As a practicing Christian I often engage in prayer as a way to feel connected to my faith and God. Since this is something I practice in daily life, I thought it would be good to look up what research tells us are the affects of prayer on our mental well being, if any. Here is what I found:
- If a person believes God’s nature is one that is good, loving, and protective, praying to God can be a source of comfort and strength for the person praying. This can help the person feel a sense of a secure attachment offering emotional comfort and a sense of ease or protection that comes through faith or really trust in God. This can then help lower distress experienced with worry, fear, stress, and anxiety. The important factor here is not necessarily the engagement in prayer but the belief that God is kind, loving, and present for them. If these beliefs are not there, then prayer at times can lead to feelings of rejection or isolation.
- Prayer can offer a sense of connection to something greater than yourself. This can bring a sense of purpose and meaning beyond day to day engagements which can be a positive effect of prayer. Having a sense of meaning and connection has physiological effects on the body such as calming your cardiovascular system and reducing activity of your stress system.
- Prayer and faith can help cope with difficulties in life in the form of being a place where the practice of releasing control over situations and trusting God in the middle of difficulties can help us to accept our current circumstances more which reduces avoidance or resistance and can help decrease distress. In DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) this is considered the skill of Radical Acceptance.
- Prayer can also help cope with difficulties in the form of calming phrases. People can repeat a phrase to God or meditate on a Bible verse that brings them a sense of calm or comfort.
- Prayer helps a person acknowledge what they are feeling. Often times in prayer, it is encouraged to bring your worries, fears, pain, and hurts to God and let him hold them and heal them. In this process, the person praying then has to acknowledge that those things exist. When we acknowledge what we are feeling, it can help us make sense of our experience and give us more information as to how to move forward. This shows engagement in the therapeutic skill of “name it to tame it.”
- Prayer helps a person focus on gratitude, giving thanks to God for what is present and what the person does have in life. Research has long found that cultivating a sense of gratitude into daily life can help people elevate their mood. Gratitude helps us shift our focus from “not enough” to “good enough.”
- Prayer can help the person with intention setting. Often when a person prays, they ask God for help, guidance, and wisdom in leading them through their day, difficult situations, and/or relationship struggles in ways that they desire to show up in those situations. With having an intention set and focus on these ways of engaging with life, it can help people focus on working to engage in those ways instead of going through the motions on autopilot.
Overall, research finds that a practice of connection to God or a “higher power” often translates into less stress reactivity, greater feelings of wellbeing and purpose, and decreased fear of life’s uncertainties, reason for existence, and death. But the practice is only found to be beneficial if it has personal meaning to you and you believe the God you are praying to and sharing your fears, concerns, desires, and gratitude with, cares about those things and loves you.
Written by Malinda King, MA, LPCC