it is more important during a down time to connect personally with your higher power than to take up religion. So, do connect with the meaning in your religious practice and its community, if this is already part of your life and history.
6. DO NOT SET ASIDE YOUR MEANING by focusing on things that you feel that you should have done. When you get down, it is easy to see the negative things around you and in your own life. When you focus on these, you forget about the meaning of your own life. Religion and spirituality both have the possibility of drawing your attention to all the things you should have done that you haven’t or the things you’ve done that you shouldn’t have. Focusing on these so-called sins distracts you from seeing the positive things you have done and that are around you. So, do not allow your spirituality and religion to make you focus on your past actions that can take away from your understanding of your own meaning.
7. SEEK QUALITY CARE including care for the psychological part of who you are. People of faith use doctors for problems in the physical dimension. In that same vein, it is important to see out appropriate help when you are having a problem in your psychological or mental health dimension. When feeling down is severe (especially if you have feelings of killing yourself) or prolonged (going on for longer than the current situation would suggest), it is important for you to find a qualified mental health professional to help. So, do seek out professional mental health help, when needed.
8. SEEK QUALITY CARE that integrates the psychological and the spiritual dimensions of your life. Some counselors are qualified to address both dimensions together. Studies have shown that in the case of depression, these are tied together. You should either find a single professional who can guide you on both, such as a pastoral counselor, or you should know that the person you are working with (religious leader or mental health professional) has at least a basic understanding of the other dimension and knows their limits and can refer when needed. So, do get help that addresses both the spiritual and the psychological.
9. DO NOT SEEK CARE that is just spiritual. While spirituality can be helpful in addressing why you are feeling down or depressed, it does not address everything. Finding a sense of peace, will require addressing other dimensions of your life. This is not to limit the power of your higher power, but to acknowledge that your higher power is connected to not only your spiritual life but your whole life. So, do not allow your care to be just spiritual but rather seek care that is more comprehensive.
10. BELIEVE THAT THINGS CAN CHANGE. There is hope for you, no matter how low you are feeling right now. You are a person whose life is valuable, who has a purpose to live out. There are people out there that will provide you with quality care. In the Christian tradition, it is said that it is God’s will for us to have life and have it abundantly. What is your higher power’s will for you? So, do not give up on your belief that you can find shalom, a wholeness and peace that envelops all of who you are.
Selected Academic References
- Blazer, Dan G. Section Introduction: Spirituality, Depression & Suicide. Southern Medical Journal, 100(7), July 2007, 733-734.
- Cooper, Lisa A., et al. How Important is Intrinsic Spirituality in Depression Care?. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 16(9), Dec 2001, 634-638.
- Desrosiers, Alethea and Lisa Miller. Relational Spirituality and Depression in Adolescent Girls. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 63(10), 2010, 1021-1037.
- Johnson, K., et al. Which Domains of Spirituality are Associated with Anxiety and Depression in Patients with Advanced Illness?. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 26(7), 2011, 751-758.
- Koenig, Harold G. Research on Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health: A Review. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 54(5), May2009, p283-291.
- Koenig, Harold G. Spirituality and mental health. International Journal of Applied Psychoanalytic Studies, Jun2010, 7(2), 116-122.
- Springer, Mychal B. et al. Spirituality, Depression, and Loneliness Among Jewish Seniors Residing in New York City. The Journal of Pastoral Care and Counseling, 57(3), Fall 2003, 305-318.
- Wittink, Marsha N., et al. Losing Faith and Using Faith: Older African Americans Discuss Spirituality, Religious Activities, and Depression. Journal of General Internal Medicine, Mar2009, 24(3), 402-407.
- Yi, Michael S., et al. Religion, Spirituality and Depressive Symptoms in Patients with HIV/AIDS. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 21(S5), Oct 2006, S21-S27.