It had been five years since I started at OSF HealthCare, and I had never been inside the executive boardroom, but there I was, surrounded by members of the palliative and supportive care teams. I felt like the odd man out as I gazed around the room. I kept my eyes down and my mouth shut unless I was asked a direct question, as if I were at the big kids' table for the first time.
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I passed the time by listening to and taking notes on potential blog subjects. Sister Jacque (pronounced jack-ee) Schroeder was one of the quietest but most ardent speakers at the table, and she kept alluding to this term: spiritual agony.
I was curious, so I met down with Sister to discuss spiritual suffering. Here's what I discovered…
What is spiritual pain?
Spiritual pain is pain that originates in the “invisible” portions of our lives. Although it cannot be measured on a pain scale, it is extremely real and can have an influence on our physical and emotional well-being.
- Meaning having difficulty understanding the “meaning” of life, relationships, and the world around you.
Spiritual suffering knows no gender or age boundaries; it impacts people at all stages of life in diverse ways. As Sister put it, “everyone is on a spiritual journey from the minute they are born,” and “we endure pain and grow as a result of that journey.” Because our society rarely emphasizes this journey, we have a hard time dealing with the agony when it gets unbearable.
Dealing With Spiritual Pain
I asked Sister if there was anything we can do for ourselves or as caregivers to others to minimize spiritual pain from becoming too severe after learning so much in such a short time. Her response was simple yet effective: breathe and remain silent.
Sister once prayed God for advice when she was faced with some of the most difficult decisions of her life, but all she got was “breathe.” Our culture and lives are moving far too quickly these days, so taking the time to simply breathe offers us something to focus on and keep our minds clean so that the answers we seek can come to the top.
Silence goes hand in hand with breathing. Every day, we are inundated with messages and “noise” from all directions. Having a place to turn everything off and just listen and breathe helps to generate the spiritual and emotional healing environment we want. “God doesn't need time to communicate to us; we just need to take the time to be silent and listen,” Sister explained.
Doctor, Heal Thyself
It's challenging for caretakers to know how to address every aspect of a patient. To treat the whole patient, hospitals have social services, pastoral care, palliative care, and other services. But one thing all caregivers must remember is that we are the medication we bring.
“You can't assist others until you help yourself,” you've probably heard someone remark. This holds true for doctors, nurses, and all other health-care professionals. The caregivers can infuse their spiritual anguish into the medical therapies and coordinated care they deliver at the bedside once they take time to be silent, breathe, and confront their own spiritual pain.
What is spiritual suffering?
Spiritual distress, also known as spiritual suffering, can occur when religious beliefs and practices fail to provide meaning or have a negative meaning, such as feelings of God's abandonment (Peteet & Balboni, 2013) or when a person's illness experience contradicts their core beliefs (Bartel, 2004).
How does spirituality affect pain?
