Prayer For Stress Over Health
Healing Power of Prayer to Reverse Disease
The healing power of prayer is an integral part of the Abundant Life.
One of the first things Jesus taught His followers was how to pray, and He frequently separated Himself – even from His ministry – to take time to be with our Heavenly Father.
He indicated the power of prayer to change our circumstances, but we’re learning more about what prayer can do for our lives and even our health.
In this article, you will learn about:
- The Importance of Prayer
- Prayer Research
- Ways Prayer Heals
The Importance of the Healing Prayer of Prayer
In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait expectantly. (Psalm 5:3)
The life of a Christian should center around the importance of prayer. Jesus modeled this for us, making time for prayer even when He was surrounded with people expecting so much of Him.
In His three year ministry, He accomplished enough that the Gospels say books couldn’t contain it all – yet He still made time to step away and pray; which was probably the reason why He was able to accomplish so much, but that’s another story altogether…the proverbial caution against Perfection becoming the enemy of Good, we cannot allow Busy to take away from Blessed.
Taking the time out in the healing power of prayer to breathe, meditate, and refocus our lives is vital for our spiritual, mental, and physical health.
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Prayer Research: The Healing Power of Prayer
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 1 John 5:14 )
The subject of prayer has been the focus of a surprising amount of research. No doubt, the contrast between concrete steps of science and abstract actions of faith is intriguing.
A word of caution precedes the pursuit of hard evidence or “trying” God – at its core, prayer is about faith. With this in mind, the results of research are mixed – as one would expect. Yet, there have been indications of the effects of prayer that can be measurable in terms of data.
A 2015 review worked through the literature to analyze how and why people pray for others and during personal illness. The review documents a few studied reasons people pray in relation to health, including: (1)
- Disease-centered prayer
- Assurance-centered prayer
- God-centered prayer
- Others-centered (intercessory) prayer
For each of these kinds of prayer, researchers have analyzed the ways prayer is initiated, the motivation behind it, and the results, looking for patterns and verifiable results. At the end of the day, the confirmation we have regarding the effects of prayer seems to boil down to the long-standing core understanding of the Christian faith:
Prayer changes things, yes, but more importantly, prayer changes us.
The Healing Power of Prayer: 5 Ways Prayer Heals
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
1. Healing Power of Prayer – Stress Management
This is the first healing change that I’d to point out, for a very specific reason. Stress is at the core of so many of our health issues, both chronic and acute. Incidentally, stress is also one of our primary excuses for not spending more time in prayer.
In 1 Peter, we’re instructed to cast all our anxiety on Him, and we need to do so now more than ever.
An extensive review of the literature deemed individuals with an engaged religious and spiritual lifestyle have better mental health and adapt more quickly to health problems. (2) Moving our minds and hearts away from our stress and onto our faith takes the weight off of our shoulders.
2. Healing Power of Prayer – Peace of Mind
When we turn our cares and stresses over to God in prayer, we are left with a peace of mind – yes, that passes all understanding! It doesn’t have to make sense – in analytics or research or data – for us to be calm and confident in the face of adversity. It’s a matter of faith expressed through prayer!
In addition to the overall health improvement indicated in the previous review, this level of peace was reflected in a study on patients with depression and anxiety.
Not only did prayer help initially, but the effects of intensive prayer therapy extended until the follow up a full year after the study.(3) As many of us know personally, that kind of peace can extend as long as we are willing to maintain the prayer relationship.
Remember, His yoke is easy and burden light! We don’t have to hold our worries and cares, and when we actively let it go in prayer, our health reflects that release.
3. Healing Power of Prayer – Lowered Inflammation
The illnesses and conditions sparked by stress are typically inflammatory in nature – the body’s inflammatory responses going into overdrive to attack the invisible threat. So, naturally, when our stress is under control thanks to a productive prayer life, the negative inflammatory response will be lessened.
Exploratory research is touching on this phenomenon, with a recent study pointing out the potential that we can help control inflammation with intentional control of emotions. (4) Purposefully shifting our focus in prayer can play a huge role in this kind of control that would ultimately tell our bodies to breathe easy – God’s got this!
4. Healing Power of Prayer – Gut Health
A poorly functioning gut can wreak havoc on health. Beyond nutrient absorption – which is no small task – the gut is also a key component in immunity, bacterial balance, and even mental health.
