Serious As A Heart Attack: Can Religion/Spirituality Help?

By Kimberly Burnham

How is your heart health? Have you or someone you love experienced a heart attack?

According to the Washington State Department of Health, over a fourth of Spokane area adults are obese. While a similar number of adults experience high blood pressure, two out of five adults have high cholesterol. One in 16 Spokane area adults have had a heart attack, coronary heart disease, or angina (heart related pain). The entire State of Washington has similar statistics begging the question: What can we each do to ensure our own heart health and the health of the people in our community?

In a 2014 study in the Heart & Lung: The Journal of Acute and Critical Care researchers found that heart failure patients “commonly face severe physical fatigue and frequently endure disabling depression. Individuals with heart failure often report the use of social support and religion/spirituality.”

Using open-ended questions coded to identify psychosocial resources including positive meaning, gratitude, religion/spirituality, social support, and medical resources, researchers noted, “participants completed measures of well-being, including religious meaning, life meaning, satisfaction with life, depressive symptoms, death anxiety, and health-related quality of life. Positive meaning and religion/spirituality were inversely linked with depressive symptoms. Religion/spirituality was also related to less death anxiety, while social support was related to higher anxiety about death three months later.”

It is interesting to note that higher levels of religion and spirituality seem to lead to less anxiety about death and higher social support leads to more anxiety.

Is this true in your own life? Do you draw more comfort from your spiritual beliefs or religious community than from your social circles? Is there an overlap between spiritual and social circles that would make it difficult to distinguish what area of your life is having the greater or more positive impact?

S.J. Sacco et al concluded, “findings advance our understanding of the struggles heart failure patients experience and the roles of psychosocial resources such as meaning and gratitude in alleviating these struggles. Results may help explain how resources like religion/spirituality and social support may influence well-being.”

If you think about psychosocial resources in your own life, what constitutes positive meaning? Do you consciously seek out activities or reading material with a positive meaning? Do you have a gratitude practice, a journaling process?

Have you joined a discussion group or have relationships with people who you can talk about the things that you are grateful for?

Do you feel your religion/spirituality practices are psychosocial resources? What other forms of social support do you have?

Do you talk to your health care professionals about the things and people with positive meaning in your life or those you are grateful for?

As you can see, this research brought up more questions than answers for me. What about you?

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