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What is spirituality, anyway? For many, it’s about belief in God, but it doesn’t have to be. In a recent survey by Student Health 101, you also linked spirituality with mindfulness, nature, taking care of yourself and others, the arts, close relationships, and support groups.

However we define spirituality, it is associated with a sense of meaning and purpose in life, a supportive community, and resources for coping with stress. That’s why researchers are exploring the ways that spiritual belief and practice can help build resilience—our capacity to negotiate life’s changes and obstacles. For example, a 2013 analysis of multiple studies highlighted the therapeutic value of prayer and meditation in improving well-being and relieving anxiety, stress, and depression.

We asked what spirituality means to you and how it strengthens your resilience as a student.

Nurture a positive view of yourself

“Rewriting my view of the past: Shame and depression are rewritten into an acceptance of loss and pain and my own humanity in experiencing them.”
—John K., second-year graduate student, Michigan Technological University

Build social connections

“I have become immersed in the Jewish community on campus, which has made the university smaller and has become a space in which I have found a lot of cool, like-minded people.”
—Tova W., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Keep things in perspective

“Narcotics Anonymous meetings: Drawing strength from my Higher Power and working the 12 steps helps put myself and my life into better perspective and makes things easier to achieve.”
—Casey P., second-year undergraduate, University of Alaska Anchorage

Recover from setbacks

“In order to get through my divorce and college simultaneously, I had to consistently depend on a higher power to make it day by day.”
—Alice L., online graduate student, University of Wisconsin—Platteville

Move toward your goals

“Lao Tzu [the founder of Taoism] once said, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ That’s exactly that I’m doing, I’m just taking college day by day.”
—Kylie S., third-year student, College of the Desert, California

Manage stress

“Meditating on the connection between people and all living things is very life-affirming for me, and helps me manage stress.”
—Christian K., graduate student, Western Oregon University

Grow intellectually

“I like the ideas behind Buddhism, which I believe are in line with education. I like to imagine that my soul is growing with each chapter I read and that each wrinkle I add is another step toward enlightenment.”
—Ryan R., second-year student, Moorpark College, California

Take care of yourself

“As a grad student, feeling connected to nature gives my life more meaning.”
—Sharon H., third-year graduate student, University of North Dakota

Students’ stories

What is spirituality?

What is spirituality about?

“Being spiritual stems from a greater sense of self. Whether it's a higher power that you feel you have a relationship with, driving you to be better, or simply believing strongly in yourself to achieve goals. Being spiritual means you have an understanding that life is fragile and every minute counts.”
—Caroline W.*, first-year student, Wake Technical Community College, North Carolina

I am very aware of my own being and its place within the world. I believe in God, and I believe that my spirit is connected with every other creation, as well as connected to Him. There is a sense of peace and serenity that flows through you when you slow down and really think about the ebb and flow of life and everything around you. That's what being spiritual means to me.”
—Sara B., second-year student, University of Wisconsin—Sheboygan

“I consider myself spiritual. I honor the spirit within people, plants, and animals and try to be attentive to the energy that each gives off.”
—January C., part-time online student, Community College of Denver

“I try my best to live by spiritual principals, like honesty, open-mindedness, willingness, tolerance, and integrity.”
—Michael Q., second-year student, Tompkins Cortland Community College, New York

“I practice a spiritual meditation every day. I meditate quietly for about 30 minutes after reading from five different modes of spiritual contexts, both 12-step and Buddhist sources.”
—Name and school withheld

“Spirituality is doing whatever you’re doing and being spiritual whilst doing it. Nothing is inherently spiritual until you think of or relate to it as such…Meditation is not a spiritual practice, though it can be used for spiritual purposes. It is a great way to bring down one’s stress levels.

“Not believing in a higher power allows me to make decisions based on my own well-being, and move forward with what I want rather than what someone else wants for me. By working toward goals through action rather than praying for something to happen, I’ve become proactive in my life, and things I want actually come to pass. I’m no longer waiting for the universe to bend my way.”
—Ariel F., third-year student, St. Lawrence College, Ontario

Thriving relationships

What spirituality means for my relationships

“I am a Christian. Building relationships at my church has helped me develop a sense of purpose outside of my challenging program.”
—Britta C., second-year graduate student, Illinois State University

“I believe that you should do unto others as you would do to yourself. This helps me to respect everyone, regardless of color, religion, etc.”
—Rich W., third-year graduate student, Rochester Institute of Technology, New York