The connection between the brain and gut is so strong it’s often referred to as the gut-brain axis. Our mental and emotional stresses trigger reactions in the brain that are then reflected in the gut. (5) Conversely, peace and calm in response to prayer is no less connected and can certainly benefit and even heal unstable gut health.
5. Healing Power of Prayer – Intercessory Prayer
Heavily researched and hotly contested, scientists are dying to know whether and how intercessory prayer – praying for others – affects health.
A randomized, controlled study in 1999 indicated improved health for coronary care unit patients who had been prayed for. (6) This sparked an avalanche of studies and counters. Some, perhaps rightly, caution that we should not try to nail down a scientific formula for eliciting or even manipulating God’s hand.
I would counter that someone trying to manipulate God isn’t really praying at all.
Thirteen years later, patients with cancer who were graced with intercessory prayer were found to have a small but significant improvement in spiritual well-being. (7) For all that can and cannot be measured, I’m not sure that we can ask for more than this.
Intercessory prayer binds a community of faith together in support to provide each other with light in a dark time, however small it may be, it remains significant. And in the light, we find healing of our mind, body, or soul – sometimes, all three.
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How Is Stress Affecting My Health?
Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way you respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to your overall well-being.
Sometimes, the best way to manage your stress involves changing your situation. At other times, the best strategy involves changing the way you respond to the situation.
Developing a clear understanding of how stress impacts your physical and mental health is important. It's also important to recognize how your mental and physical health affects your stress level.
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin
Stress can be defined as any type of change that causes physical, emotional or psychological strain. However, not all types of stress are harmful or even negative. Here are the different types of stress:
- Eustress: This type of stress is fun and exciting. It's known as a positive type of stress that can keep you energized. It's associated with surges of adrenaline, such as when you are skiing or racing to meet a deadline.
- Acute stress: A very short-term type of stress that can either be positive or more distressing. This is the type of stress we most often encounter in day-to-day life.
- Episodic acute stress: Acute stress that seems to run rampant and be a way of life, creating a life of relative chaos.
- Chronic stress: Stress that seems never-ending and inescapable, the stress of a bad marriage or an extremely taxing job. Chronic stress can also stem from traumatic experiences and childhood trauma.
During this reaction, certain hormones adrenaline and cortisol are released. This speeds the heart rate, slows digestion, shunts blood flow to major muscle groups, and changes various other autonomic nervous functions, giving the body a burst of energy and strength.
Originally named for its ability to enable us to physically fight or run away when faced with danger, it’s now activated in situations where neither response is appropriate— in traffic or during a stressful day at work.
When the perceived threat is gone, systems are designed to return to normal function via the relaxation response. But in cases of chronic stress, the relaxation responses doesn't occur often enough, and being in a near-constant state of fight-or-flight can cause damage to the body.Stress can also lead to some unhealthy habits that have a negative impact on your health. For example, many people cope with stress by eating too much or by smoking. These unhealthy habits damage the body and create bigger problems in the long-term.
The connection between your mind and body is apparent when you examine the impact stress has on your life. Feeling stressed out over a relationship, money, or your living situation can create physical health issues.
The inverse is also true. Health problems, whether you're dealing with high blood pressure or you have diabetes, will also affect your stress level and your mental health.
When your brain experiences high degrees of stress, your body reacts accordingly.
Serious acute stress, being involved in a natural disaster or getting into a verbal altercation, can trigger heart attacks, arrhythmias, and even sudden death. However, this happens mostly in individuals who already have heart disease.
Chronic stress can have a serious impact on your health as well. If you experience chronic stress your autonomic nervous system will be overactive, which is ly to damage your body.
The first symptoms are relatively mild, chronic headaches and increased susceptibility to colds. With more exposure to chronic stress, however, more serious health problems may develop. They include, but are not limited to:
- hair loss
- heart disease
- sexual dysfunction
- tooth and gum disease
Stress also takes an emotional toll. While some stress may produce feelings of mild anxiety or frustration, prolonged stress can lead to burnout, anxiety disorders, and depression.
Although stress is inevitable, it can be manageable. When you understand the toll it takes on you and the steps to combat stress, you can take charge of your health and reduce the impact stress has on your life.
The following articles in this journey will help you identify how stress affects you. It will also assist you in identifying the best stress reduction strategies that will work for you and it will assist in preventing burnout. Here's a glimpse of what you'll learn:
Recognize the Signs of Burnout
High levels of stress may place you at a high risk of burnout. Burnout can leave you feeling exhausted and apathetic about your job. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to prevent and address burnout if you recognize the symptoms.
