Prayer For Stress Over Health
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.
Stress and Health
The relationship between emotions, stress and health it is so clear that it is one of the few health keys experts agree on.
The link is so strong that researchers estimate that stress related illnesses account for upwards of 80% of non-genetic health problems. If you expand your view of stress to include the burden of chemical toxins, unhealthy lifestyles and fake foods on our minds and bodies, in addition to mental distress, the number gets pretty close to 100%.
Chronic, or long-term stress of any kind, not only contributes to your risk of contracting a disease, it can speed the progression of illnesses you already have and make them worse.
Mental, physical, and environmental stress factors play a role in cancer, heart disease, depression, anxiety, AIDS, aging and auto-immune disease. By depressing the immune system, chronic distress increases the lihood of contracting a viral or bacterial infection.
When people use the word 'stress' they are usually referring to mental or emotional stress. We would do better health wise if we become more aware of all types of stress and take steps to minimize those that pose very real health threats.
Environmental and Chemical Stress
You ly live in an environment full of electro-magnetic fields. There are thousands of chemicals making their way into your body through your food, water and air supply. It is inescapable. You may have a mouth full of mercury fillings releasing vapors every time you brush, bite down and eat. This out gassing goes on for years and years.
Having to deal with these pollutants puts a demand on organs of elimination and cells that have to function in a less than optimal environment. What is especially damaging is that these health harmers may go unnoticed in the body until the damage is done.
Emotions Stress and Health
You have probably noticed that after a long stint of worrying or overwork, you come down with a cold or flu. You may also have noticed that it sometimes takes months for your energy level to get back to normal.
Dr. Hamer, developer of the German New Medicine, noted that the connection between mental stress and health is so strong that he could trace every cancer case he studied, including his own, to an emotional trauma that occurred up to three years before the diagnosis.
The relationship between emotions, stress and health is evident in animals as well as people. It is so common for animals and fish fed kept in cramped quarters to become ill that they often spend their lives on antibiotics.
Physical Stress Factors
Physically demanding exercise can also be taxing, even if you enjoy the activity. A moderate amount of physical stress is beneficial. It tones the cardiovascular system and the muscles. Too much exertion depletes your energy, strains your system, and may promote illness. Research shows that long distance running scars to the heart.
A while back I met a woman who gave up teaching aerobics even though she enjoyed it because she always felt tired and unwell. She began thriving when she switched to yoga. For her, aerobics was too physically stressful. Other people thrive on this kind of intense exercise.
Besides the chemicals in your food, eating lots of fake foods devoid of nutrients and full of sugar and trans-fats cause your body to cope by spiking insulin, using up nutrients and fighting free radical damage. That puts stress on your pancreas, digestive system and elimination system.
Stress and Health Series
In this series of articles relating to stress and health you will explore how stress affects you in mind and body.
- Learn what happens in your mind and body once a mental stress trigger is experienced and the stress response occurs.
- Read about the main causes of stress. It is no surprise that challenging situations and people can cause you to react. So can new positive experiences. Your body can also go into distress because of physical challenges, which of course affect your mind.
Many of the long-term health harming effects of stress on health are the result of chronically elevated levels of cortisol and diminished DHEA hormone. In the short term, your body can handle this natural response, but it is not designed to be triggered on a continual basis as is common in modern day living.
Over time, this strain can and often does cause physical and mental health conditions such as premature aging, anxiety, heart disease, obesity and more.
Understanding how stress affects your well-being is the first step to alleviating it. Reducing your levels of distress is one of the very best things you can do for your health.
You will see this advice echoed across this site – to get well and stay well you must do all you can to relax and protect yourself from all kinds of damaging stress.
Do everything possible to detox your life of mental and physical toxins, which are major sources of stress and health conditions of many kinds. Your health will thank you.
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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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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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Understanding the stress response
A stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.
This combination of reactions to stress is also known as the “fight-or-flight” response because it evolved as a survival mechanism, enabling people and other mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations.
The carefully orchestrated yet near-instantaneous sequence of hormonal changes and physiological responses helps someone to fight the threat off or flee to safety.
Unfortunately, the body can also overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as traffic jams, work pressure, and family difficulties.
Over the years, researchers have learned not only how and why these reactions occur, but have also gained insight into the long-term effects chronic stress has on physical and psychological health. Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body.Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction.
