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Spiritual Self-Care

Mental health researchers have defined a phenomenon known as "religious coping"-a reliance on a spiritual belief or activity to help manage emotional stress or physical discomfort. It was this type of spiritual coping that led me to my ultimate healing. Here are some aspects of spiritual self-care that can be used to promote emotional serenity.

Prayer and Meditation

The eleventh step of the 12 steps suggests that we "seek through prayer and meditation to improve our contact with our Higher Power." (It is helpful to think of prayer as talking to God, and of meditation as letting God talk to you.)

If you believe in prayer, take regular time to pray, both by yourself and with other people. Meditation involves stilling the mind so that we can hear the "still small voice" of God within and be open to spiritual guidance. There are many forms of meditation available-TM (transcendental meditation), Zen centers, the books of Buddhist priest Thich Nhat Hanh, or the simple form of meditation described in Herbert Benson's work, The Relaxation Response. Since many people in the modern world are so mentally active, a walking meditation (consciously focusing on each step) is an excellent way to calm the mind while burning off nervous energy. Spending time in nature is also a fine way to commune with one's spiritual source.

Spiritual Community

Whatever your spiritual path, worshipping with others in spiritual community is a powerful way to deepen one's faith. All spiritual traditions have emphasized joining with others as a way to gain assistance in strengthening one's spiritual life. One of the Buddha's main teachings was to "seek the sangha"-i.e., a community of like-minded believers. Similarly, one of the greatest spiritual movements of the 20th century-Alcoholics Anonymous-has made community fellowship the foundation of its healing work. Moreover, as I have discovered, the power of prayer can be enhanced in a group setting.

Service

All spiritual traditions stress service as a part of one's spiritual path. A fundamental symptom of depression (and unhappiness in general) is self-absorption. Service allows us to transcend our suffering by shifting our focus away from ourselves. As author Tracy Thompson writes in regard to her own recovery, "Help others. Be of service. Only in this way will you find your way out of the prison of self." In this vein, an article in Psychology Today reports that volunteer work leads to a phenomenon called "helper's high"-a physiological change in the body that produces physical and emotional well being, as well as relief from stress-related disorders.

The amount of service that you perform does not have to be large. If you are feeling limited in your capacity to give, start with some form of service that requires a low level of commitment-such as nurturing a pet or a plant. Extending yourself even a little bit will be good for the recipient and good for you.