The last thing I think of when I’m stressed out with work deadlines and complicated homework projects with the kids is to get on my knees or attend Mass. But a growing body of research suggests prayer and religion rank high among the best stress busters.
In her new book, The SuperStress Solution, Dr. Roberta Lee devotes a section to the topic of spirituality and prayer.
“Research shows that people who are more religious or spiritual use their spirituality to cope with life,” notes Dr. Lee.
“They’re better able to cope with stress, they heal faster from illness, and they experience increased benefits to their health and well-being. On an intellectual level, spirituality connects you to the world, which in turn enables you to stop trying to control things all by yourself. When you feel part of a greater whole, it’s easy to understand that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life.”
Among the research she cites is one study of approximately 126,000 people that found that the people who frequently attended services increased their odds of living by 29 percent. Another study conducted by the National Institute for Health Care Research (NIHR) illustrated that the Canadian college students who were connected to their campus ministries visited doctors less often and were less stressed during difficult times than the other students. The students who had strong religious correlations also had higher positive feelings, lower levels of depression, and were better equipped at handling stress.
Dr. Lee points to the research of Harold Koenig, M.D., associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Duke University, who surveys more than a thousand studies appraising the effects of prayer on health in his book Handbook of Religion and Health. Among them:
- Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attend regularly.
- Heart patients were fourteen times more likely to die following surgery if they did not practice a religion.
- Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke rate double that of people who attended regularly.
- People who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. When they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.
Why all the benefits of prayer and religion?
First, religion and faith provide social support, a consistent element of happiness and good health. Regular churchgoers not only get support from their community, but they also GIVE support to others, and the altruistic activity promotes better health.
Second, religion reinforces a belief system. People bond when they hold common opinions and beliefs, even it’s a form of gossiping.
Third, religion and spirituality do what a parent or supervisor at work does: give you 10 laws to abide by. And, although you may not like the regulations set upon you and try to break a few, you are glad they exist, because, for the most part, your life runs more smoothly when you follow them.
Finally, faith attaches meaning to events. It gives folks hope, the ultimate stress reducer. Hope, doctors say, is about the best thing you can do for your body. It’s better than a placebo.