The pharmaceutical industry makes millions from the marketing and sale of antidepressants and other mood enhancers. While these medications have their place, it is concerning that they are being prescribed at a higher rate than ever before.
There is one age-old method that can reduce stress levels. It’s free, doesn’t require a prescription, and has zero side effects or drug interactions. You will know it as faith, and millions of people around the world rely on it to see them through hard times. The results are not just anecdotal, there is evidence that it works. Faith and spirituality are abstract concepts, but they can lead to concrete results in mental health improvement and stress reduction.
Here are the sections in this article:
Using Faith to Reduce StressThe Importance of PrayerScientific Evidence That Faith Improves Mental HealthWhat Does The Bible Teach Us About Stress?Some Prayers To Help With Stress
Faith and spirituality are much more than just comforting rituals to religious individuals. They have the ability to have a positive impact on mood and mental health. Aspects of faith enable tangible reductions in, and protection from stress. Faith generates optimism, enriches interpersonal relationships, creates support systems and enhances quality of life. Scientific research is also emerging which demonstrates modest, yet promising connections between religiousness and improved mental health.
Using Faith to Reduce Stress
Faith can give you a sense of purpose and improve your mental wellbeing
Faith is a belief or trust in God, while spirituality is an attachment to religious values. Whichever term you prefer, the concept can be used to successfully reduce stress and improve quality of life. Faith and spirituality provide a sense of purpose, allow people to connect to something greater than themselves, and enable us to release control. These abstract gains then translate into concrete ones: an expansion of social networks and improved health. All of these points are essential to stress reduction.
Numerous self-help sources tell people “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”, but few actually detail what the small stuff is. That’s because the small stuff is highly individual. Something that holds great importance to one person may not even register with another. Faith and spirituality encourage people to look within and take inventory. Through faith, an individual can discover what is most important to them. Being able to recognize what matters most allows people to focus their energy and attention on those issues, and not waste time on less important concerns. By establishing what matters most, people often discover their sense of purpose: a goal to work towards or their reason for existing.
Once people have discovered their sense of purpose, they often learn that there are others who share these same goals or reasons for existing. They learn that what matters to them also matters to others, and this establishes a sense of connection. For some this sense of connection can lead to greater interaction with others, for example through prayer groups or charity drives. For others, just knowing they are not alone provides a great sense of comfort, inner peace and ultimately, relief from stress.
A feeling of interconnectedness also allows people to release control. Often, a feeling of responsibility for everything that happens in life is a great burden. Being connected to others and to something greater lets people share the responsibility, and the burden. We realize that we don’t control or bear responsibility for everything, and this can be a great relief. For those of us in high pressure jobs, like pilots, caregivers or police officers, this enables us to share the burden.
Feeling interconnected leads people to expand their social networks. A shared faith is a building block for relationships. It has been proven that the more close and supportive relationships a person has, the happier they will be. Relationships built on faith are often close and supportive. Faith often brings people together with a common purpose and goal: loyalty to God and a desire to adhere to the tenets of a religion. Interestingly, a cycle is created. Not only does faith enable relationships, but those relationships then serve to reinforce and deepen faith.
Another result of faith is improved health. This includes tangible physical and mental results. With an expanded social network comes more opportunities to take part in activities that can improve one’s physical health. Getting out and being active is easier to do with a partner or group.
Having a support system also enables people to better deal with stress, hardship, and adrenal fatigue, as the support system can provide an outlet to vent or provide positive distractions. Being stronger both physically and mentally allows for greater resistance to illness and faster healing.
The Importance of Prayer
Prayer is a way of sharing the burden that stress has placed upon you
All relationships require good communication to maintain and enhance them. It should be frequent, honest and personal. A relationship with God is no different. Prayer is the spiritual exercise that allows people to communicate directly with God. It is an intensely personal endeavor that can be performed alone or with a group and can provide a great source of stress relief. The requirements are simple: all we need is belief in a power greater than ourselves, and faith that this power is looking out for us.
Prayer provides stress relief in a variety of ways. A prayer for help is a great source of comfort and relief because a person does not feel they have to bear their burden alone. Often when people are hurting or confused, they can feel as if there is no one to talk to or depend on. A prayer during these tense times relieves that feeling of loneliness. The belief that God is listening to their prayers and will help them is a source of hope to many individuals. With hope comes the strength to carry on.
Trusting in God is also a way of practicing optimism. Researchers have long credited optimism with numerous benefits, including reduced stress and better overall emotional health. By trusting in God, people feel like other outcomes are possible and this boosts a positive outlook.