How Exercise Reduces Stress
Physical activity has a big impact on your brain and your body. Whether you enjoy Tai Chi or you want to begin jogging, exercise reduces stress and improves many symptoms associated with mental illness.
Effective Ways to Manage Stress
Although there's a lot of talk about the importance of managing stress, most people aren't exactly sure how to do it. It's important to have a toolbox filled with stress reduction tools that help you combat stress effectively.
Live a More Mindful Life
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Prayer, Relationships, and Health – John Templeton Foundation
Over the course of dozens of studies, Frank Fincham has compiled an impressive list of ways that prayer and forgiveness make a difference.
Frank Fincham, who holds an endowed chair of the Florida State University College of Human Sciences, is a former Rhodes Scholar with an Oxford doctorate and a long track record of insightful study of relationships, religious practice, and health. In 2011 he was the recipient, as director of the FSU Family Institute, of a $1.
13 million, four-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation to investigate the ways that prayer and forgiveness affect relational well-being and physical health.
The results — in the form of the accumulated outcomes of dozens of studies and reviews — provide compelling evidence that prayer for one’s partner and the cultivation of forgiveness has quantifiable benefits.
I SAY A LITTLE PRAYER FOR YOU
Petitionary prayer — praying for the needs and desires of someone else — is the focus of several studies that Fincham and various co-authors worked on for this grant.
Studying relationship pairs including both romantic couples and close friends, Fincham’s team found that praying for one’s friend or partner increases interpersonal trust and relational unity and correlates with a greater sense of satisfaction with the sacrifices inherent in any relationship, along with fostering greater capacities for cooperation and forgiveness.Most of the results Fincham was able to measure related to the person who did the praying — fitting with the theory that other-focused prayer was helping to change their internal thought processes. But in some of the studies, having a partner who prayed was also associated with the other partner also having greater feelings of commitment in the relationship.
Many of Fincham’s prayer studies focused on a narrow set of variables, but in one investigation Fincham and his colleagues examined a web of potential associations between four measures (relationship satisfaction, prayer for one’s partner, physical health, and psychological health) and three established correlations with feelings of loneliness (insecure attachment, relational infidelity, and psychological health). Although they did not find that prayer for one’s partner mediated the correlations in the ways they had hypothesized, Fincham did show that participants who prayed for their partners experienced fewer feelings of loneliness.
BREAKING THE CYCLE OF VIOLENCE
Recent social science has suggested that children who witness domestic violence between their parents are more ly to experience it — as either transgressor or victim — as an adult. Fincham and his colleagues looked at the ways that an attitude of forgiveness — considered as a personality trait rather than as forgiveness for any one transgression — might help break that cycle.
Fincham’s research found that the ability to forgive one’s mother (for unspecified transgressions) seemed to reduce the lihood of “intergenerational transmission” of violence in three of the four possible pairings of roles (perpetrator and victim, parent and offspring). The only scenario where a forgiving attitude did not seem to help was when the father perpetrated the initial violence and the offspring later became a domestic violence victim.
A FORGIVING HEART
A forgiving outlook may be able to help someone avoid metaphorical heartbreak, but what about the health of their actual heart? Here again, Fincham has had a hand in a number studies about the way that “trait forgiveness” — as well as “trait anger” — might be correlated with cardiovascular health.
True to the stereotype of a fuming boss who suddenly keels over from a heart attack, generally angry people were found to have worse cardiovascular health, while generally forgiving people showed better outcomes.
Interestingly, for people who were generally angry and forgiving, the presence of forgiveness was still correlated with good outcomes, despite the anger.
Stress is an obvious candidate for the mediating factor in these relationships — since angry people experience higher stress, and high stress is known for its negative cardiovascular effects. Even in situations of experimentally induced stress — having one hand submerged in near-freezing water — the trait-forgiveness cohort showed healthier cardiovascular responses.
As is the case with much psychological research, Fincham’s research subjects have consisted largely — though not entirely — of undergraduates based near his university, so more work will be needed to show that the same results would be found in a more diverse population. Fincham has also identified additional opportunities to expand the scope of the research to look at whether, for instance, an orientation towards gratitude might have similar correlations to those observed with forgiveness.
