Those who are religious use the same coping strategies when facing a crisis as those recommended by psychologists.
A study in The Journal of Religion and Health found that religious people use emotion-regulation strategies (like looking at hardships in a positive way). Psychologists refer to this as cognitive reappraisal.
“It’s an emotion regulation strategy that allows us to see the “silver lining” or the “full-half of the glass” in challenging circumstances. It’s useful because one can use it to find opportunities when facing challenges, rather than being put down by them,” Florin and Sanda Dolcos, authors of the study and professors of psychology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign told Theravive.
“People who use religious coping are also more likely to see challenges through “rosier glasses” and also have increased confidence in their abilities to cope. These, in turn, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
These coping strategies have been used by psychologists as an effective way of increasing wellbeing and protecting people against distress. The study authors say this suggests religion and science may have much in common in terms of coping with hardships and challenges.
Florin Dolcos uses the example that when someone dies, a religious person may use phrases like “they are with God now” or “at least they are no longer suffering”. In this way, the religous person is finding comfort by reframing a difficult situation in a positive way.
In undertaking their study, the Dorcos’ recruited 203 people with no diagnosis of depression or anxiety. Of those, fifty seven were asked to answer questions about their level of spiritual belief or religiosity.
The researchers asked them about their ways of coping. For example, for religious coping, a person might find comfort in their faith or beliefs. The participants were also asked how often they look at a situation in a new way by framing it in a more positive light, or whether they ever supressed their emotions.
Participants were also asked how confident they were in their ability to cope, as well as any symptoms they had of depression or anxiety.
They found that if participants were using religious coping, they had decreased levels of anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Religious people were also confident in their own ability to cope with hardships, challenges or difficulties. This is known as “coping self-efficacy”.
Both cognitive reappraisal and coping self-efficacy were contributing factors to the decrease in symptoms of distress experienced by the participants.
According to the Pew Research Centre, 53 per cent of Americans believe religion is an important part of their life. 24 per cent say it’s somewhat important. In the US, just over 70 per cent of people identify as Christian, while nearly six per cent identify as a non-Christian faith (Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist). Nearly 23 per cent are unaffiliated with a religion.
The findings of the study, the researchers say, could benefit those not only in religious communities, but also those who have no religion.
“Both communities can benefit from increased ability to see things through rosier glasses and from increased confidence that they can cope with challenges. Linked to reappraisal (the ability to find the right rosier glasses), religious individuals can find/invoke such rosier glasses through beliefs in divine connections,” the researchers told Theravive.
The study authors say their findings may be of use for clinical psychologists who work with clients who are religious. As well as this, leaders in religion may promote techniques like cognitive reappraisal and coping self-efficacy to increase resilience among their parishioners.
The authors argue this is an example of how religion and science can work together to maintain and improve the wellbeing of the public
Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald, News.com.au, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.