Spirituality, Social Support and Mental Health: A Unifying Thread

By Darci L. Graves, MA, MA, MPP, Health Power Editor on Spirituality, Culture and Health, and Aging

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Your mind and body connect so that when you feel stress your body experiences it too. Your connections and social networks can be great sources of stress reduction.



Last month we spoke of connecting our spiritual thread to aspects of our health and to our visits with a provider (See Spiritual Health Channel Highlights for article). It is equally important that we remember the thread of spirituality that connects us together as families, communities and as human beings. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called it our network of mutuality and single garment of destiny.



What does that mean for our health?

Dr. King knew long ago what research today shows us. Connections are important for our health, our quality of life and our communities. It’s important to be social at any age, because people who have more social support live longer, are less depressed, and less likely to experience mental decline as age increases. In addition, people with support networks tend to get better faster when they are sick.



Social networks in the digital age – special considerations

In the age of smart phones, texting and other instant status updates, we may forget how to be a *friend* to people in person. The power of a hug, a smile and shared laugh (not just a LOL) can do both the body and the mind a lot of good. Be sure to extend your relationships beyond the virtual and spend time with people who share your interests and values. Feel free to schedule your coffee-gardening-bible study-art museum date by text, e-mail, or instant message, but once these “power down”, do one of the following two things:

  1. Enjoy the company of those around you, or
  2. Meet up with one or more people you enjoy spending time with,





The link between mental health and physical health

Just as we discussed last month – mental health and physical health are connected through that thread of spirituality. Your mind and body connect so that when you feel stress your body experiences it too – through such things as tensed muscles, quickened heartbeat, frequent or prolonged headaches, and upset stomach – just to name a few. Your connections and social networks can be great sources of stress reduction for the mind, and the body.



How do you connect your spirituality and the garment of destiny?

What can you do to help add your thread to the single garment of destiny? Try some of the options below or talk to your neighbors and find out which one(s) is (are) right for you and them.

  • Community initiatives – food co-ops, neighborhood maintenance- shoveling sidewalks, gardening, or helping with lawns;
  • Social activities – block parties, barbeques, pot-lucks, cross-cultural events, faith-based groups for prayer, activities or discussion, going to church, temple or mosque, or days at the park, zoo or museum;
  • Physical activities – start a walking or other exercise group where you walk around the block and catch up, or form sports leagues (i.e., football, soccer) and challenge other communities in your area, and if you can’t play in the game – go cheer them on!!

 

Remember the Health Power motto:

Knowledge + Action = Power! ®