Fincham’s results cannot be said to prove that prayer and forgiveness “work” in a supernatural sense. But they certainly suggest that in the aspects of the world that psychologists can measure, there are clear benefits to a praying and forgiving life.
Prayer and Health Outcomes
Christian reality TV star Jessa Duggar Seewald recently shared three videos by Baptist pastor John Piper, one of which calls anxiety a sin.
Several Instagram commenters and at least one blogger were not happy with the implication that people could “pray the anxiety away.”
For many people, prayer is an integral part of their faith. And there’s research showing that prayer has some health benefits.
But experts say substituting prayer for medical treatment, especially with serious conditions such as anxiety and depression, can lead to years of struggling and more serious complications, including death.
Can prayer help others heal?
A number of studies have looked at the effects of religion or prayer on health — with some showing positive benefits.
One study, published last year in PLoS One, found that people who attended church more than once per week were 55 percent less ly to die during the 18-year follow-up period than people who didn’t frequent church.
A 2016 study from JAMA Internal Medicine also showed that women who attended church services more than once per week were 33 percent less ly to die during the 16 years of follow-up than non-churchgoers.These studies, though, don’t show whether it is religion that is giving the health boost or some other factor, such as social support.
Solo prayer is harder for researchers to measure than church attendance for a couple reasons. For one, “How often do you go to church?” is an easy question for people to answer. And two, different people may have different ways of praying.
Also, people tend to turn to prayer when things are going badly — such as when they are sick, lose a loved one, or are fired from a job.
“A lot of times prayer becomes a marker for distress or even greater physical illness, because it’s during those times that people turn to prayer for comfort,” said Dr. Harold Koenig, director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health at Duke University, and author of “Religion and Mental Health: Research and Clinical Applications.”
Studies done at one point in time in a person’s life — cross-sectional studies — may include only people who are struggling.
Overall, research on the benefits of praying for others, known as intercessory prayer, has been mixed.
One review of past studies found that praying for someone else has small health benefits for the person being prayed for. Another showed no effect at all.
And one study suggests that prayer may make things worse. This study, published in 2006 in the American Heart Journal, found that people who knew that someone else was praying for their recovery from heart surgery had higher rates of complications than people who weren’t being prayed for.
Praying may boost mental health
Praying for others might not help them that much, but several studies have found benefits for the person doing the prayer — whether they are praying for someone else or themselves.
This may stem from the effect that the act of praying has on a person’s mental well-being.
“The compassion that people display toward others when they pray for them is something that is good for the person doing the praying,” Koenig told Healthline.
Prayer may also have similar effects on mental well-being as meditation and yoga, which spill over into physical effects.
“Any benefit to mental well-being, which I think prayer has, is going to translate into benefits for physical well-being over time,” said Koenig.He is quick to point out, though, that he’s not talking about prayer “miraculously curing someone.” Instead, prayer can improve a person’s mental health, such as reducing anxiety and stress.
In turn, this can translate into “better physiological functioning,” such as lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, lower blood pressure, and improved immune functioning.
A 2009 study by Koenig and colleagues found that six weekly in-person Christian prayer sessions with patients at a primary care office lowered their depression and anxiety symptoms and increased their optimism.
The prayer was led by a lay minister, but the patients sometimes joined them in praying. So it’s uncertain if the effects are the result of being prayed for or the act of praying.
Other studies have found that prayer decreased symptoms of pain after a C-section and improved the quality of life in women undergoing radiation therapy.
Prayer instead of treatment
Koenig said there’s a particular need for studies that follow people over decades to “see if those who regularly spend time in prayer end up experiencing better mental and physical health over time.”
Does this mean you can ditch your doctor or psychologist and pray instead?
“Absolutely not,” said Koenig.
Serious mental and physical problems are not things to mess around with.
Left untreated, anxiety disorder can lead to physical problems and an increased risk of suicide and depression. Depression is linked to physical illnesses, social isolation, and premature death.
Other untreated illnesses can also lead to death or other serious complications.
A study last year in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that people who chose only alternative medicine therapies for their cancer were 2.5 times more ly to die than those who used conventional cancer treatments.This study didn’t look at prayer specifically, but it does show the risks of avoiding medical care.
Even though prayer may not “miraculously” cure you, there may still be a place for it alongside traditional treatments.
“The combination of getting the best medical care and having a strong religious faith and prayer can lead to better mental and physical health,” said Koenig.