A version of this article was originally published as part of Mental Health America’s Live Your Life Well campaign.
“Eat your veggies.” “Get enough rest.” “Exercise.” Those are clear suggestions. But what does it mean to “take care of yourself spiritually?” For many people, being spiritual means participating in rituals, studying religious texts, and attending religious services. For others, taking care of your spirit means something different.
You can think of spirituality as connecting to whatever you consider meaningful and holy. You can find it in God, yourself, other people, nature, art, or kindness. Whatever you focus on, spirituality offers many possible benefits, including better mood, less anxiety and depression, and even fewer aches and illnesses.
How spirituality helps
There are many ways that spirituality can help improve our mental health. Spirituality can provide a:
- reassuring belief in a greater force or being
- sense of purpose and meaning
- focus on your own or universal wisdom
- way to understand suffering
- connection with others
- reminder of the good in the world
Many people find that spending time on spiritual activities—like meditation or others—can help them cope with the challenges they face in life.
Paths to spirituality
Some people find that active involvement in their religion is good for their mental health. If you are drawn to organized religion as a path to spirituality, consider trying one of the following:
- Join a religious institution. This can create opportunities to create social connections with others who share similar religious beliefs.
- Pray or focus on healing beliefs. You can worship from a prayer book at a specific time each day. Or you can pray from your own heart when you need some solace. Uttering a prayer of gratitude can be good for your mood.
- Read religious texts. Take time to reflect on what they mean to you.
- Talk with others who share similar spiritual beliefs and learn from each other.
- Volunteer with a religious group or charity.
Another path to spirituality is meditation. To get started, all you need is a few minutes each day. Later you may want to work up to 10, 20, or 30 minutes. You may want to try a meditation app or find a meditation class near you. There are different types of meditations you can try too:
- Deep Breathing. Sit or lie down comfortably. Rest your hands on your stomach. Slowly count to four while inhaling through your nose. Feel your stomach rise. Hold your breath for a second. Slowly count to four while you exhale, preferably through pursed lips to control your breath. Your stomach will fall slowly. Repeat a few times.
- Mindfulness Meditation. Focus on your breath. Notice anything that passes through your awareness without judgment. If your mind starts to tackle your to-do list, just return to focusing on your breath.
- Visualization. Close your eyes, relax and imagine a peaceful place, like a forest. Engage all your senses: Hear the crunching leaves, smell the damp soil, feel the breeze.
- Repeating a mantra. Sit quietly and pick any meaningful or soothing word, phrase, or sound. You can repeat the mantra aloud or silently. Experts say the repetition creates a physical relaxation response.
Connecting With Your Deepest Self
With all the time we spend plugged in, tuned in, or online, it’s easy to get disconnected from our inner selves. Try to find some time each day to think about who you are and want to be in the world. Figuring out what’s really important to you can make daily stresses feel like less of a burden. Here are some tips that you may want to try:
- Focus on your goals, values, and beliefs. What brings you hope, joy, and comfort? What do you care about most? How can you make a difference in the world?
- Keep a journal to help you express your deepest thoughts and feelings.
- Read inspiring stories or essays to unearth insights and philosophies that can enrich your life.
- Be open to new experiences. Nurture your spirit with nature, music, art, or whatever sounds appealing.
- Look at what’s good in yourself and others. Notice the sacred in and around you. Sure, there’s plenty of bad stuff, but you’ll find greater peace and joy by focusing on the positive.