Spiritual Wellness in College (and what is spirituality, anyway?)

Photo courtesy of Randi Hausken

“Spiritual, but not religious” has become a popular phrase—it even has its own Wikipedia page and was featured on NPR. But what do these words actually mean? Can you be religious, but not spiritual? Or religious and spiritual? Or neither religious nor spiritual?

Religion typically refers to a personal set or institutionalized system of beliefs, attitudes, and practices used to worship a god or group of gods. Spiritual tends to refer to things pertaining to the human soul or spirit, rather than physical or material objects. Another definition of spirituality seems to apply to both non-religious and religious spiritual experiences comes from Sam Harris’s book Waking Up: “Spirituality begins with a reverence for the ordinary that can lead us to insights and experiences that are anything but ordinary.”

Photo courtesy of Oregon Department of Transportation’s Photo Stream

Regardless of how you choose to answer the questions above, this quote seems to highlight an important point: Taking the time to slow down and appreciate the beauty in ourselves, others, and the world around us allows our day-to-day experience to become extraordinary. It’s also pretty important for our health, according to several researchers. For example, one study found that keeping a gratitude diary was associated with enhanced well-being. Numerous studies have also shown links between religious involvement, stress reduction, and health (see Dr. Harold Koenig’s book for a great review—available through UNC libraries).

Photo courtesy of Sebastien Wiertz

The link between various spiritual practices like mindfulness, yoga, and meditation and stress reduction/well-being is also very well-documented—in fact, mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) has become a popular and effective method for reducing anxiety. Check out this awesome MBSR workbook for some great stress reduction tips (also available at UNC libraries!).


Okay, so that all sounds great, but when am I supposed to have time to work on my spiritual wellness in college? Here are some tips:

  1. Find what works best for you. Don’t be afraid to try something different!
  2. Get connected to a religious/spiritual community, either at UNC or in the surrounding area. Being connected to others is a great way to reduce stress and feel “at home” at UNC.
  3. Try scheduling 10 minutes per day to do Just be. Just breathe. Put it on your Google calendar as “me time,” and take it seriously, as if it were a standing meeting with yourself.
  4. Keep a gratitude journal. On days that are especially stressful or challenging, you can look back and remind yourself of all the things that have gone well recently.
  5. Try out some breathing exercises.
  6. Give meditation a try. Meditation is used, in some form or another, by all the world’s religions and by folks who aren’t religious at all, so there must be something to it. Science also agrees. Try these apps to get started!
  7. Look for the extraordinary in everyday things. Pay attention to the goodness in the world around you, the goodness in other people, and the goodness in yourself.

Kaitlyn B is the Program Assistant for Resiliency Initiatives at Student Wellness. Read their bio here.


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