If you’re like most people, your New Year’s resolution list contains some of the most popular ones: lose weight, exercise more, volunteer, take more time for myself, etc. But a new study indicates that another resolution we might consider is to nurture ourselves spiritually.
Last week JAMA Psychiatry published a study that shows that structural changes in the brain occur if religion or spirituality is important to someone. For the study, the researchers studied a group of people who were at high risk for major depressive disorder – defined as adult children with parents diagnosed with MDD – and a control group. They discovered that the high risk group was 90% less likely to suffer from depression if they deemed religion and or spirituality as “highly important” to their personal lives.
The authors of the study note that being religious as defined in this particular study doesn’t necessarily mean “going to church” on a regular basis; overt acts such as church attendance had no effect on depression risk. They assert that this is likely because people go to church for a variety of other reasons, such as social interaction and/or support. What was integral to the morphologic changes in the brain was religious belief and experience.
This backs up a prior study of people who had never meditated before; researchers had the participants engage in meditation techniques for 8 weeks. They noted changes in the brain in areas that report reflection and self-awareness, those mediating a sense of self, and in areas that support sensory spacial processing.
What does this mean in layman’s terms? In a 2008 article, Dr Harry Mills and colleagues suggest several ways meditation and journaling strengthen us:
- We recognize that we don’t have as much control as we thought we did. This allows us to stop trying to manipulate outcomes and intervene in situations that should be left alone. It also means that we recognize that both bad and good things happen to bad and good people.
- Gives us a greater sense of purpose and meaning
- We become better able to put our lives and life experiences into perspective — I suppose this means that we’re better able to get the fact that indeed, it really isn’t all about us after all.