Spirituality can be a great source of comfort. But when a person is facing a loss, physical and emotional pain, or other challenges, they may experience spiritual distress. Spiritual distress occurs when a person is no longer able to find meaning, peace, comfort, strength, or connection in life.
It's natural for individuals who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness or who are experiencing great physical or emotional pain to question their beliefs. Understanding how to recognize spiritual distress can help you better assist an individual who is experiencing these signs and symptoms.
What are the symptoms of spiritual distress?
Spiritual distress can be experienced differently by different people. The signs and symptoms of spiritual distress include:
- Feelings of anger or hopelessness
- Feelings of depression and anxiety
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling abandoned by God
- Questioning the meaning of life or suffering
- Questioning beliefs or sudden doubt in spiritual or religious beliefs
- Asking why this situation occurred
- Seeking spiritual help or guidance
How can you help someone experiencing spiritual distress?
The best way to assist someone experiencing spiritual distress is to be an active listener and provide support in a calm, peaceful environment. Speak with the individual about their life. Talk through good times as well as bad to help them gain perspective.
If requested, reach out to a spiritual leader (chaplain, minister, priest, rabbi, imam) who can visit with the individual and answer their questions.
A journal or diary can also be helpful as it allows the individual to express thoughts, feelings, concerns and questions. They can record stories, write down their questions and muse about possible answers. It gives them an outlet to work through their thoughts and emotions.
Spiritual distress is a common symptom in the terminally ill. Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care has chaplains available to assist patients experiencing the symptoms of spiritual distress. To learn more about spiritual distress and other common end-of-life changes, please call 1-888-564-3405.
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