Can Spirituality and Prayer Reduce Stress & Anxiety?

When new clients come into my office, I always ask what things they’ve already tried for reducing their stress and anxiety.  Usually they’ve already tried multiple things… with varied success.
 
Would it surprise you to know that PRAYER is one of the most common responses I get?  And that it is usually used with success?
 
Prayer = Anxiety Reduction Tool?
 
handsPeople don’t usually think of it that way. I know prayer is much more than that, but it sure does seem to help with the anxiety.  That’s according to many of my clients, plus some scientific research on prayer and spirituality.
 
It doesn’t matter what your spiritual or religious beliefs are.  Any faith in a Higher Power, energy, God, Spirit, Universe or whatever you may call it can bring peace, comfort, and patience.  It’s more about connection with yourself and with others, development of your personal value system, and your search for meaning in life.
 
Anxiety often includes feeling like things are out of your control, and a natural human response to that is to try harder to control things (which paradoxically creates more anxiety).  Prayer and spiritual beliefs can remind you that you are not alone, you are divinely guided and protected, and that there may be a bigger plan than you are currently aware of.
 
Serenity
 
Today I was feeling anxious about some details relating to my move to my new office.  I wanted to accept that certain details are simply out of my control at the moment, trust that all is well, and know that things will work out in the end even though I’m not sure how.  I found comfort repeating (actually singing) this common prayer:
 
Serenity Prayer
 
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
 

Scientific Research

Some interesting findings in recent studies…
 
At Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital, one study of those from Jewish and Christian faiths found that those with higher trust in a caring God reported lower levels of worry and more openness to uncertainty.  [Inability to tolerate uncertainty is associated with higher levels of anxiety.]
 
In a second study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, participants were randomly assigned to one of 3 groups:  a spiritually integrated treatment (SIT) group, a progressive relaxation group, and a control group.
 
The SIT participants received daily teachings and spiritual exercises designed to increase trust in God.  The progressive relaxation group was taught techniques for body relaxation.  The control group received no intervention of any kind.
 
Results showed that after 2 weeks, the spiritually integrated SIT group had significantly higher levels of trust and lower levels of intolerance, worry, and stress.  On the flip side, people who mistrusted God showed higher levels of worry, stress and more intolerance to uncertainty.
 

How Spirituality Can Help
 
church-stencilThe Mayo Clinic says spirituality has many benefits for stress and anxiety relief and overall mental health. It can help you:
  • Feel a sense of purpose. Cultivating your spirituality may help uncover what’s most meaningful in your life. By clarifying what’s most important, you can focus less on the unimportant things and eliminate stress.
  • Connect to the world. The more you feel you have a purpose in the world, the less solitary you feel — even when you’re alone. This can lead to a valuable inner peace during difficult times.
  • Release control. When you feel part of a greater whole, you realize that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life. You can share the burden of tough times as well as the joys of life’s blessings with those around you.
  • Expand your support network. Whether you find spirituality in a church, mosque or synagogue, in your family, or in nature walks with a friend, this sharing of spiritual expression can help build relationships.
  • Lead a healthier life. People who consider themselves spiritual appear to be better able to cope with stress and anxiety, and heal from illness or addiction faster.