Soul-Care: How Spiritual Weariness Can Impact Physical Health

Soul-Care is a three-part series about ways Black women can practice self-care when it comes to resting their souls, with input from experts in medicine, psychology and theology.

Have you ever found yourself exhausted by the day to day, but your fatigue was the kind that couldn’t be fixed with sleep?

In these Covid times, you’ve probably experienced it. There have been a number of headlines about people experiencing “burnout” from juggling too many things at once or working too hard at multiple areas of life. It’s a tumult that can upend you and leave you feeling troubled, desperate for some type of change, with a soul that’s not at rest. If not addressed, it can lead to an unrest and unhappiness that’s overwhelming. I can say that I experienced it, as work, caring for a baby, being separated from family and trying to keep a home and marriage intact left me shaken for months.

“The first thing you really have to start with is looking at what parts of your life actually are getting depleted on a regular basis because sometimes what we do is we just say that we’re tired without looking at where the depletion is occurring,” says Saundra Dalton-Smith, M.D., internal medicine physician and author of Sacred Rest. She says there are seven different areas where people find themselves tapped out. They include the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, social, sensory and creative areas of life. When you feel like you’re doing everything but the things that matter to you and bring you joy, for example, exerting extensive creative energy for work that doesn’t provide fulfillment or meet your needs, or you often spend time around people who are insufferable, a “social” issue, you can feel a heaviness of the spirit.When you’re mindful of the energy being used up, you can begin to work to ease the exhaustion you feel.

If you’re not, and you allow yourself to constantly be in a state of unrest, eventually the body reacts. Dr. Saundra says that is why many patients she’s had end up at the doctor. They’re seeking answers for why they’re uncomfortable.

“Spiritual as well as emotional unrest can present with a physical complaint. As an internal medicine physician, this is actually where most people end up in my medical practice, not because they think they have something spiritual or emotional, they just know they’re uncomfortable,” she says. “Whether that’s they can’t sleep at night, they are experiencing insomnia, sometimes they’re experiencing chronic neck and back pain because of the tension that they’re carrying in their muscles and their shoulders. Sometimes they’re experiencing problems with headaches or blurry vision because the increased stress that they’re experiencing from their spiritual and social unrest is now causing them to have a cortisol response or a stress response that’s driving up blood pressure, driving up heart rate, increasing all these other issues in their body that really at the root cause is being pushed on from something that’s emotional or spiritual, or even social.”

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When you pinpoint the ways in which your energy is being drained, Dr. Saundra says it’s necessary to set healthy boundaries to turn things around. A lot of lines were blurred for people in the pandemic. A major example is the ways in which work life mixed with home life required people to pour into everything but themselves.

“People forgot how to turn it off so they would just sit down with their computer the second they woke up with their cup of coffee and that computer would still be on looking at emails for work to the second they went to bed because all the boundaries went away,” she says. “The fact is that we have to have some level of work-life integration that is healthy. You can’t put them on either side of the scale and balance them, which is what we’ve been telling people: ‘Let’s balance work and life.’ They’re not meant to be on opposite sides of the scale. They’re meant to be integrated in a way so that they both stay healthy.”

Whatever has been contributing to a spiritual weariness, Dr. Saundra explains that it’s important to zone in on it in order to rest your soul.

“Spiritual energy has more to do with how you sense your effort affecting the whole. So do you feel connected? Do you feel like you are contributing? Do you feel like you belong? Do you feel like you are living in your purpose and your calling and you are accomplishing something that is actually bigger than you? So often a lot of us stay within our comfort zone and our comfort zone sometimes will actually keep us in this tension from where we desire to see ourselves and where we currently are,” she says.

It can seem like the rat race, the sacrifices, the drama never ends, which can lead to the unrest, but whether it’s getting sleep, keeping away from people who drain you, making time for yourself and your passions and less time for all that takes that time from you, prioritize you to be the best you.