Combat the Negative Effects of Stress Through Spiritual Practices and Meditation

Stress is prevalent in our modern fast-paced world. From work deadlines to money issues, you've got lots of things on your plate and tons of reasons to worry. You know you need to get a handle on all these anxious thoughts because they're unproductive. Constant stress can lead to poor decision making, physical health problems, emotional turmoil, loss of sleep and a host of other problems. So how can you manage the overwhelm? Beyond seeing a therapist or simply trying to muddle through, you can actually benefit a great deal by cultivating your spirituality by engaging in meditation, yoga or even prayer to deal with these feelings that threaten to overtake you. Read on to discover how to combat the negative effects of stress through spiritual practices and meditation.

How Spirituality Lowers Stress

Spirituality, or your pursuit of a higher purpose, can enhance your well-being, particularly by lowering your stress levels. This is accomplished in various ways. Taking up spiritual activities helps you to feel connected to something beyond yourself, giving you a sense of belonging in the world. This can lead you to feel less lonely and like you have to take on every difficulty on your own. Spiritual pursuits can also provide you with insights into your greater purpose and give you an understanding of what you want out of life. Having a glimpse into the bigger picture allows you to feel more at peace. Your spiritual journey will more than likely lead you to a support network you may not have had before. Whether it's a formal church group or simply convening with nature, this connection to those outside yourself is liberating.

How to Become More Spiritual

If you're new to the idea of discovering your spiritual path, you may not be sure how to get started. There's a lot of self-discovery involved in this journey. Let's look at just a few ways you can get moving in the right direction. Once you begin, you'll find the momentum will push you toward broadening your spiritual horizons. Start by asking yourself some questions and follow where your answers take you. Consider your values and what's most important to you. Delve deeper to identify what it is you really want out of your life. This goes beyond the material things. Think about the kinds of relationships you desire, what you want to do in terms of vocation and the ways in which you enjoy spending your free time. What makes you feel hopeful and joyful? Conjure a memory of a time you felt pride. Start taking notes and see if you notice a pattern. The answers to these questions might just paint a picture of the types of spiritual pursuits that will make your soul sing.

Ways to Reduce Stress Through Spiritual Practice

There are so many ways to incorporate spirituality into your life that can lower your stress levels at the same time. The key is choosing activities that are most meaningful to you and that will lead to the highest sense of fulfillment. Some practices we've already spoken of include meditation and yoga. These physical acts involve strengthening the body and focusing the mind in order to gain an appreciation for the present moment and to feel more in control of your own circumstances. Prayer is another spiritual tool that can help you to obtain a stronger sense of inner-peace. You don't have to belong to a formal religion in order to pray. Simply stating a desired intent with meaning and sending it out to the Universe or to whatever greater source you believe in will do. There are hosts of other ways you can become closer to your higher self, such as getting out into nature, exercising, spending time with animals, reading, journaling or engaging in fellowship with friends.

Your spiritual path can connect you to so many outlets for stress reduction. The opportunities are practically endless, as you'll see once you begin to create your own practice. You'll notice your stress levels decreasing before you know it.

Filling Up Your Tank for the Journey

“Rest for a few minutes? Are you crazy? I haven't finished the dishes yet!”

“Sure the yoga sessions refresh me, but my youngest just told me about a school project that's due tomorrow.”

“Coloring makes me feel so good and gives me a sense of accomplishment. But it's such a silly little hobby and I have important things to get done.”

Do voices like these ring through your head whenever you think about taking time for yourself? And if you DO fight them down, do you feel guilty the whole time you're “indulging yourself”?

Do You Just Tape Over the Engine Light?

You probably already know that you need to energize yourself before you can help others. If you burn yourself out, you do no one any good. Putting yourself under constant stress by not replenishing your mental, emotional, spiritual and physical resources is like the time I was in college and drove my car without changing the oil. Huh. After awhile, it broke down. It was completely out of oil, and that does nasty things to a car's insides. According to the American Psychological Association, more than half of all women surveyed said they were “highly stressed.” That figure was up in four years by 25% from an earlier survey.

In fact, in a 2011 Women's Health article (April, p. 60), the author quotes San Francisco clinical psychologist Steve Orma: “Many young women think if they're not working every second of every day, they're lazy. They are ashamed of taking breaks and feel they're not a ‘good' enough person if they aren't pushing themselves to the absolute limit. It has become a moral issue.”

So how do we overcome those feelings of guilt about spending time on ourselves?

Pie Charts, Support and Journaling

A 2013 article in Women in Higher Education (January, p. 22) warns about the risks to women's heart health when high levels of stress are maintained. The author mentions several ways to reduce stress, but three methods stood out to me: look at how you spend your time, develop a support network, and keep a journal.

I don't generally get too analytical about how I spend my time,  but here's something I tried. List out your daily routine, and assign a rough percentage estimate of how much of your day you spend on each task. Creating a pie chart of those estimates can reveal how little time you spend on yourself–and what time you could divert to stress-resisting activities.

Friends and family are helpful as a source of support when you're reinventing or renewing yourself, but if they're also the source of some of your stress, or if they don't fully understand why you want to change your life and follow your dreams, turn to a support group. The reason I set up the Reward Your Success™ support group on Facebook is to bring together people who are going through the same struggles you are.

Keeping a journal is a good way to express emotional issues you don't feel comfortable sharing aloud. Some studies suggest, according to this Women in Higher Education article, that regular journaling can strengthen the immune system. I find journaling can be aimless, though, which is why I designed the Success! journal as a step-by-step guide. When you list your goals in the journal and reward yourself for completing them, you begin your journey with a sense of purpose.

Liberation Day, or Being Thankful for Change

Note: This article was originally posted on my blog Aether Excursions, January 20, 2014.


I tend to refer to one of the days around Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as “Liberation Day.” That’s my way of being thankful for a shocking and demoralizing day in my life in 2011 when I was suddenly demoted from my director position at work. The personal earthquake has turned out to have positive results, and the resentment for the way it was carried out has mostly faded. Although, I’ll confess, there are days…

Here’s what I’m thankful for about the whole situation:

  1. A decrease in stress. My job is no longer a major stressor.
  2. I discovered the world of independent publishing. I published Second Death and The Source of Lightning, as well as a collection of short stories, The Color of Darkness and Other Stories.
  3. I focused on God to help me through and strengthen me.
  4. I learned the people I work with were (and are) supportive and impressed (amazed?) that I handled the situation with grace.
  5. I realized I’d been coasting for a long time, and found the energy to launch into other areas.

On January 22 of this year [2014], I’ll attend the Service Awards Luncheon and receive an award for 25 years at my workplace. But I’m thankful that’s not my only source of self-worth.

Happy Liberation Day to me!