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Does strange phenomenon really happen?

Updated: Nov 8, 2020





It is midday and Joan has just loaded her groceries into her car and is making her way back to the trolley bay to retrieve her coin. As she nears the trolley bay, she becomes anxious at once again experiencing the anguish of being unable to remove the coin from the slot. You see Joan suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and her numb hands make it impossible for her to grasp the coin with ease. She dreads the impatience of other shoppers lining up behind her, and the expressions of annoyance they throw her way. She connects to the last trolley and slides the steel bar into the back of the slot device, people are waiting, her anxiety changes to joy as the steel bar connects with the coin propelling it out of the device and through the air. With unexpected shock Joan catches the coin and walks away feeling relieved and excited.

As we enter the year 2020 evolution remains a common belief among the population, with some people also believing in the notion of a ‘higher power’. For some this ‘higher power,’ under the guise of spirituality or religion, is an important part of their life. For Joan her experience of the supernatural power behind the coin dislodgement was God in her answer to prayer. Can religion and/or spirituality close the gap to the fear of the unknown for those with chronic disease, and bring peace and harmony to an otherwise unknown future?

Religion and spirituality can be complex in meaning with the differences often unclear. Religion seems to focus on the outward devotion of a ‘higher power’ externally expressed in worship, while spirituality seems more internally focused with emphasis on the inner soul/spirit, with both expressions reaching a similar reality from a different focus (1). Either way the 2016 Australian Census of Population and Housing informs us that 61% of the population, or 14 million individuals are affiliated with religion or spirituality (2) in some way. Even with this high percentage the minority insist the majority keep their strange beliefs to themselves. So, what makes most of the population commit to this belief of a ‘higher power?’ Could religious/spiritual beliefs bestow upon the believer physical and emotional health benefits?

Cultural and social factors have long been recognised as a strong force of influence upon health. It is often what gives a person purpose and meaning to life, which is then expressed through their religious/spiritual beliefs. However, little attention has been paid to the effect religion/spirituality bears on health outcomes, often being assumed that this ‘personal belief’ is insignificant to the health and healing of the individual (3). Though this ‘personal belief’ has itself acted as a barrier to its inclusion within health care delivery (3) many individuals continue to hold fast to their beliefs when threatened with life’s traumas.

Studies dating back to the 1990s suggest a definite association between religion and death, linking low adult death rates with regular weekly church attendance (4). It would appear the more often a person participates in religious attendance, the lower the death rate in comparison to those individuals with lower attendance or no attendance (5). These beneficial health outcomes appear to be associated with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, stroke, suicide and stress (5) as individuals use religious/spiritual beliefs to make sense of their illness and bring emotional relief to their suffering.

This research is supported by the longevity of five pockets of communities in the world where individuals live long and healthy lives (6) These areas comprise Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California and have become known as the Blue Zones (6). Dan Buettner found that residents living in these five identified Blue Zones shared nine lifestyle practices, and one of those included belonging to a religious community (7). It is this ‘belonging’ that has allowed these residents to relinquish their daily stresses to a ‘higher power’ resulting in religion being a common denominator toward less chronic disease and overall longevity (7).

So, for those who are curious to know what it’s all about, and how to achieve this connection to a ‘higher power’ a separate study (3) interviewed each participant and gives remarkable insight into this phenomenon. The study explored how individuals with long term chronic disease have incorporated their religious/spiritual beliefs and practices into their self-management and support regime, accomplishing reduced anxiety and positive health outcomes (3). These practices included religious activities and spiritual healing, along with having a deep connection with nature and applying one’s personal religious beliefs (3).

Participants shared that these religious/spiritual activities were important aspects in dealing effectively with the negative impact of their chronic disease. It gives them strength to continue each day, and the support of like-minded people helps to remove the focus off their disease (3). Others reclaimed their self-confidence through hope in a ‘higher power’ something they believed they had lost when diagnosed (3). Some were empowered to achieve a higher outcome in the self-management of their illness, while others found the will to face new daily challenges, and to look at life in a more positive way (3). The feeling of isolation and loneliness subsided as others felt they were no longer ‘alone,’ they could now deal effectively with their stress and depression that their disease had created (3).

Given the evidence presented, a religious/spiritual belief outside of self can play a part in bridging the gap to happiness that health care alone cannot achieve. This belief plays an important role in making the individual feel better and more at peace to tackle the daily battles that chronic disease can create. For Joan it was knowing that God was with her, she was not alone. She had help through the difficult areas of her disease, giving her an inner peace and confidence to meet the challenges of each new day and the hope of a brighter future. Her answer to prayer relieved an otherwise embarrassing moment that may have resulted in feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. This ‘higher power’ gave her hope for the future that no one could take away, it increased her happiness and set her free within the boundaries of her illness.

Reference List

1. Bouckaert, L., & Zsolnai, L. (Eds.). (2011). The Palgrave Handbook of Spirituality and Business. doi:10.1057/9780230321458

2. Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2018, January 18). Census reveals Australia’s religious diversity on World Religion Day. Retrieved from https://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/mediareleasesbyReleaseDate/8497F7A8E7DB5BEFCA25821800203DA4?OpenDocument

3. Unantenne, N., Warren, N., Canaway, R., & Manderson, L. (2011). The Strength to Cope: Spirituality and Faith in Chronic Disease. Journal of Religion and Health, 52(4), 1147–1161. doi:10.1007/s10943-011-9554-9

4. Hummer, R. A., Rogers, R. G., Nam, C. B., Ellison, C. G. (1999). Religious Involvement and U.S. Adult Mortality. Demography, 36(2), 273-285. Retrieved from http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=00703370%28199905%2936%3A2%3C273%3ARIAUAM%3E2.0.CO%3B2-H

5. McCullough, M. E., Hoyt, W. T., Larson, D. B., Koenig, H. G., & Thoresen, C. (2000). Religious involvement and mortality: A meta-analytic review. Health Psychology, 19(3), 211–222. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.19.3.211

6. Blue Zones. (n.d). History of Blue Zones. Retrieved from https://www.bluezones.com/about/history/

7. Blue Zones. (2017). Religion May Reduce Stress and Increase Longevity. Retrieved from https://www.bluezones.com/2017/07/religion-may-reduce-stress-increase-longevity/


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