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Religion/Spirituality and Anxiety

April 3, 2020
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen

If you are someone who is struggling with anxiety, you may have wondered whether spiritual beliefs and practices could have an effect on your mental health. Perhaps you are already a religious person and wonder if that is affecting your anxiety in any way, or perhaps you are considering whether or not adding religious practices to your life could make a difference for you. While there is no completely generalizable answer, there has been quite a bit of research that may help you figure out for yourself what makes sense for you.

 

There has been plenty of research into the relationship between religion/spirituality and mental health. While the majority of studies have shown significantly less anxiety among religious people, there are also some mixed results. Some studies have indicated that one reason religious people tend to experience less anxiety is that the beliefs involved in their religious faith counterbalance stressful, anxiety-provoking thoughts that may crop up.

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Some religious beliefs may help provide a sense of control or provide meaning in situations where the individual would otherwise experience extreme distress. On the other hand, there are also situations where a religious individual may experience stress and anxiety that is actually caused by certain religious beliefs, such as a belief that God is punishing him or her. While in a large majority of cases research has shown that spirituality and religious beliefs lead to less anxiety, only you can know for yourself if you are in a situation where your religious beliefs may lead to more anxiety.

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It is not only religious beliefs that may affect someone’s mental health but religious practices as well. When studying religious and spiritual individuals, researchers note both the participants’ faith and also their participation in religious practices (such as church attendance). Participants who indicated greater participation in religious practices have been found to experience less anxiety than those who tend to participate less. And while many of these studies show correlation only, there have also been experimental studies in which researchers treat participants with religious or spiritual interventions compared with standard interventions, demonstrating that there may be a causal relationship as well. 

 

While these results were not only limited to religious patients, a number of studies particularly showed that mental health patients who were already religious benefited significantly more from religiously informed treatment than from standard treatment.

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So what should all this mean for you? 

 

If you are already a religious person who is suffering from anxiety, first consider whether some of your religious beliefs may potentially be increasing your anxiety. Next, seek counseling from a competent professional who is religiously informed, be it a chaplain, a therapist, or another mental health professional. If you are not already a religious or spiritual individual, exploring your spiritual options may be a fruitful avenue towards finding some spiritual beliefs and practices that can potentially lead to lower anxiety and overall improved mental health. In any case, contacting a qualified mental health professional is always an important step in caring for your mental wellbeing.

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