I was looking at social media the other day and, with all the turmoil of the times, noting the ways people are coping. The great news is that a large number of people seem to be finding ways to help and support each other. Everything from shopping for others to how to entertain and teaching children online. Another thing I noticed, however, is the many references to faith and religion. One person even saying, “Ya’ll better get right with God, things are getting real out there.”
Although it was said with some levity, there’s certainly truth to the feeling that times of stress and uncertainty are when we need the comfort and direction of faith and God the most. It’s also true that when things are difficult many people who put religion on the back burner on a regular basis often suddenly find themselves turning to God and their faith for support and guidance.
Regardless as to whether you think about and intentionally practice your religion daily or not, God and faith can be a stabilizing presence and a positive influence on mental health – especially when times are tough or frightening.
Many people struggle with mental health. During stressful times those who struggle may feel lost and need extra help while others may be at risk of developing mental health problems for the first time. Anxiety and depression are familiar to most of us, but there are many other more complicated afflictions as well. And while faith in God isn’t a singular solution to mental health problems, it can often provide great benefit to those who suffer.
For instance, in many cases showing respect for God is done in a communal and social setting. Churches and other places of worship provide social support and access to a group of generally like-minded individuals who can provide emotional, social, and, at times, financial help if needed. Even in today’s uncertain times social media and technological advancements have made it possible for people to stay connected while physically distant. When a person is feeling anxious, depressed, scared, or suffering in any other way, an environment like this can have a very positive effect on mental health.
Religion almost uniformly also provides a framework for good and moral behavior. During times of stress this framework can provide direction and stability for many, helping to ease the pressure and worry over things they can’t control.
Even if you prefer to worship in a more private setting, faith in God can provide solace and comfort. Just the act of prayer, reading of scripture, and reflection on teachings, can help create calm in a person’s mind and ground someone who feels adrift and alone.
Study after study continues to show the positive influence on mental health provided by feeling connected to something larger than oneself. This is similar to the kind of influence being part of a family can have. In the case of religion and God, however, the larger community and omnipresence of God can offer a different level of peace. It can provide hope.
One of the biggest triggers for mental health issues is feeling helpless. Feeling that you have no control over your circumstances and surroundings can make any of us uncomfortable, but for some of us it can go further than that and exacerbate or bring about mental health issues.
There are many circumstances that can create a helpless, out-of-control feeling. Abuse of any kind, illness (yours or a loved one), and financial problems are just a few examples. And when there are large and frightening issues over which we have no control, like what we are experiencing right now with the Coronavirus, many people can find themselves very frightened and unsure of what to do. Unfortunately, for some people, not only are circumstances unsure and scary, but they are compounded with financial stress, health concerns, and other life issues. The combination of these events on such a large scale can lead to real mental health challenges for many.
In times like this faith and God can provide a great deal of solace and support for sufferers and therefore have a positive effect on a person’s mental health. When global issues or natural disasters occur it’s nearly impossible to foresee the outcome or understand the reason. Why would God allow horrible things to happen? The answer to that has been debated and opined upon for centuries, but their occurrence often leaves people feeling isolated and scared. These emotions can be a slippery slope into depression, post-traumatic stress, and anxiety.
A religious community can help provide relief from the feelings of loneliness and the fear that catastrophic events can cause. In large, disaster-like events we’re all scared. Being surrounded by people experiencing the same feelings can be very comforting and build mental fortitude. Often things feel easier to face and overcome when faced together.
Religious teachings also encourage altruistic behavior. Whether you are inspired individually or as part of a larger group, finding ways to help each other during times of stress can help improve the mental health of all involved. Sharing interest in and concern for others not only makes them feel good but us as well.
It’s also worthwhile to take time and appreciate all that God has provided in the world and your own life. Whether it’s a walk through nature, time spent with family, or reflecting upon the good that you see in others, reminding yourself that there are things to be thankful for can help sooth an agitated mental state.
Although religion can have a positive effect on a troubled mind, it’s important to remember that not all mental health issues can be solved by your faith and God. Some problems go deeper and beyond the resources of the church. These may require you to seek the assistance of a mental health professional as an appropriate next step. Many religious leaders are educated on mental health services and can provide guidance and information to those suffering. If not, there are resources and assistance available nationwide and within any community. Just know that in these unprecedented times, if you feel scared, anxious, depressed, or in any other way in need of mental health support, you aren’t alone and help is available if you ask.