What many of these activities share is a calming of the activity of the body and of the nervous system achieved often by controlling breathing and/or relaxing movements of the body. This sort of relaxation training can be done quite apart from any religious system, and is often taught by physiotherapists and doctors. (Of course even the religious types of meditation do not necessarily demand that one accepts the whole theory of the religion in order to benefit from their practices; one merely has to be prepared to accept that the practice itself can be beneficial.) A common practice in many religions which has much to commend it for mental health is the retreat. In a retreat people go away to a quiet place, leaving their daily life, and devote their time to prayer and quiet activities. Often they will give up talking entirely for a few days to exploit the opportunity for silence. Such periods of tranquility can be very helpful in relieving tension and anxiety.
This is particularly true of those who have shared similar s the experiences, and so self-help groups are organized around particular issues; parents who have lost children through e cot deaths, people who have suffered from agoraphobia, problems with alcohol, being a single parent, or caring each for a sick relative etc. They usually meet is a group, often quite informally to talk, perhaps with help from appropriate specialists but more often to share experiences and support day each other. These have proved extremely valuable, and there are now self-help groups almost any illness or stressful experience in life one could think of.
So far we have looked at the ways science, through medicine or through the academic study of the mind, have attempted to help people deal with mental anguish unwanted behavior or antisocial tendencies. It is a truism that such healing attempts antedate modern science by several thousand years.
Many of the world’s religions have developed techniques which are designed to help you to have calm, peaceful attitude to life, and to help deal with its crises. In the last twenty years various Oriental forms of meditation have become popular in the West such as transcendental meditation and Tai Chi, a Chinese fomm of meditation involving slow and deliberate movements, which is linked to the more vigorous martial arts from the same culture. Buddhism too has systems of meditation which can be learnt.
These recent imports have tended to overshadow the meditative tradition of the Christian religion, which also has methods of dealing with tension and mental stress. There is a variety of types of prayer which are designed to produce a state of deep peace and calm in the person praying. Of course this was not always the main purpose of these things, and not all religion is about calm and peace, but many people, even if not holding any particular religious belief themselves, can find these things helpful in promoting their own inner calm and relaxation.
Rest and recreation
A secular activity which can be the equivalent to the religious retreat is the holiday. Not all holidays are good for mental health (they can be stresses in themselves) but for many people a holiday, or even just a day off, can relieve stress to a remarkable degree. Overwork, and lack of a proper balance between different activities physical mental, work and leisure, is a common cause of physical and mental illness. You will see that if you wish to look after your mental health. or deal with problems which you feel you hive in your life in this area, there are a wide variety of options open. There is no single magic answer for everyone rather a variety of things which may help different people at different times.