Considering Alternative Paths Towards Mental Health
By Jane Sandwood
It is interesting to see conventional science turn increasingly to ‘mind-body’ pursuits such as yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation, to enhance mental health. It might have something to do with the fact that research over the past decade has been so conclusive; these activities have been found to reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, leading them to be recommended in various settings, including cancer recovery, substance abuse rehabilitation, and even treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In this post, we take our cue from doctors who are increasingly opening the doors to spiritual pursuits, in an attempt to highlight the connection between spirituality and mental health.
Spirituality: The Missing Link in Mental Wellbeing
Various studies have been carried out on the link between spirituality and happiness. One 2009 study suggested that spirituality (rather than religious practices) determined how happy children were. Another groundbreaking 2010 study, meanwhile, found that there is a ‘secret ingredient’ in spirituality that makes us generally happier. The key, it seems, is stress relief, as well as the support we often receive from fellow believers.
It is vital to differentiate spirituality from religion. In essence, spirituality involves believing in a powerful life force that unites all sentient things and does not necessarily involved organized belief systems.
There are many ways to deepen spirituality: one is through nature, which psychologists like Jung believed to be crucial to making human beings understand our essential need to believe in something deeper.
Practises such as tarot readings can boost our mental health as well, not because they are meant to help us discover future events, but rather, because they boost introspection: the ability to better understand our own beliefs, desires, and actions. Tarot and other ‘energetically based’ techniques such as Reiki also encourage us to use our own intuition, which many practitioners believe is like a muscle that needs to be used often to be enhanced.
Finally, yoga, which is a deeply spiritual pursuit, has been found to lower symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression, leading it to become the ‘it’ activity for stressed-out executives and employees alike.
This therapy is used particularly in settings in which communication and self-awareness needs to be enhanced, such as is the case in substance abuse rehabilitation. One of the most powerful features of art is its ability to be interpreted in many ways. Therapists often use works created by patients to point out their ambiguous feelings about quitting the use of substances. Often, it is not a clear-cut decision, and it is important to address the negative feelings people can have about taking this important step.
Through this therapy, clients/patients enter into a heightened state of awareness and deep relaxation. The uses of hypnotherapy extend beyond stress reduction. They include battling phobias, quitting smoking and other addictive habits, and making other important lifestyle changes.
Listening and playing music reduces stress, helps us access our creativity and emotions, improves our memory and boosts our cognitive abilities in many ways. Psychological and neuroscientific research has pointed to a link between musical training in childhood and the enhancement of verbal abilities and general reasoning skills, but it never is too late to avail of its benefits.
Research on older adults, for instance, found that music can promote better mood, offer opportunities for social interaction, increase communication in dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, and reduce stress and anxiety. Benefits arise even when we just listen to music, so make sure to enjoy a few minutes of your favorite sounds a day.
So-called ‘alternative’ means to better mental health are increasingly gaining ground in conventional settings. It is vital to embrace the benefits of these practises as well on an individual basis, so we can help keep stress-related illness such as depression and anxiety at bay.