Research Stigma Reduction Therapies — 24 January 2017

The big questions in life always baffles us – Why am I here? What is the purpose of my life? Are we alone? What happens after I die? Questions like these are tough to answer, often taboo and most of the times we are tempted to push them away.silhouette-of-woman-practicing-yoga_1160-177

Previous research has shown the role spirituality plays in healing physical and emotional wellbeing. Now a new study corroborates and states that people who avoid the tensions and struggles when trying to understand these “big questions” about God, faith, morality and the meaning of life, are often more depressed, anxious and have trouble regulating their emotions, than if they faced these questions.

Fear of confronting the tensions and conflicts brought on by the “big questions” of life is linked with poorer mental health, including higher levels of depression, anxiety and difficulty in regulating emotions.

 The researchers surveyed 307 American adults who reported spiritual struggles. Through this survey the researchers examined the relationship between experiential avoidance and mental health. General and spiritual-struggle specific avoidance was linked to higher levels of depression, anxiety, emotional regulation problems and the prevalence of somatic symptoms. The study also found a link between struggles and poorer mental health which was stronger in people with higher levels of experiential avoidance.

By avoiding the big questions and not accepting the spiritual struggle, people are more likely to contribute to social ill. This can lead to rejection of whole groups of people based on different backgrounds and beliefs. With rejection comes the loss of opportunity to engage with these diverse groups which they come to view as threatening to their own existence.
People who accepted their troubling thoughts seemed to be more emotionally healthy. Researchers said that by looking at spiritual doubts objectively and tolerating them, whether people worked it out or not, was a more healthy way and much better for mental health.

But avoidance itself is not the main issue, but rather the behaviour that stems from it. By avoiding these questions people start behaving in ways that become contrary to their goals and they become rigid in the way that they respond and experience the world. Regular avoidance makes it difficult for people to identify, work towards and experience qualities that give purpose to life.
Researchers also say that by continuously pushing such thoughts away don’t make them go away and such avoidance can put a big strain on mental and emotional health especially if such questions are seen as morally unacceptable or dangerous.

With this research, mental health professionals may find it useful to help people deal with spiritual struggles in a proactive way.

Source: Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science.

This piece by Meena Azzollini  was first published on ‘Wellbeing’.

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