A prayer of thanks acknowledges and reinforces one’s belief in God and belief in the benevolence of God. When these beliefs are strengthened, an individual is more likely to turn to God during time of strife. Again, a positive cycle is created. Expressing gratitude and giving thanks through prayer reminds people of the positive aspects of their existence and can help ward off feelings of sadness.
Prayer should be a regular part of a spiritual person’s life. Often prayer is incorporated at the beginning and end of each day. Prayer at the beginning of the day sets the tone for a spiritual day, and fills a reservoir of strength to face the coming challenges. Prayer at the end of the day acknowledges God’s help throughout the day, allows people to give thanks for the aid God provided during the day, and provides an opportunity for people to ask for help with any ongoing situations. To reap the greatest benefits of prayer, it is suggested that people pray often. Most people will pray by and for themselves at one point or another, but there are three additional ways to pray that contribute to a well-rounded communication with God. They are: to pray with others, and to pray for others.
- Solo prayer
Prayer by, and for, oneself has straightforward benefits. Solo prayer is an opportunity to ask for help or guidance. Importantly, it is a chance to address any fears or stresses and release their burden to God. People should also remember that communication goes both ways, and take the time to listen to God as well. With the faith that God will listen and help, people find that their stress is alleviated.
- Prayer with others
Prayer with others capitalizes on the communal benefits of faith. People can pray with others in a structured setting, like a church or scheduled prayer group, or it can be spontaneous. An example of spontaneous group prayer is when tragedy strikes. During these dark times, people are often compelled to join with other victims or sympathizers and pray. Group prayer is not limited to hard times though, as many people appreciate being able to rejoice and give thanks with others. In both cases engaging in prayer with similar minded people strengthens the feeling of belonging, reinforces feelings of support and understanding, and alleviates stress.
- Praying for others
To pray for others is an important concept. Some people may be surprised that remembering others in their prayers or dedicating prayers entirely to others can have a positive effect on their own mood and feelings of well-being. Praying for others is an exercise in empathy. It also allows people to focus on something other than their own concerns for a while. Praying for others, and considering what someone else is dealing with, can also allow people to gain a better perspective on their own issues.
Prayer enables people to find the lessons inherent in everyday life and occurrences. A sincere, frequent and frank dialogue with God provides numerous opportunities for introspection. When praying for help, believers are forced to examine what it is they truly need help with, and what they are requesting from God. Praying to give thanks requires the same introspection. Believers can start out being thankful for a superficial occurrence, and then come to see the deeper significance. Recognizing the lessons in everyday life can help people avoid repeating past mistakes and gain confidence in their ability to make sound future decisions.
Scientific Evidence That Faith Improves Mental Health
Many different research studies have found a link between faith and lower stress levels
There have been numerous attempts to establish a scientific link between faith and mental health. Several of them have returned results that seem to confirm this connection. In general, studies and scientific reviews have shown promise in demonstrating that the greater the amount of religiousness (faith) that people have, the greater the positive effects on their mental health.
In one meta-analytic review from 2002, researchers looked at over 147 independent investigations that questioned over 98,000 subjects. They were seeking to determine if a person’s amount of religiousness had any effect on depression or depressive symptoms. Their ultimate conclusion showed a small but promising association between the two. The more religious a person was, the fewer depressive symptoms they experienced. Furthermore, they found that this inverse relationship between religiousness and depressive symptoms might be stronger during high-stress times. This phenomenon is known as the buffer effect.
In another review of scientific literature from 2008, researchers reviewed 115 articles to determine the relationship between religiousness or spirituality and adolescent substance use, anxiety, depression, delinquency, and suicidality. They were able to determine that 92% of the articles demonstrated a significant relationship between religiousness and improved mental health.
More recently, the Journal of Aging and Health published a study in 2009 that examined church attendance and marital status in relation to mood among older adults. In this study, 791 older adults were followed for 8 years. Researchers concluded that church attendance exhibited a protective effect with respect to the health of the older adults. It was further theorized that having a sense of purpose could explain this protective effect.
Finally in 2012, the American Journal of Psychiatry published the results of a longitudinal study that also sought to establish the relationship between religiousness and the onset and course of major depression. This study was significant for a couple of reasons. First, the study was not conducted on depressed or no-depressed individuals themselves, but rather on their offspring (a person who has a parent with depression is considered at high-risk for also developing the disease). Second, the average age of the subjects in this study was 29 years. This is in contrast to most studies exploring depression and religion, which have tended to focus on older adults. The study found that in the 10 years of follow-up, subjects who both described religion as highly important and also affiliated themselves with either Catholic or Protestant denominations had a 76% less chance of experiencing an episode of major depression. Although further and more in-depth study is warranted, the researchers concluded that religion and spirituality should be considered by clinicians during psychiatric evaluations.