Pain is a multi-faceted phenomenon that involves a series of behavioral responses, thoughts, and feelings. Pain is influenced by a variety of nonphysiologic factors, including psychological, familial, and societal attitudes, life stressors, and cultural or spiritual factors. Emotional stress, such as worry and depression, has a significant impact on pain perception. People with chronic pain may experience more acute pain and accompanying handicap if they have depression, anxiety, or both, according to recent studies. Furthermore, pain phobia may cause more handicap than the pain itself. Another study discovered a cyclical pattern of chronic pain leading to despair and depression leading to an increase in chronic pain, producing a self-fulfilling cycle. 7-9 Also crucial are the ideas and attitudes of family and caregivers regarding pain, both positively and negatively, in order to accept and express suffering. The most significant agents for pain management are health professionals who provide treatment to people with chronic pain. As a result, in order to handle pain holistically, health providers should be aware of their patients' biological and psychosocial demands. 10,11
Pain management can include a variety of behavioral, religious, pharmacological (including prescription and non-prescription), and surgical approaches. One of the medical treatment goals is to look at the psychosocial aspects of pain and try to correct misconceptions, alter or change unhelpful coping methods, and reinforce favorable ones. Individuals' capacities to manage, tolerate, and accept disease and suffering require several levels of experience and thought, because pain is encountered in the context of the biopsychosocial-spiritual system. As a result, several researchers advocated for the biopsychosocial model (BPSM) as a framework for analyzing the impact of people's biological, psychological, and social experiences on disease. Spirituality as a notion has only lately been added to the BPSM. The biopsychosocial-spiritual model (BPSSM) states that sickness damages an individual's biological, interpersonal, and spiritual relationships. The BPSSM acknowledges the potential impact of spiritual and religious variables on the experience of disease and pain responsiveness. 12 Negative spiritually oriented cognitions (e.g., God is abandoning me) have also been linked to greater pain sensitivity in studies. 13 Spirituality and spiritual forms, according to the BPSSM, may play a vital role in coping with disease and pain. 12
Spirituality and religion may have an impact on how you feel about pain and weariness. According to Baetz and Bowen, religious people are less prone to experience discomfort and weariness. They studied 37.000 people aged 15 and above who had fibromyalgia, back pain, migraine headaches, or chronic fatigue syndrome, and found that those who are spiritual but don't go to church regularly are more likely to have such symptoms. In comparison to other persons, those with chronic pain and exhaustion were more likely to utilize prayer and seek spiritual support as a coping mechanism. Pain patients who were religious and spiritual were more likely to have better psychological health and utilize positive coping mechanisms. As a result, it seems reasonable to include spirituality and/or religion in an individual's evaluation and management plan, as it may be a valuable coping method. 14
Spiritual interventions differ from culture to culture. Praying can take the shape of intercessory prayer, confession, thankfulness, or silent communion, and it is a global spiritual practice. There is no direct physical touch during prayer, and no attempt to accomplish or give anything. His or her main purpose is to become a beloved child of God. Getting medical help and praying are not mutually exclusive pursuits. 15 Pain is frequently mentioned in the context of people's spiritual relationships. God is in charge of health, and spiritual beliefs are the most powerful tool for influencing recovery. To cope with their agony, patients with pain can use a variety of religious and spiritual interventions, such as praying and seeking spiritual assistance. 16 According to research, the majority of individuals with chronic pain use religious and/or spiritual approaches of coping with their pain, such as prayer and spiritual support. This has been described as either externally powerful sources of illness control or internally powerful sources of disease control. Spiritual quest orientation was of modest importance, but intrinsic religion and reappraisal were moderately appreciated. Apart from religious denomination, internal sources of disease control such as conscious and healthy living and good attitudes were the best predictors of patients' reliance on spirituality and religion. 17
According to correlational studies, people who have strong religious and spiritual life are psychologically and physically healthier. Religiousness proved to protect against depression in a meta-analysis of 147 independent investigations of religiousness and depressive symptoms, particularly during periods of substantial life stress. This link was also seen in a study of chronic pain sufferers, with those who had more spiritual experiences reporting better mental health. Furthermore, those who reported higher degrees of suffering had the highest link between spirituality and mental health. 18
Although those facing chronic pain are more likely to become religious and spiritual following the commencement of their ailment, pain and disease can question one's belief system. People suffering from chronic pain may turn to religious and spiritual institutions for advice on how to improve their psychological, emotional, and even physical health. 29-32
How do you release trauma trapped in the body?
Gina Ross, the founder of the International Trauma-Healing Institute, has created a simple procedure called EmotionAid. Here's a quick rundown of the measures you can take to start releasing trauma from your body.
- To begin, examine your current situation: On a scale of 1 to 7, rate how stressed or upset you are. If it's too high, start with the Grounding Steps below.
- Begin with Butterfly Hugging and Tapping embrace yourself and then alternatively tap your arms 25 times from side to side. Take a deep breath after that. Rep till you see a significant reduction in your stress level.
