Gather together. Research shows that support groups can be a powerful aid in the management of chronic illness. Similarly, while each of us is the captain of our own spiritual ship, we all need a little help from our friends. So, just as you might seek friendly support to stay on a diet or a partner with whom to exercise, you stand to benefit spiritually by hooking up with likeminded seekers, whether you get involved in your local congregation, participate in interfaith gatherings, join an informal study group or just hang out. Look for a group that allows you to be authentically yourself, one that encourages honest exploration and does not seek to impose a dogmatic belief system or excessive conformity. If you can't find one, consider forming a group of your own. A healthy community can open the doors to fresh perspectives, help you distinguish useful information from hogwash and provide a forum for working out spiritual tension and confusion.
Monitor your progress. One of the keys to physical health is to recognize signs of dysfunction early, through screening tests, checkups and alertness to pain and abnormality. Similarly, spiritual wellness entails recognizing religious conflict, spiritual frustration and other indications of soul discomfort. Attending to these "symptoms" not only helps prevent long-term dysfunction but it can lift you to the next level of spiritual growth. Like virtually every revered spiritual leader in history, most of us grapple with religious precepts at one time or another. It is not the struggle per se that matters, it's whether we can resolve it in a healthy way. "Spiritual struggles are a double-edged sword," writes Dr. Pargament. "They have a destructive, even deadly potential. At the same time, they may have the potential to bring people closer to wisdom, maturity, and a sense of connectedness with the transcendent."
It may seem strange to think of focusing on your spiritual life as an adjunct to physical health. After all, tending to your soul is of immense value for its own sake. But if we need the added motivation of vibrant wellness, resistance to disease and a potentially longer life, why not use it? One of the key insights of medical research over the past three decades has been that each aspect of life affects every other. We've learned that thoughts and emotions influence our bodies, and vice versa, so it was just a matter of time before spirituality was added to the equation. Perhaps where our well-being is concerned, religion is like a marriage: there is nothing as healthy as a good one and nothing as unhealthy as a dysfunctional one.