How Spirituality May Mitigate Against Stress and Related Mental Disorders: a Review and Preliminary Neurobiological Evidence

  • Clayton H. McClintock
  • Patrick D. Worhunsky
  • Iris M. Balodis
  • Rajita Sinha
  • Lisa Miller
  • Marc N. PotenzaEmail author
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Purpose of Review

This article aims to review recent research on the relationship between spirituality and stress and how spirituality may protect against stress-related mental disorders. Preliminary data on neural mechanisms by which spirituality may influence stress processing are also presented.

Recent Findings

Recent neuroscientific research on stress implicates widespread corticostriatal-limbic neural circuitry that includes the salience and the default-mode networks. Acute and chronic stress represents a significant etiological factor for a range of mental disorders, and research suggests that specific brain mechanisms of acute stress in healthy states overlap with mechanisms of psychopathology. Recent studies also indicate that spirituality protects against stress and its adverse consequences. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data are presented in a proof-of-concept manner that suggest potential brain mechanisms for how spirituality may influence stress processing. Brain regions identified have been implicated in stress responsiveness, emotional and cognitive processing, and self-referential processing.


Research indicates that spirituality represents an important resilience factor for stress and its sequelae. Furthermore, preliminary fMRI data suggest a role for how spirituality may operate to attenuate neural responses to stress responsivity, regulate emotion during exposure to stress, and prevent and reduce stress-related psychopathology.


Spirituality Stress Psychopathology Neural mechanisms Default-mode network 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Lisa Miller reports research grant from BOT Trust during the conduct of the study. Clayton McClintock, Patrick Worhunsky, Iris Balodis, Rajita Sinha, and Marc Potenza declare no conflicts of interest relevant to this manuscript.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

40473_2019_195_MOESM1_ESM.docx (34 kb)
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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Clayton H. McClintock
    • 1
  • Patrick D. Worhunsky
    • 2
  • Iris M. Balodis
    • 2
    • 3
  • Rajita Sinha
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  • Lisa Miller
    • 1
  • Marc N. Potenza
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
    • 7
    Email author
  1. 1.Spirituality Mind Body Institute, Teachers CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychiatryYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  3. 3.Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences, DeGroote School of MedicineMcMaster UniversityHamiltonCanada
  4. 4.Child Study CenterYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  5. 5.Department of NeuroscienceYale University School of MedicineNew HavenUSA
  6. 6.Connecticut Mental Health CenterNew HavenUSA
  7. 7.Connecticut Council on Problem GamblingWethersfieldUSA

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