Avoiding Spiritual Issues May Be Bad for Mental Health

Candle burning at nightPeople who fear confronting spiritual and philosophical issues tend to have poor mental health, according to a study published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science. The study points to the value of embracing existential questions, worries about religion and spirituality, and other philosophical concerns.

Link Between Spiritual Questions and Mental Health

For the study, researchers recruited 307 adults who reported experiencing spiritual struggles. Some participants avoided confronting spiritual questions. Participants who avoided spiritual struggles experienced negative mental health effects, including higher rates of anxiety and depression.

According to the study, struggling with spiritual issues did not lead to mental health issues. The problem was avoidance of challenging topics. Mental health was more likely to decline when people feared engaging with challenging philosophical and spiritual issues.

The study determined avoidance was not an effective strategy for pushing away existential thoughts. Participants faced spiritual questions even when they attempted to suppress them. The study’s authors suggest continually being plagued by existential questions can be psychologically upsetting, particularly to people who find these questions socially unacceptable.

How Mental Health Providers Can Help

The study recommends mental health providers encourage people in therapy to engage directly with spiritual issues—even when they reach troubling or unclear answers to their questions. The sometimes unresolvable nature of some spiritual questions, as well as fears about how these questions might be answered, may explain why some people avoid such questions. However, when therapists help people in therapy become comfortable with uncertainty and fear, mental health may improve.

The study’s authors suggest avoiding spiritual issues can thwart people’s personal goals, and may cause them to view those with differing beliefs as threatening. This could contribute to problems of acceptance in society, potentially leading to the widespread rejection of entire groups based on beliefs and identity. Learning to tolerate existential and spiritual quandaries has a better chance of leading to widespread acceptance.

References:

  1. Avoiding spiritual struggles and existential questions is linked with poorer mental health. (2016, December 5). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161205111017.htm
  2. Dworsky, C. K., Pargament, K. I., Wong, S., & Exline, J. J. (2016). Suppressing spiritual struggles: The role of experiential avoidance in mental health. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 5(4), 258-265. doi:10.1016/j.jcbs.2016.10.002

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  • Marian

    December 26th, 2016 at 1:50 PM

    I don’t understand where these fears come from other than most people are just afraid of confronting things that they inherently do not much understand to begin with?

  • John K

    December 26th, 2016 at 6:25 PM

    I am a Christian and it is sad that many churches preach fear and are afraid of even Christian Mysticism and the Divinity within. Life flows up from the inside where the Divine Presence is springing up from within, which makes life an inside job and when honored in the present moment dispels worry. This all-pervading consciousness is present and is responding to us from every person, thing or event that transpires in the moment. A Divine Presence everywhere lets us embrace and awaken to its Presence expanding our consciousness in the present realization that is much greater than our past or future. In the present moment when our individual conscious releases fear and gets rid of the idea of self, male and female, life and death, we let go of duality and experience Oneness with everything. We encounter an unconditional love that is pure because the fear from our past is forgiven and released as the intense feeling of oneness brings us together with everything encountered in the act of living. Amazement, respect and love for all keep the unity alive, the oneness that is always present as we celebrate, praise and observe the diversity from moment to moment in duality.

  • Lee

    December 27th, 2016 at 11:44 AM

    Yeah when the preacher stands up there and yells and screams and kind of threatens their worshipers that’s a big turn off for me

  • tj

    December 27th, 2016 at 2:06 PM

    It is a safe bet to say that anything that you try to purposely avoid probably means that there is something within that that should be confronted. I know that it is not always going to be a comfortable thing for you to do, but at the end of the day what doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger. I think that you would be a much healthier person overall if we ditched the whole avoidance angle and focused more on how confronting thesee sometimes uncomfortable things can actially make us a little stronger in the end.

  • arlo

    December 28th, 2016 at 9:36 AM

    And more acceptance of people who may be different than us is something this world could use a lot more of!

  • Viktoria

    December 29th, 2016 at 10:46 PM

    I write as I am triggered by some of the comments I want to believe in the spiritual comfort of God, how can I when I don’t trust the sheep that dwell in the church /s I have openly asked for help and have been told its up to God. why can the people of of God help by fellowship and befriending, when one is alone in the fear. I cant make a sentence or structure what I want to say all I know is Ive reached out and it was put back on me

  • Layla

    December 30th, 2016 at 1:00 PM

    So what if you are not a spiritual person at all? Can that be harmful as well? Not just the avoidance of the issue but not even the acceptance that there is a spiritual world to be recognized?

  • gary b

    December 31st, 2016 at 1:08 PM

    It’s sort of like I try to tell my kids all the time- you worry about you, let everyone else take care of themselves.
    Why should I care what someone else thinks about what I believe? Those are my beliefs, not theirs, so what’s the problem with that?

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