“I try not to let people’s anger affect me personally by stepping back into my quiet zone. This helps a lot because it enables you to gather your thoughts so you don't say the wrong thing in a heated moment and ruin relationships between friends.”
—Allison D., doctoral candidate, University of the Pacific, California

“My belief is that we are here to help each other, and giving and getting help is how we move forward and succeed.”
—Gregory B., third-year graduate student, University of North Dakota

“I am not very religious, but was brought up Catholic. When I am having a difficult time with personal relationships, I think about my upbringing and values and it helps put things in perspective. It prevents me from giving up on people I care about.”
—Katie P., graduate student, San Diego State University

“I learned to accept gay people.”
—Raymond B., second-year undergraduate, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

The power of perspective

How spirituality helps me keep things in perspective

“Knowing the purpose of life, what I was before, what I can achieve now, and what I will achieve in the life to come, makes all decisions easier because I recognize how they affect the plan that’s already laid out for me.”
—Jason B., graduate student, Utah State University

“The main benefit of belief in a higher power is the reminder that my college experience and my efforts to navigate it are just that—one person’s college experience. Not doing as well as I would have hoped in a course or having roommate issues is tough but insignificant, really, in the grand scheme of things, both in its implications for my lifetime and overall for everything under the higher power.”
—Sarah K., first-year graduate student, Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania

“I think about the entropic and chaotic nature of our world and how we can work together to make that less so, but only if we think about the world as a system, instead of ourselves as individuals within the system.”
—Huan D., first-year graduate student, University of California, Los Angeles

“Yoga takes me away from all the petty things in life that seem large and prevents them from taking over my life and my spirit. The meditation and focus on my body and muscles bring me to a place where I find peace, and this place I can easily access when I am feeling depressed, frustrated, or stressed. Then I can reach a place where I am more able to handle the situation in a healthy way.”
—Nicole S., fourth-year student, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

Coping with college

How spirituality helps me in school

“I [have] practiced Nichiren Buddhist for over 42 years. Chanting ‘Nam myoho renge kyo’ brings out my Buddha nature to overcome problems and to attain my goals.”
—Elizabeth B., online graduate student, Humboldt State University, California

“Asking for divine intervention to stay awake and finish the assignment.”
—Sidney H., online student, Park University, Missouri

“Going to the shrine and saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ helps pinpoint goals and what's important.”
—Selena H., online graduate student, Portland State University, Oregon

“I don't feel like many people have complete faith in themselves to get through college. It’s hard. Being able to put my confidence in something bigger than me helped me know that even if I couldn't do it by myself, I had help.”
—Danielle S., online graduate student, Sul Ross State University, Texas

“I believe that God has put me on this path to higher education through a series of events, both good and bad, and that he has some special plan for me that requires me to continue on this path. I try to follow his directions as best as I can interpret them.”
—Shannon F., online student, Wake Technical Community College, Texas

Daily prayer and scripture reading has helped during various times. I have a wonderful spouse and circle of friends that pray for me and with me. This has helped me through a lot.”
—Tricia B., online student, Ashford University

“I practice mindfulness and meditation. Both helped me focus on one thing at a time. Practicing mindfulness helped me pay attention to the professor in class and really hear what was said. It also helped me study because I was in the present and able to go over my notes and visualize what I was studying.”
—Jael H., 2015 graduate of Algonquin College, Ontario

Tough times

How spirituality gets me through tough times

“I attend a life group and the relationships I have there help keep me emotionally stable and provide support to get through tough times.”
—Kelsey B., second-year graduate student, Portland State University, Oregon

“As a Muslim I pray five times a day; I can shut everything and everyone out for five minutes and focus on God. I’m a firm believer that God plans out everything perfectly, and that helps me cope with whatever comes my way.”
—Yosra E., second-year student, University of Windsor, Ontario

“Reciting the Gayatri Mantra (a Hindu vedic chant) after my morning shower provides me with positive energy to tackle the obstacles I could face during the day.”
—Amith M., third-year graduate student, Clemson University, South Carolina

“I like to think what would Joan Rivers do? She went through something rougher and came out laughing, so why can’t I do the same?”
—Martin M, first-year undergraduate, San Bernardino Valley College, California

“When I am at my breaking point, I use the Islamic prayer to calm my mind.”
—William M., third-year student, Elon University, North Carolina

“Praying is my source of relief when I feel unsure of something.”
—Jamie F., online student, University of Tennessee at Martin


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