Studies show religious practice helps reduce the risk of depression for teens and adults. Here's what you can do to keep yourself healthier this winter.
I heard a segment on NPR that intrigued me last month. The topic the hosts were discussing was the effect of organized religion on mental health. They discussed a study showing that if religious adolescents go to church once a week, they are up to 20% less likely to be at risk for moderate to severe depression. One of the interesting points mentioned was that the study’s creators tested to make sure it wasn’t just a good home life or a family background that accounted for the lower risk, and found that it was more than that. (Check out the segment here).
The episode made me think about what parts of religious faith help in preventing depression. I extrapolated how one might battle sadness caused by seasonal changes with faith because it’s that time of year when in many places, you just don’t see the sun much anymore. This can cause some of us to get a little stir crazy. It can also lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Reduced sunlight causes a drop in melatonin and seratonin levels, as well as messing up our biological clock. Many people develop a case of the winter blues, so if you’ve noticed your mood changing with the seasons, you’re not alone.
Now before going further, I need to note that the practices I’m going to suggest might help you if you have a mild case of seasonal sadness. But these ideas are not a replacement for good therapy and/or medication, especially if your sadness is overwhelming and interfering with your daily life. If that sounds like you, please find more help than this little article can give.
But, if your mood is just a bit off in these winter months, these religious practices might help …
- Go to church on Sundays. We were made to praise God, and that’s what Mass is all about. Acknowledging your smallness and God’s greatness can help put your life in perspective. Sadness makes you focus inward, and Mass gives you a chance to look away from yourself for a bit and look towards your Creator.
- Join a group at your church. Or, at least explore a group by attending a few meetings. Maybe you church has small groups, or has ways to volunteer with others in different ministries. The community you will hopefully find is also a good way to get outside yourself.
- Start a prayer journal. Set aside some time to be silent in front of a crucifix every day. First write down in your journal the things you are worried about that day. Then write down the things you are thankful for. Then just sit in silence praising and thanking God.
- Find a short prayer that you can say several times throughout the day. Doing this will give you perspective and remind you what your life is really about. “Oh my God, I believe in you, I hope in you, I love you.” “Jesus, I trust in you.” “God, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.”
- Ask yourself, “Who can I love well today?” when you wake up. And try not to go to sleep at night until you’ve helped at least one person. Be that friendly word of encouragement, some coffee to brighten their day, or a little note or voicemail. Doing something little out of love for someone else, especially when you’re struggling yourself, is a powerful mood changer.
God is still with us when the world is cold and bare. While it is easier to see His goodness when the sun is shining, seeking Him in the winter can help lift us soul and body.
Physical exercise is an important preventative medicine for depression