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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 and university.

Stress less

“Praying, reading the Bible, and going to group meetings. It teaches me to not stress over all of the small things, and to remember that God is in control of my life.”
—Jesse P., third-year undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Build social connections

“I have become immersed in the Jewish community on campus, which has made the university smaller and has become a space in which I have found a lot of cool, like-minded people.”
—Tova W., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Keep things in perspective

“I think about the energy that flows through me, every living being, and the universe, and it helps me stay grounded.”
—Hope D., third-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta

Treat others with kindness

“I think it is always good to remember what we were taught in kindergarten: to be kind to others, to use your manners, to hold a door, to give up a seat for someone else in need.”
—Carmen L., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

Move toward your goals

“Having the mindset of what I do today can affect the life I have tomorrow. It keeps pushing 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

“As a Muslim, I pray five times a day. This is only one of my [faith] practices that help me navigate through life. My prayer is where I can shut everything and everyone out for five minutes and focus on God. I’m a firm believer that God plans out everything perfectly and that helps me cope with whatever comes my way.”
—Yosra E., second-year undergraduate, University of Windsor, Ontario

Grow intellectually

“Meditation—general or specific—helps to ground and clear the clutter of the mind to make way for reasoning and rational thought. Also it can make you feel good about yourself.”
—Lia M., second-year graduate student, Mount Royal University, Alberta

Take care of yourself

“When I’m stressed out, I go for walks outside or I write down some things I am grateful for in life.”
—Victoria A., third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario

Students’ stories

What is spirituality?

What is spirituality about?

“I use my spirituality as a way to maintain morals and stay human in my choices and actions.”
—Hope D., third-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta

“Spiritually I believe in doing good in order to get good things in life. So I often volunteer and feel good about it, expecting that everything I do will also turn good for me in life.”
—Name and university withheld

“I don’t believe that something can be spiritual for absolutely everyone, and in the same way, some things that aren’t normally considered spiritual may be for an individual.”
—Alex A., third-year undergraduate, University of Regina, Saskatchewan

“Spirituality is believing that life is more than just the sum of individual (material) parts, chemical and/or physical reactions. It is a way of living or striving to live in harmony with our environment.”
—Allison K.*, undergraduate, Humber College, Ontario

“Spirituality, in my opinion, does not strictly mean believing in religion. Spirituality is less concrete and is more about a person’s attitude on life.”
—Heather C., undergraduate, University of Saskatchewan

“Spirituality is doing whatever you’re doing and being spiritual whilst doing it. Nothing is inherently spiritual until you think of or relate to it as such… 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.

“Not believing in a higher power allows me to make decisions based on my own well-being, and move forward with what I want rather than what someone else wants for me. By working toward goals through action rather than praying for something to happen, I’ve become proactive in my life, and things I want actually come to pass. I’m no longer waiting for the universe to bend my way.”
—Ariel F., third-year student, St. Lawrence College, Ontario

Thriving relationships

What spirituality means for my relationships

“When my grandparents passed away, I was very depressed so I started praying—not to anyone specifically—but having an outlet and a way to feel like I was able to communicate with them helped me a lot.”
—Samantha E., 2015 graduate of Carleton University, Ontario

“I am Catholic. My faith guides my life, and it involves my intimate and growing relationship with Jesus. I believe that prayer and loving others is of utmost importance.”
—Heidi B., undergraduate, Trinity Western University, British Columbia

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, but most importantly, mean what you say and say what you mean.”
—Adam F., first-year undergraduate, St. Clair College, Ontario

“Get involved in a community that will support you. Seek quiet and stillness and recharge.”
—John N., third-year graduate student, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia

“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

The power of perspective

How spirituality helps me keep things in perspective

“I feel that there is a greater energy force that unites all beings and the earth and that can be found unexpectedly through strong feelings that emerge from music, connection between people, and closeness to nature.”
—Michelle M., undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland

“I talk to God everyday about my day and what is going on before going to bed. It helps and keeps things in perspective. I don’t pray regularly but I do believe in God.”
—Alisha K., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Waterloo, Ontario

“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

“Simple meditation helps me to calm myself. Keeping little mementos of happiness helps too, such as crystals and little trinkets that make me happy. It’s the little things that make you smile that can help with the whole day. When you can find that moment of stillness within yourself, it keeps you going.”
—Adeline P., fourth-year undergraduate, University of Alberta

“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.”
—Dave B., second-year student, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

Coping with college

How spirituality helps me in college and university

“A spiritual belief that I have found helpful in navigating my college experience is to treat others with respect and as how you would like to be treated. This makes people more receptive to who you are and is respectful on your part as well.”
—Charles S., fourth-year undergraduate, Northern College of Applied Arts and Technology, Ontario

“I follow a few Buddhist traditions for my mental health. It clears my mind.”
—Bradley W., undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland

“Yoga helps keep me calm during all the stress of school.”
—Third-year undergraduate, name and university withheld

“Lao Tzu [the founder of Taoism] once said, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’ That’s exactly that I’m doing, I’m just taking college day by day.”
—Kylie S., third-year student, College of the Desert, California

“I like the ideas behind Buddhism, which I believe are in line with education. I like to imagine that my soul is growing with each chapter I read and that each wrinkle I add is another step toward enlightenment.”
—Ryan R., second-year student, Moorpark College, California

“When I am facing a difficult course, praying about it usually helps me calm down and do well.”
—Deborah T., third-year undergraduate, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario

“I focus and pray daily to retain what I am taught.”
—Olabisi A., fourth-year undergraduate, Southern Alberta Institute of Technology

“The belief that my body is a temple of God prevents me from wanting to experiment with alcohol and drugs, and I can say by grace that I have not touched either.”
—Josue K., fourth-year undergraduate, Memorial University of Newfoundland

Tough times

How spirituality gets me through tough times

“In times of trial, returning to something that is certain for me lends stability.”
—Phoebe D., third-year undergraduate, Mount Royal University, Alberta

“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

“I am in control of my decisions, which helps me get to where I want to be in my life. This helps me understand that as an adult I am able to choose my own path.”
—Kris M., fourth-year graduate student, University of Guelph-Humber, Ontario

“Mindfulness helps me understand my emotions and stress levels and accept them as neutral.”
—Kate L., 2015 graduate of University of Windsor, Ontario

“I pray. Prayer helps me sort out issues I have and work through them.”
—Keri S., first-year undergraduate, Concordia University of Edmonton, Alberta

“Reciting the Gayatri Mantra (a Hindu vedic chant) after my morning shower provides me with positive energy to tackle the obstacles I could face during the day.”
—Amith M., third-year graduate student, Clemson University, South Carolina

“I am Buddhist. We believe hard work will pay off, and being able to forgive others, even yourself, takes courage. You may fail so many times in life, but it is OK as long you are willing to get back up and try one more time.”
—Crystal T., third-year undergraduate, Texas Woman’s University

“When I am at my breaking point, I use the Islamic prayer to calm my mind.”
—William M., third-year undergraduate, Elon University, North Carolina

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