Spirituality can help ease job-related stress

Helping employees achieve spiritual wellness can give them much-needed emotional support in today’s uncertain work environment, says Tom Crum, MS, FAWHP, wellness director at Chattanooga (TN) State Technical Community College and current president of the Association for Worksite Health Promotion in Chicago.

"Spiritual wellness contributes to a healthy, balanced lifestyle," he explains. "Basically, it involves recognition of a higher power than man, who directs our personal lives and work lives and gives some kind of meaning to them."

Having a connection to a strong set of spiritual beliefs lends strength to an employee’s ability to handle stress, Crum says. "The crucial issue is they do not have to rely solely on their own resources to handle whatever problems they may have."

Spiritual wellness also can move the employee beyond the point where his entire self-identity and self-esteem are linked to his job. "Ideally, your spiritual nature is what directs your life," he explains. "Naturally, the loss of a job or feeling trapped in a job is a significant stressor, but it will be less of one if you can keep your priorities a little different."

One of the biggest challenges of spiritual wellness is the issue of what you can and cannot present to employees. Coming from diverse religious backgrounds, no one wants to feel another religion is being "forced" on them.

"There are certain common principles you can take from Judaism, Christianity, and other religions that are very, very similar and that we can use in times of stress to really assist us," Crum asserts. "You can talk about spirituality as being a quality of human life that goes beyond the physical and material aspects of existence, recognizing the source or spirit that is the essence of a person. It could be a personal set of beliefs that enhances a person’s life — hope and optimism about future events. It could include worship, prayer, or meditation. You can also come up with a reading list."

At Crum’s college, the wellness resource center regularly offers written materials on spirituality. "The handouts would always disappear," he says, emphasizing their popularity.

In Crum’s wellness program, there are core courses in each of the seven dimensions of wellness, one of which is spirituality.

The spirituality module includes a "world religions" course. Also, spirituality is covered in a "Concepts of Wellness" course. "What you really have to do is go back to the basic tenets of a religion," Crum explains. "You must revisit the basic concept of mind, body, and spirit, take the beliefs from many of the different faiths that are common, and then present them to employees without value judgments."