More preliminary research suggests that chronic stress may also contribute to obesity, both through direct mechanisms (causing people to eat more) or indirectly (decreasing sleep and exercise).
Sounding the alarm
The stress response begins in the brain (see illustration). When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.
When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
The hypothalamus is a bit a command center.
This area of the brain communicates with the rest of the body through the autonomic nervous system, which controls such involuntary body functions as breathing, blood pressure, heartbeat, and the dilation or constriction of key blood vessels and small airways in the lungs called bronchioles. The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system functions a gas pedal in a car. It triggers the fight-or-flight response, providing the body with a burst of energy so that it can respond to perceived dangers. The parasympathetic nervous system acts a brake. It promotes the “rest and digest” response that calms the body down after the danger has passed.
After the amygdala sends a distress signal, the hypothalamus activates the sympathetic nervous system by sending signals through the autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. These glands respond by pumping the hormone epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) into the bloodstream.
As epinephrine circulates through the body, it brings on a number of physiological changes. The heart beats faster than normal, pushing blood to the muscles, heart, and other vital organs. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up. The person undergoing these changes also starts to breathe more rapidly. Small airways in the lungs open wide.
This way, the lungs can take in as much oxygen as possible with each breath. Extra oxygen is sent to the brain, increasing alertness. Sight, hearing, and other senses become sharper. Meanwhile, epinephrine triggers the release of blood sugar (glucose) and fats from temporary storage sites in the body.
These nutrients flood into the bloodstream, supplying energy to all parts of the body.
All of these changes happen so quickly that people aren't aware of them. In fact, the wiring is so efficient that the amygdala and hypothalamus start this cascade even before the brain's visual centers have had a chance to fully process what is happening. That's why people are able to jump the path of an oncoming car even before they think about what they are doing.As the initial surge of epinephrine subsides, the hypothalamus activates the second component of the stress response system — known as the HPA axis. This network consists of the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the adrenal glands.
The HPA axis relies on a series of hormonal signals to keep the sympathetic nervous system — the “gas pedal” — pressed down.
If the brain continues to perceive something as dangerous, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which travels to the pituitary gland, triggering the release of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). This hormone travels to the adrenal glands, prompting them to release cortisol.
The body thus stays revved up and on high alert. When the threat passes, cortisol levels fall. The parasympathetic nervous system — the “brake” — then dampens the stress response.
Techniques to counter chronic stress
Many people are unable to find a way to put the brakes on stress. Chronic low-level stress keeps the HPA axis activated, much a motor that is idling too high for too long. After a while, this has an effect on the body that contributes to the health problems associated with chronic stress.
Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes.
Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body's energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain.
For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.
Fortunately, people can learn techniques to counter the stress response.
Relaxation response. Dr.
Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital, has devoted much of his career to learning how people can counter the stress response by using a combination of approaches that elicit the relaxation response. These include deep abdominal breathing, focus on a soothing word (such as peace or calm), visualization of tranquil scenes, repetitive prayer, yoga, and tai chi.
Most of the research using objective measures to evaluate how effective the relaxation response is at countering chronic stress have been conducted in people with hypertension and other forms of heart disease. Those results suggest the technique may be worth trying — although for most people it is not a cure-all.
For example, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital conducted a double-blind, randomized controlled trial of 122 patients with hypertension, ages 55 and older, in which half were assigned to relaxation response training and the other half to a control group that received information about blood pressure control.After eight weeks, 34 of the people who practiced the relaxation response — a little more than half — had achieved a systolic blood pressure reduction of more than 5 mm Hg, and were therefore eligible for the next phase of the study, in which they could reduce levels of blood pressure medication they were taking.
During that second phase, 50% were able to eliminate at least one blood pressure medication — significantly more than in the control group, where only 19% eliminated their medication.
Physical activity. People can use exercise to stifle the buildup of stress in several ways. Exercise, such as taking a brisk walk shortly after feeling stressed, not only deepens breathing but also helps relieve muscle tension. Movement therapies such as yoga, tai chi, and qi gong combine fluid movements with deep breathing and mental focus, all of which can induce calm.
Social support. Confidants, friends, acquaintances, co-workers, relatives, spouses, and companions all provide a life-enhancing social net — and may increase longevity.
It's not clear why, but the buffering theory holds that people who enjoy close relationships with family and friends receive emotional support that indirectly helps to sustain them at times of chronic stress and crisis.
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