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Let me preface this article by saying that this is not an attempt to start a religious debate or entangle readers in a fight over whether or not God exists or which religion is right. Regardless of your individual religious or non-religious beliefs, surely there is room to acknowledge that prayer and other religious observances have long been held by those who use them and believe in them to help reduce or manage stress. This article seeks to bring some of the scientific evidence to light that shows that, at least for these people, prayer and religion works as they say it does.
A Canadian Study
A 2009 study out of the University of Toronto, Canada, studied a group of believers and nonbelievers in an attempt to evaluate how belief in God relieves anxiety and decreases feelings of stress. The subjects’ reaction times to performing assigned tasks (Stroop task) were measured by electrodes monitoring the ACC or anterior cingulated cortex which is a part of the brain involved in emotion control and behavior modification during stressful situations.
The study found that those who considered themselves religious showed less ACC activity and therefore less anxiety over their task performance than those who claimed to be non-religious. Further, the stronger a believer’s zeal and the stronger their faith in God, the less ACC activity was observed.
It’s not within the realms of the study and its results to declare that belief in God actually causes less stress or less anxiety. It may be just that the perception of the ultimate negative impact of a situation is lessened or a person feels less threatened by that situation. Obviously, not all anxiety is eliminated, but for many people prayer and belief in God brings a peace and helps them think more positively, or at least keeps them from dwelling on the negative--which as we’ve looked at in other articles can be detrimental to overall mental and physical health.
A Heart Issue
We’ve all read about how prolonged periods of unrelenting or unresolved stress can affect heart function and blood pressure.