What Does The Bible Teach Us About Stress?
The bible contains many helpful quotations regarding stress and faith
Many individuals turn to the Bible in times of stress. Here are some helpful verses to get you started.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Jesus in Matthew 11:28-30)
“As pressure and stress bear down on me, I find joy in your commands.” (Psalm 119:143)
“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (Jesus in John 14:27)
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Jesus in John 16:33)
“I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)
“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:28-31)
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord you God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” (Isaiah 43:1b-3a)
“Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest.” (Luke 12:25-26)
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:6-8)
“The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” (Psalm 9:9-10)
“No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
Some Prayers To Help With Stress
Here are two sample prayers for you to try during stressful times.
God help me to work through the stress that is in my life today,So that I need not be anxious for tomorrow. I know that you have given me life that is to be developed and enjoyed.
I know in my heart that you provide all that I need for health for happiness, and for eternal life. Please help me to remove those elements in my life that stand in the way of my enjoying your bounty to the fullest extent. Teach me to manage what seems to be unmanageable and to use the stress in my life for renewal and growth. Lord I pray that you will be with people who have been victimized and traumatized by the acts of foolish, uncaring people, who think that terrorism and killing and domination are the only way to resolve their problems. May those who perpetrate such actions come to see that the way to peace is through loving acts of kindness and not through violence and pain. Amen
When I feel crushed by my own worries, Lift my mind and help me to see the truth. When fear grips me tight and I feel I cannot move, Free my heart and help me to take things one step at a time. When I can’t express the turmoil inside, Calm me with Your quiet words of love. I choose to trust in You, each day, each hour, each moment of my life. I know deep down that I can cast these cares on You, that you have taken these anxious thoughts and by dying on the cross, You have set me free. I choose to trust in You, each day, each hour, each moment of my life. I know deep down that I live in Your grace, forgiven, restored by Your sacrifice, You have set me free. Amen
Resources & Further Reading
- Smith et al, 2003. “Religiousness and depression: Evidence for a main effect and the moderating influence of stressful life events”. et al, 2008. “Religion/Spirituality and adolescent psychiatric symptoms: a review”. et al, 2009. “The Effects of Church Attendance and Marital Status on the Longitudinal Trajectories of Depressed Mood Among Older Adults”. 2011. “Religion/Spirituality and Depression: What Can We Learn From Empirical Studies?”.
Stress can hit us at all times, but these days the world seems to be suffering from a great deal of it. I wondered if there was a prayer for such times and thought of a prayer often quoted from an obscure medieval source:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
The words were put down by Julian of Norwich who lived in England from around 1342 to 1416 and they came to her in a vision, one of a series of visions she received.
She was 30 years old, deathly ill, the priest had come to give her last rites and set up a cross for her to gaze on in her last hours. All at once she left this realm and ascended to another where God, Jesus and the Virgin Mary spoke to her.
Talk about stressful times. Julian of Norwich’s world was a dark, frightening and tumultuous place. Contemporary medieval festivals show us the bright color and festive life of the Middle Ages but it’s worth remember that the days were, for most, horrendous.
In Julian’s time, the bubonic plague decimated Europe, killing off nearly half of the population in a few years, the disease so contagious that families often abandoned their dying loved ones for fear they too would die in a matter of days.
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And yet, in her visions, God was reassuring, showing her a perspective that was much bigger and more hopeful than anyone could see. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.
God was showing her that there is peace to be found in a life dedicated to Him, that loss wasn’t final, that the Lord was still present and loves us like a mother loves her own children. In fact, Julian compares Jesus to a Mother.
I once looked out my apartment window at a driver trying to parallel park on the street below. He drove forward, turned the wheel, reversed…and could never quite fit his car in the allotted space, although there was plenty of room.
It occurred to me that this is what it must be like for the Divine at times. God sees us struggling to make do, to find our way, to turn our wheels just right, moving back and forth and then often giving up in frustration. If we’d only look to Him.
“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”
I find it comforting at all times to pray those words. The days can be stressful, the fears haunting, the direction of our lives uncertain, the future impossible to fathom. But all will be well. God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit are with us.