Why Rituals Are Important for your Mental Health

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Rituals are an important part of life regardless of one’s beliefs. Psychology research has shown that we need rituals to regulate emotions and foster social connections. Whether it’s moving into a new home, losing a friend or welcoming the winter solstice, we feel good when we can externalise the shift that we are grappling with by practising a ritual to honour these life changes.

Unlike ordinary actions, rituals don’t have a clear goal, they’re arbitrary. Brushing your teeth can be done by using soap and water but a cleansing ritual using fire may involve writing a letter, wrapping it with string, and burning it after reading it out loud. Because of this, rituals are seen as special and contribute to the magic of life through meaning-making. 

According to  Cognitive Scientist Dimitri Xygakatas, rituals can rewire our neuro-pathways because they are often predictable, especially they happen every year, like Christmas or the summer solstice. When something comes around every year, it can be comforting and bring stability in a world full of chaos and change. In fact, we are cued even at a biological level to anticipate a familiar ritual: Our heart rates synchronise when we practise rituals together. The fuzzy feeling of tradition is reinforced with shared experiences. 

We often mark the obvious changes in life like getting married or settling into a new house with housewarmings and weddings but It’s important to also honour the unspoken changes that happen throughout life. Like losing a friend, going on sabbatical or successfully creating boundaries in a relationship. How can we hold space for what’s arduous but also exciting and honour the significance of these life events? 

If you get a sense that you want to stop turning away and start facing the shifts in life more consciously, take time for a ritual. It can elevate moments in time to relevant chapters in life. Rituals are also a call to your higher self, it’s a way to connect to something larger than us, like nature or external forces that connect us to spirituality. Partnering with nature for rituals is beautifully exemplified in the book Hello, Goodbye by Day Schildkret which provides a guide on heart-centred, easy-to-do rituals for all endings and beginnings in life. 

I know that the next one on my list is the Spring Equinox. Humans have marked the spring equinox since time immemorial. In fact, I recently learned that Point Pleasant Park here in Halifax, Nova Scotia was called Amntu’kati which means “spiritual place’ in Mi’kmaq. Pre-colonial era, all aboriginal people of Kjipuktuk/Halifax would gather at Amntu’kati for 7 days after the first full moon in Spring. It was a sacred area for them to protect when settlers attempted to take ownership of the land. With our busy chaotic lives, we barely notice the shifts in season and don’t take the opportunity to synchronise with Mother Earth and see that nature is a reflection of our inner system’s emotional and physical lives too.  As the Spring Equinox comes soon we move into more warmth and sunlight after months of darkness and resting, we can honour this transiton of blossoming and newness with the SPring Equinox ritual.

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