Asking yourself the ‘big questions’ about life is linked to lower depression and anxiety, new research finds.
Fear of confronting these kinds of questions, though, is linked to problems regulating the emotions.
Professor Julie Exline, study’s co-author said:
“Religious and spiritual struggles — conflicts with God or religious people, tough questions about faith, morality, and the meaning of life — these are often taboo topics, and the temptation to push them away is strong.
When people avoid these struggles, anxiety and depression tend to be more intense than if they faced these struggles head-on.
People who more fully embrace these struggles with fundamental beliefs and values report better mental health than those who don’t.”
The conclusions come from a survey of 307 people asked about recent life experiences.
“This avoidance may lead to the rejection of whole groups of people based on their religious differences or perceived incongruence between, for example, their sexuality or gender-based identity and religious teachings.
Professor Exline continued:
“People seem to be more emotionally healthy if they’re able to accept troubling thoughts.
Looking at spiritual doubts in an objective way seems to help.
You may or may not work through them, but at least you can tolerate having them.”
On the other hand, regularly pushing away existential thoughts will not stop them being troubling.
Professor Exline said:
“Regular spiritual avoidance can make it difficult to identify, work toward or experience the qualities that lend a sense of purpose to life.
Continually being re-visited by these thoughts can create strains on emotional health, especially if a person sees this kind of questioning as morally unacceptable and dangerous.”
The study was published in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science (Oemig Dworsky et al., 2016).