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6 Ways to Strengthen Your Spirituality During a Health Crisis

Oct 7 2021
By Adam Smith
7 min read
A young woman in the woods looking up at the sky in thought.

The shock, disbelief, and, even anger, that can come when a health crisis has been detected are wide-ranging.

The news, whether a new diagnosis or a confirmed prognosis, can be shocking for you and your loved ones and requires grieving and processing. The sequence of events – from getting a second or third opinion to research and receiving answers to a multitude of questions – can easily become overwhelming. That’s when tending to your spiritual self becomes most needed. Below are six proven spiritual practices to keep you grounded and focused on the thing that matters most: your response to this new reality.

1. Stay Present

Healthy ways to self-soothe include having mindful moments. According to research published in the Irish Journal of Psychological Medicine, practicing mindfulness during times of crisis can decrease anxiety and depression, and improve your ability to manage pain. If you’re used to listening to an endless inner critic, begin a practice of seeing life from a more holistic viewpoint. Try listening to and observing your body and environment instead of living in your head where the tendency for strong, perpetual negative emotions can exist. Give yourself permission to enjoy simple aspects of life deeply, like noticing how you breathe, how and where you walk, the taste of each bite of your meal, and by taking time to notice the small, subtle reminders of the beauty that nature shares so freely.  

2. Surrender

For so many, we like to be in control of every aspect of our lives. However, when our health is in question, it becomes painfully clear that trying to control our body may not be the best remedy. This can often leave us feeling defeated. Embracing moments of absolute surrender when you are in a safe place can restore your spirit and your body from stress. According to research published in the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, surrender was consistently inversely related to lowered stress levels. To surrender doesn’t mean to not be involved in your restoration, however. Instead, think of it as being intentional about being in full alignment with all parts of you. If your body desires rest, make time for that. If your mind needs silence, practice mindful breathing or walking meditation – to signal to the mind it’s time to wind down. Your body – especially the area that is in disease – needs love rather than judgment. Surrender means letting go of tight control and letting everything “fall,” in place on their own. Allow the body to flow as it wants by claiming a moment of freedom in a safe place, free of responsibilities, agendas and feel yourself being “held” by something greater than yourself.

3. Practice Self-Compassion

Your body and mind will go through many changes when you’re in a health crisis. Be patient and gracious with yourself by bringing love and kindness to your body and mind. The long-term effects of self-compassion may help protect against stress-induced inflammation and inflammation-related disease, according to research published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity.

Practicing self-compassion also includes setting necessary boundaries with people – and requesting the support you need. Reaching out to specific support groups that are related to your health concerns. Allow your thoughts about your health to be heard in a safe space.

Another act of self-compassion includes a shift in perspective. See so-called “obligations” as “invitations.” You get to choose if you want to accept and participate in every invitation. This mindset shift can help ease the tension and shame around what you “should” do so you can more clearly identify what is important for you to do.

Remember that self-care, self-compassion, and self-love are not selfish. Being selfish is when you become insistent on controlling to the degree that you suffer and project suffering onto others. Self-compassion is centering your well-being above all.

4. Learn to Receive

For many, the thought of asking for help when illness looms can add another level of discomfort to their experience. In actuality, we are all guests in this life and we rely on the banquet of life to sustain us. Ask for help as you need it. Center yourself around the loved ones you trust the most, who are devoted to being with you during your most vulnerable state. Model for them how to receive in a shameless and grateful way. They too will almost certainly need support one day in ways that you do now. A case study with three subjects in the Journal of Hospice and Palliative Nursing showed that the subjects managed their fear of being a burden by practicing strategies that include accepting the support of friends and willing caregivers, maintaining spiritual beliefs that remind them of their worth, and becoming empowered by making plans for their future care needs.

5. Remain Hopeful

Hope is an attitude that good can come from your situation and involves being an active part of making that a reality. Research shows a number of positive associations between hope and positive physical, mental, and social well-being outcomes. In athletes, for example, hope and social support have been shown to be beneficial in rehabilitation of severe injuries.

While hope looks different in each person’s story, even with a terminal diagnosis, hope can exist. Sharing your legacy, being a compassionate model of living and even dying, expressing emotions, and embracing courage, connecting with God, the Universe, or your ultimate identity, connecting spiritually with loved ones who have gone before you, and including rituals that help increase the meaning of your life are all ways that hope can be sustained.

6. Face It All

Being connected to the reality that life will end is also an important part of mastering the practice of living. How we live and die directly influences our quality of life and can demonstrate courage to those around us. Living with this spiritual wisdom will foster more peace for your journey and empower you to show others what it is like to live and die with meaning.

Headshot of Adam Smith, MA at Canyon Ranch Tucson

About the Expert

Headshot of Adam Smith, MA at Canyon Ranch Tucson

Adam Smith

Adam is part of a Spiritual Wellness team that offers six unique spiritual services for guests. He also lectures for guests and staff on topics related to spiritual wellness. With a background as a hospital and hospice chaplain and bereavement counselor, he specializes in Spiritual/Pastoral Care, Grief Support, Contemplation and Mysticism.