- After that, plant roots in the ground. In the chair, pay attention to your feet or, if you're seated, your back, buttocks, and back of your legs. Now observe how your feet or lower body are firmly connected to the floor, then to the ground, as though roots are growing deep into the ground. Take a deep breath in and out. Then, while being connected to your “roots,” look around the room and observe things or textures.
- Finally, pay attention to your breathing by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly. Now just be with your breath, observing its rhythm rather than trying to change it. Then, with your fingertips, draw a heart shape and bring focus to your beating heart.
- First, pay attention to your breathing and take a few deep breaths. Any sensations that arise naturally should be noted. Shivering, heat, sweating, yawning, goosebumps, shortness of breath, and stomach gurgling are all symptoms of stress hormones being released. Keep an open mind about your sentiments and be present with them, and they will naturally dissipate. Don't criticize or judge what you're feeling or sensing.
- After that, go over the painful experience or disturbing ideas that caused the feelings. As you reflect on what happened, pay attention to the feelings that arise. It's critical to go slowly so that you just allow one feeling to activate at a time. Simply stay with it and give it time. Then, as you follow the sensations, notice the discharge that appears. (Know that you can momentarily ignore sensations and emotions that you aren't paying attention to right now.) Consider putting them on a shelf for the time being.)
- Work with the Thoughts after that. Again, when you notice one idea at a time, pay attention to the sensations that accompany it. Allow yourself to be free of any judgment or criticism. Simply stay present and watch what happens next, as well as the sensations that are discharging and releasing from the body.
- Now pay attention to Resources and bring them to your attention. A resource is anything that makes you feel powerful and tranquil. These can be external (for example, a good friend's nice eyes) or interior (perhaps the memory of a personal achievement). Observe the sensations that arise in your body while you recollect or hold these resources. Take a few moments to notice how your body feels peaceful and strong.
What is a distressing spirit?
A disruption in a person's belief or value system is referred to as spiritual discomfort. It can happen when a person is unable to find meaning, hope, love, comfort, strength, or connection in their lives, or when there is a conflict between his or her beliefs and what is happening in their lives. It has the potential to impact his or her entire self.
What is the purpose of pain in life?
Pain is an unpleasant physical and emotional sensation associated with tissue damage. It enables the body to respond and avoid further tissue damage.
What are the stages of spiritual awakening?
The hero's journey, an evolutionary process of growth and transformation woven into all great myths and stories, was outlined by renowned mythologist Joseph Campbell: “A genuinely heroic shift of awareness occurs when we stop worrying about ourselves and our own self-preservation.”
The primary pushing off point for any hero's quest is known as the call to adventure. The call to adventure is a break from regular life, a signal that comes from deep inside, grabs your attention, and drives you in a new direction. The spark that sets off a spiritual awakening is a call to adventure. Every life has a moment that, if grasped, will change it forever. The call to adventure is a reawakening experience, a shift in perspective that forces you to reconsider your perspective on life. A travel to a strange location, the loss of innocence, an illness, a challenge, the death of a close friend, a near-death experience, or the loss of a job are all examples of spiritual experiences. Regardless of the specifics, the experience alters your perspective and causes you to see the world through fresh eyes. You've been given the task of living an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.
At this critical juncture, Joseph Campbell advises that you must choose whether or not to accept the call to adventure. In truth, though, ignoring the call isn't an option because your soul is inviting you to change on a deeper level. If you ignore the call, the opportunity will recycle itself like a skip on a record, patiently waiting for you to embrace the call to a new existence, thanks to your unique karmic influences. Furthermore, there is no going back once a transforming and deeply waking incident has occurred. Your eyes have been opened, and no matter how much you try to reject it, you can't turn away from the image of a greater reality calling to you.
You enter a broader universe once you've answered the call to adventure. You take an active role in your spiritual development and advancement. As you begin to manage your life toward chances that enhance your knowledge, responsibility becomes the operative word. Everything feels the same and weirdly different at the same time, thanks to a tiny alteration in perspective.