Spirituality Modifies Coping with Covid-19 Evoked Psychological Distress
By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.
“COVID-19 . . . patients are suffering greatly from spiritual distress as well: existential distress, struggles with uncertainty, despair, hopelessness, isolation, feelings of abandonment by God or others, grief, and the need for reconciliation.” – GW School of Medicine
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged the mental and physical health of the population. It has created intense stress for frontline workers but also for people simply isolating at home. Religion and spirituality have been promulgated as solutions to the challenges of life. There have been a number of studies of the influence of religiosity and spirituality on the physical and psychological well-being of practitioners mostly showing positive benefits, with spirituality encouraging personal growth and mental health. Perhaps, then, spirituality can be helpful in relieving stress and improve coping with the mental and physical challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
In today’s Research News article “Coping with COVID-19: An Examination of the Role of (Non)Religiousness/(Non)Spirituality.” (See summary below or view the full text of the study at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8140577/ ) Abbott and Franks recruited adults over the internet and had them complete measures of coping strategies, psychological distress (anxiety, depression, and perceived stress), religiousness, spirituality, and pandemic related trauma.
They found that the higher the levels of pandemic related trauma and dysfunctional coping, the higher the levels of psychological distress experienced by the participants. Trauma was found to be both directly and indirectly associated with psychological distress via dysfunctional coping. This was true for religious, non-religious, and high and moderate spirituality participants but not for low spirituality participants.
These results are correlational and as such caution must be exercised in forming conclusions regarding causation. But the relationship is clear between the trauma created by the pandemic and psychological distress, people who are traumatized experience high levels of anxiety, depression, and stress. The trauma is also related to dysfunctional coping suggesting that traumatized individual tend to engage in maladaptive coping strategies. Dysfunctional coping involves coping with difficulties by behavioral disengagement, denial, self-distraction, self-blame, substance use and venting and these strategies are associated with heightened levels of trauma. Finally, the analysis suggests that pandemic related trauma is associated with psychological distress directly and also indirectly by being associated with higher levels of dysfunctional coping which in turn is associated with higher levels of distress.
These results suggest that religion and spirituality are helpful in coping with trauma produced by the Covid-19 pandemic. But not with those having low levels of spirituality. Spirituality generally implies a feeling or belief in something beyond the physical. Conversely, low spirituality would imply a focus solely on the physical. So, the results suggest that trauma does not affect coping’s effects on psychological distress when there’s a belief that only physical forces are involved. This then suggests that spirituality increases the individual’s attempts to deal with trauma with coping strategies.
So, spirituality modifies coping with covid-19 evoked psychological distress.
“during a major crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic, we need to make sure that everyone is getting spiritual care.” – Eric Hall
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies
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Abbott, D. M., & Franks, A. S. (2021). Coping with COVID-19: An Examination of the Role of (Non)Religiousness/(Non)Spirituality. Journal of religion and health, 60(4), 2395–2410. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-021-01284-9
Psychological distress and coping strategies employed during collective trauma events may vary for theists and atheists, as well as others along the (non)religious spectrum. The present study explored these differences via data collected from a US-based sample during the COVID-19 pandemic. Statistical models suggested relationships between maladaptive coping and distress for all participants and potential differences in coping and, in turn, distress between participants high and low in institutional religiousness and individual spirituality. Additionally, all participants, though especially nonreligious participants, appeared less able to engage in adaptive emotion-focused coping strategies. Implications for future research are provided.