Community and Contemplation: How Church Can Improve Seniors’ Health
Isolation and depression are part of an oppressive reality for many senior citizens. Retirement and the advent of an unfamiliar lifestyle after decades of work and daily interaction leaves many older adults feeling lost and cut off. It’s an abrupt and unsettling change to which many never adjust.
Research has shown that seniors who belong to a church community benefit from social interaction, communal sharing and gain the strength to cope with sadness through spirituality. Older adults learning to deal with the depressing reality of solitude find an invaluable emotional support network. Due to life circumstances that may be unique to their age or health concerns, elderly people often confront a variety of emotions or mindsets that may be somewhat debilitating and hard to bear. These include a sense of isolation, loneliness, boredom, and grief, among others.
Companionship and contemplation
Church provides companionship with people who have common interests and experiences. As such, it’s a powerfully therapeutic emotional outlet. Traditionally, church is a place people go for spiritual growth and strength. Prayer, the celebration of a liturgical tradition and contemplative activity like meditation and self-reflection calm the mind and make it easier to process complex emotions. Spiritual contemplation also helps reduce stress, alleviate depression and mitigate feelings of anxiety. Research has shown that prayer helps seniors who suffer from severe depression respond better to treatment - praying and reflecting with others who share a common belief system enhances this effect.
Churches often perform charitable work, an activity that helps seniors feel important and involved in the world around them. There are multiple psychological and physical benefits to be derived from helping others and doing so alongside people you love and know well. It’s a communal activity that makes you feel productive because it gives one a sense of purpose and satisfaction. The consequent feelings of well-being can translate into improved physical health. Charitable work has been proven effective at preventing Alzheimer’s disease, improving one’s overall mental health, and overcoming bitterness and other negative feelings associated with isolation. Seniors gain a strong impression that their lives have meaning.
As part of a church community, senior citizens are more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices and help others avoid unhealthy practices. Church members feel a responsibility to other members of their church community, both to help them stay safe and healthy and to maintain a healthy lifestyle themselves. A caring church community can motivate older adults to stay active and vital, and give them a stake in the health and vitality of their friends. It’s a social dynamic that can be beneficial to older adults who may have substance abuse problems, a frequent outcome of an isolated existence.
Attending church on a regular basis gives lonely senior citizens a reinvigorated sense of purpose and provides a much-needed source of emotional support, especially for those who are separated, physically or emotionally, from their families. Under such circumstances, church families fill a gap in the lives of people who have nowhere else to turn. Social interaction and emotional support helps isolated seniors lead a longer, happier life among friends they can do things with together.
Social and spiritual outlet
Churches provide a social and spiritual outlet for senior citizens whose mental and physical health may suffer from long periods of isolation and loneliness. Social interaction and the solace that comes from spiritual sharing aids mental acuity and boosts physical health and emotional well-being. For many lonely and depressed senior citizens, church is quite literally a blessing.
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