Researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have found that psychologists recommend similar mechanisms to those used by religious people to increase wellbeing and reduce distress.
The research was inspired by earlier studies finding that religious people tend to use a coping strategy similar to 'cognitive reappraisal'- reframing a distressing situation in a more constructive light. For example, whereas a religious person may come to terms with a loved one's death by saying: 'They are with God now.' a nonreligious person may say: 'At least they are no longer suffering.'
To investigate the degree to which religious people rely on and benefit from such reappraisals to regulate emotions, the researchers conducted a study of 203 people, 57 of whom had some level of religious or spiritual belief. The researchers then asked each participant about their coping style, such as how often they reappraise negative situations with more positive interpretations and whether they suppress their emotions.
The researchers also assessed each participants' confidence in their ability to cope and assessed them for symptoms of depression and anxiety. Religious participants were further surveyed on whether they found comfort in their religious or spiritual beliefs.
All in all, the researchers found that religious coping mechanisms were linked to lower anxiety levels and fewer depressive symptoms. In particular, they highlighted cognitive reappraisal and coping self-efficacy (confidence in overcoming a stressful situation) to be key reasons behind the lower rates of negative emotion and reactivity among religious or spiritual participants.
The researchers say that the study should be taken into consideration by clinical psychologists who work with clients from religious backgrounds. They also say that the findings should also be of interest to clergy members and church leaders who can promote such cognitive reappraisal and self-efficacy.