By: Julie Morris a Life and Career Coach
For many people around the world, prayer is what connects them to a higher spiritual existence - whether that be God, the universe, nature, or some combination. However it’s done, prayer is an important tool for the religious and spiritual.
Prayer can be more than just a daily ritual, however. When you pray, you’re not just practicing your faith and getting closer to God - in fact you may be actually altering your brain to help reduce stress and anxiety, which can lead to bad habits.
Prayer and other forms of meditation are thought to helps elicit calming effects on the human body. Some studies have suggested that when you pray, you’re actually helping your body cope with life’s big stresses.
Prayer has the power to calm you. Anyone who practices frequent prayer will tell you that it helps them slow down and focus on their spirituality amidst a hectic life. But when you relax, prayer could actually be triggering your brain to produce a calming reaction. Physically, your body may better regulate itself to calm you down.
“An oft-cited study by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular medicine specialist at Harvard Medical School, documented the potential healing benefits of spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation (as well as hypnosis and other relaxation techniques). In his book Healing Words, Larry Dossey writes that Benson demonstrated that the body responds to these practices with what he calls the relaxation response, which consists of ‘a lowering of the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate; a reduced need for oxygen; less carbon dioxide production.’ In effect, the relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response and can be consciously used to modulate the impact of stress,” says The University of Minnesota.
According to this research prayer actually slows your heart rate and lowers your blood pressure. These physical changes help to enforce a stronger mind-body link, allowing you to relax.
Sometimes this doesn’t work as planned, however. Depending on your feelings about God and spirituality, prayer can produce negative effects in terms of anxiety.
“For many people, God is a source of comfort and strength,” researcher Matt Bradshaw, Ph.D tells Psych Central. “And through prayer, they enter into an intimate relationship with Him and begin to feel a secure attachment. When this is the case, prayer offers emotional comfort, resulting in fewer symptoms of anxiety disorders. Some people, however, have formed avoidant or insecure attachments to God, explains Bradshaw. This means that they do not necessarily believe that God is there for them. Prayer starts to feel like an unsuccessful attempt at having a close relationship with God. Feelings of rejection or ‘unanswered’ prayers may lead to severe symptoms of anxiety-related disorders,” he says.
Your mind is tricky, and it’s not just about sitting down to pray. You have to be in a good place, or prayer may not have the intended effect. Those that believe that their prayers are received are more likely to see the stress-reducing benefits many associate with the practice.
In the end, deep, thoughtful, earnest prayer can help you cope with the stress of everyday life by helping you understand that your life has purpose and not every little thing is under your control. Prayer can come in many shapes and sizes, but as long as you have the power of your convictions, it can be a great tool to reduce anxiety and provide a better sense of purpose and wellbeing.
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