There is no doubt how strongly our negative emotions affect our physiology. When we feel anxious, there is a gnawing sensation in our gut. When depressed, our whole body seems to slow down into deep fatigue — our thinking becomes sluggish and cloudy. Even heart attacks have been tied to rage and suppressed anger. But once these negative feelings have settled into physical symptoms and disease, can spirituality (a force of positive emotions) help us heal emotionally?
In a new study, researchers examined the connection between negative emotions in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD) and seven dimensions of spirituality. Not only do feelings of anger, anxiety and depression contribute to CHD, but these emotions tend to remain prominent as the disease progresses.
The research involved 293 individuals with CHD who were being treated at one of the three largest hospitals in Bandung, Indonesia. The participants answered widely-used psychological tests to measure levels of depression, anxiety, anger and social support.
They also completed the Spiritual Attitude and Involvement List (SAIL). This test measures a person’s attitudes on seven dimensions of spirituality: meaningfulness, trust, acceptance, caring for others, connectedness with nature, transcendent experiences and spiritual activities.
On a scale of 1 to 6, patients rated how strongly they agreed with 26 statements about their spiritual lives, including the following:
- I approach the world with trust.
- Whatever happens, I am able to cope with life.
- When I am in nature, I feel a sense of connection.
- I have had experiences in which I seemed to merge with a power or force greater than myself.
- I meditate or pray, or take time in other ways to find inner peace.
The researchers discovered that patients with higher overall levels of spirituality had fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety and anger. There were surprisingly specific connections as well. For example, high levels of trust were strongly related to fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Higher levels of caring for others and spiritual activities were linked to less anxiety, and higher levels of connectedness with nature were tied to fewer feelings of anger.
The study, entitled “Spirituality and Negative Emotions in Individuals with Coronary Heart Disease” reveals the unique, important roles that specific spiritual attributes can play in helping us guard against negative emotions. It is published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing.
And although these particular findings relate to patients with coronary heart disease, the connection between spirituality and emotions (and their subsequent effects on physiology) applies to everyone. Gently replacing our negative feelings with thoughts of meaningfulness, caring for others and spiritual activities can work wonders.
As healer and author Karla McLaren said “When your emotions are allowed to take their proper place in your whole life, all healing is possible, because all energy is available.” In other words… As within, so without.