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Senior Spotlight: Elizabeth Bullard Looks at Relationship Between Religiosity and Stress

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From tips on mindfully eating chocolate to adult coloring books, stress is a major topic in our busy world. Among promoted stress management tools are religious and spiritual practices like prayer and meditation, both proven to decrease feelings of anxiety. For her senior honors project, Elizabeth Bullard, a psychology and theology major, examined the relationship between religiosity and stress in emerging adults, a demographic in which religiosity is declining.

What correlation between stress and religiosity did your research of 182 Mount students show?

In this study, I did not find a statistically significant difference in the average levels of stress experienced by Mount students of low, medium and high religiosity in the majority of my research.

The one exception to this was in question 15 about the number of hours the participant spent in religious activities outside of formal services. For that question, the Mount students who spent less time in these activities (low religiosity group) experienced significantly greater stress than those who spend more time in these activities (high religiosity group).

That being said, I think it would definitely contribute to this body of research to study spirituality more broadly, as the “spiritual but not religious” demographic is growing among college students.

What are three practical tips to reduce stress levels among your sample demographic, ages 17 to 22?

There are so many tips I could give based off my research and recent coursework in my Stress Management psychology class! Here are a few:

Practice mindfulness.

This essentially means being fully aware and intentional in your actions and interactions. Mindfulness enables us to live in the present, grounding us in the here-and-now and keeping us from focusing too much on stressful events to come. This can be important especially in our leisure time.

Ask yourself: Am I being intentional with my leisure time, mindfully doing activities that are genuinely fulfilling and joy-filled?


I am terrible at this one, as most college students are. We really need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep a night, and if we don’t get this we will not only be physically incapable to deal with the demands of the coming day, but our emotional tank is depleted as well.

Set Goals, Reflect & Journal

I think this may be one of the most important, yet undervalued, stress management techniques for young adults. In a time of our lives where so much is changing, it can be easy to want to escape our daily responsibilities and “live in the moment” without really reflecting on what we are doing or who we want to be. This can actually cause stress, as it may lead to negative behaviors that harm us or just don’t align with our goals.

Reflection, especially that physical action of writing thoughts down, can be helpful to give students greater sense of self-awareness and self-efficacy.

As a psychology and theology double major, how do you think you can uniquely serve as a licensed professional Christian counselor?

In a Catholic worldview, faith and reason go hand in hand in helping us to better understand truth and reality in the fullest sense. This is something I learned at the Mount!

While psychology studies an individual’s mental and emotional health, theology studies who God is and who human beings are in relationship to him. Both are integral to answering the questions: Who am I? What is the meaning of life?  What am I made for? How does my identity affect how I live my life?

I believe that for individuals who have faith-based answers to these questions, any type of mental health counseling that does not attend to the spiritual life will be unable to understand and serve them adequately.

Did your research consider the possibility that stress reduction tools such as healthy lifestyle choices like diet and exercise, strong relationships, gratitude, mindfulness, reflection and self-awareness are things religiosity provides by way of religious gatherings, moral teachings, etc.?

These things were not directly considered, but could be inferred when understood in terms of extrinsic and intrinsic religiosity. Religious gatherings and strong relationships would have more to do with extrinsic religiosity, which is how an individual expresses their religious beliefs with external activities, often with others. Gratitude, mindfulness, reflection, self-awareness and moral beliefs would have more to do with intrinsic religiosity, which is the degree to which an individual sees oneself, others and situations through the lens of religion. I had questions relating to both of these types of religiosity in my survey.

What are your post-graduation plans?

I am moving to Nashville this summer to attend graduate school there in the fall. I am unsure of exactly where I will be getting my master's currently, as I wait to hear back from jobs and assistantships. I hope to attend Vanderbilt University or obtain my master's through Divine Mercy University.

How was the experience working with your faculty mentor, Dr. Caitlin Faas?

I am so thankful Dr. Faas was my mentor for this project. I have admired her energy, enthusiasm, objectivity and supportiveness since first taking a class with her during my sophomore year. I was so excited I had the opportunity to do my senior research under her supervision.