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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, 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 in college.

Build social connections

“Meeting with a small group of Christians, building a community of support that is almost impossible to find outside of like-minded believers, is the single most important social connection in my life during school.”
—Jordan P., fourth-year undergraduate, Oregon Institute of Technology

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

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

“My beliefs have allowed me to keep focused on my goals and pick myself back up whenever I do something horrendously stupid or embarrassing.”
—George B., second-year undergraduate, University of Wisconsin

Move toward your goals

“Having the mindset of what I do today can affect the life I have tomorrow—it pushes me to keep moving forward and no matter how tough things get, it could always be worse.”
—Dawn D., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Saskatchewan

Handle uncertainty and change

“Remembering to pray before an exam. It helps me meditate and collect my thoughts while calming down my nerves.”
—Robert C., fourth-year undergraduate, University of North Dakota

Take care of yourself

“I take one day to be with nature each week. It recharges me and gives me a weekly reward to motivate me to do my work.”
—Anastasia Z., 2015 graduate, Metropolitan State University, Denver

Grow intellectually

“Bible study has prepared me for studying and understanding the curriculum of the classes that I’m taking, to better prepare me for what’s ahead academically.”
—Michael L., second-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University, Denver

Students’ stories

What else is spirituality about?

“Natural beauty, cosmology, great works of art, and feeding my senses in general: I think like-minded students would do well to remember how important [these are] to one’s wellbeing.”
—Aaron F., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

“If I am doing something to glorify my God, then it is spiritual. That could be adventuring in the outdoors, working out, etc. But if it isn’t for the glory of God,
e.g., if I’m working out to attract as many guys as possible, then it isn’t a spiritual practice.”
—Elizabeth G., fourth-year undergraduate, Michigan Technological University

“Going to Al-Anon meetings to talk about things with others is helpful when I feel a bit lost.”
—Rachel V., third-year undergraduate, University of Lethbridge, Alberta

“My spirituality stems from being a kind human being.”
—Ryan M., third-year undergraduate, State University of New York, Empire State College

“Keeping little momentoes of happiness, little trinkets that make me happy—the little things that make you smile in a moment that can help with the whole day, when you can find that moment of stillness within yourself and it keeps you going.”
—Adeline P., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Alberta

“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. Deep breathing is always proactive and positive in giving your brain the extra oxygen boost it needs.”
—Ariel F., third-year student, St. Lawrence College, Ontario

Thriving relationships

What spirituality means for my relationships

“Intentionally being with friends, building community and opening up, sharing intimate parts of my life with people. When I have something challenging or something amazing going on in my life, other people experience that with me, and I feel loved by that.”
—Third-year undergraduate, name & college withheld

“I volunteer for a youth ministry program. It helps me stay grounded and hold myself accountable as a role model.”
—Danielle D., third-year undergraduate, Metropolitan State University, Denver

“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

“Love thy neighbor as yourself. I treat professors, peers, roommates, strangers with respect and kindness.”
—Jennifer K., third-year undergraduate, Rutgers University, New Jersey

“I’m not overly religious, but I went to an Ash Wednesday service, and I felt myself making an effort to be a better person throughout the next week.”
—Meredith G., third-year undergraduate, Temple University, Pennsylvania

The power of perspective

How spirituality helps me keep things in perspective

“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, one person’s undergraduate years. 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

“When everyone around me is stressed out and their attitudes are contagious, I stand back for a moment and find a quiet place and just pray and find inner peace and tranquility.”
—Wendy L., third-year undergraduate, Humboldt State University, California

“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 undergraduate, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo

“‘Philippians: Be anxious for nothing, but…let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’ This Bible reference reminds me that I have nothing to worry about.”
—Adriel, second-year undergraduate, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

“Prayer relaxes my soul.”
—Mirka L., third-year undergraduate, California State University, San Bernardino

Coping with college

How spirituality helps me in college

“There were times where I just wanted to give up on school, but praying about the situation helped.”
—Jasmine H., fourth-year undergraduate, Midwestern State University, Texas

“Almost daily meditation really helps to calm, center, and focus me before a particularly challenging rehearsal, class, or work session.”
—Fourth-year undergraduate, name & college withheld

“I have a daily affirmations book that I go to, especially when times are tough. It’s designed for college students.”
—Shawna S., second-year undergraduate, University of California, Los Angeles

“As a Catholic, I look to God whenever I am struggling. When rejected by one of my top choice schools, I was completely lost, but when I look back on it now, I am so happy that it turned out the way it did. Believing in God got me through the rejection and brought even greater things my way.”
—Melanie R., second-year undergraduate, Framingham State University, Massachusetts

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


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