May 24, 2019 by John Fernandez
Spirituality and Healing: Extra Doses of Support
Let’s face it. There are no magic pills for instant recovery and good health. But research shows that in addition to excellent medical care, spirituality can provide a dose of extra healing. And that includes prayer and meditation.
“It’s all connected. When we tend to our spiritual self, we are addressing health and illness at a very basic level,” says Chaplain Renato Santos, head chaplain in the Pastoral Care department at Baptist Health South Florida. “Prayer and meditation have the ability to slow us down and help us focus on things that are really important,”
Academic studies point to that same conclusion. The Journal of American Medical Association Psychiatry reported a 90 percent reduction in major depression among those who ranked spirituality and religion as important. Meditation and mindfulness practices are also linked to lower inflammation in the body, according to one medical study. And the American Heart Association also reported a connection between meditation and lower risk of heart disease, according to a report in the New York Times.
How does the mind-body-spirit connection work?
Prayer and meditation can have a calming impact on the brain, heart rate and other vital signs, according to a variety of clinical studies. That’s important in this day and age when electronic gadgets, time commitments and other pressures can scatter or deplete our attention and energies, Chaplain Santos says.
“When we are praying, we find balance. When we find balance, we’re creating a space internally for health and well-being,” he says.
What about stress?
Chronic anxiety, stress and depression can lead or contribute to major illnesses, including cardiovascular disease, according to research from Harvard Medical School. And acute stress can lower the body’s ability to fight off colds, viruses and other infections, research shows.
Spirituality and the habits linked to spirituality and religion can provide stress busters, the chaplain says. Those habits include community involvement, good deeds, charitable activities and regular attendance at religious services.
“Those habits are linked with quicker recovery times, shorter hospital stays and reduced readmissions,” Chaplain Santos says. “The faith community also reports higher levels of health and satisfaction.”
What is the role of Pastoral Care?
Pastoral Care services are designed to help create a safe and nurturing space where the health-related anxieties experienced by patients and their loved ones can be reduced. To accomplish that objective, Baptist Health offers an interfaith group of clinically trained chaplains who are able to work across faith lines to provide appropriate support as needed or requested.
“Healthcare issues and concerns almost by definition create imbalance in patients’ lives,” Chaplain Santos says. “Our goal is to create an environment where people know that their faith needs are supported. Baptist Health provides an environment that welcomes the connection between spirituality and health.”
What services are available to patients and families?
Pastoral Care offers outreach and support through two main avenues: one-on-one with a patient and the family, and community programs.
“We meet people where they are in their emotional and spiritual journey with respect to cultural, religious beliefs and diversity,” Chaplain Santos says.
Pastoral Care also offers religious programs and spaces where patient, family and employees can pray, meditate and learn. Baptist Health facilities provide dedicated areas for prayer and meditation, including chapels, meditation gardens and private meeting rooms.
“Since the beginning, Baptist Health has understood the importance of nurturing the spirit, and the direct relationship of the spirit and heart to good health,” Chaplain Santos says.