Stress is sometimes getting us unaware. We are suddenly facing a crisis and do not know how to handle it. Other times it will creep on us in small increments until we feel that life spins out of control. Stress will hit us harder when we are overtired, being sick or passing through tragedies. Few people think about prayer as a stress reliever when the schedule is tight. But a growing body of research shows that it could be a useful tool to get your stress under control.
Research on Stress and Spirituality
The link between spirituality and health is starting to get the interest of several researchers. In the forefront is the research of Harald Koenig, MD, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Duke University, who surveyed more than a thousand studies showing the link between spirituality and health. In his book Handbook of Religion and Health he found that people attending church regularly have 1/3 of the time of hospitalization compared to the non-active group. He also found that religious people have 14 times higher chances to recover after heart surgery compared to the non-religious group. These are just some of the impressive findings of the relationship between spirituality and health.
Dr. Roberta Lee speaks about the relation of prayer and stress relief in her book The Superstress Solution. She says: “Research shows that people who are more religious or spiritual use their spirituality to cope with life,… 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.”
Practice Stress Relief Prayer the Effective Way
Not every prayer is equal. Some people just go through the motions without really feeling the liberating effects of genuine prayer. In order to be effective in lifting your load, there are some vital principles to include in your prayer experience.
1. Recognize a Power Higher than You
When you are in a tight spot, it is a liberating thought that there is a higher power taking care of you. Put things into the right perspective. Who are you in comparison to the universe? Do not think it is all your responsibility to save the world, because the world is much bigger than you can grasp. And don´t think your problems are the worst one within the universe either.
When you do not know a way out, you need to trust that you have a heavenly father who is able to take care of you. Some people are believing this religion thing is just for emotionally weak people who need a crutch in order to get something they can hang on to. There are a lot of skeptical people out there. For me, it is as real as it can get. When you are sincerely interested in experience the presence of God, He will have a way to show you how He is acting in Your life. I have experienced it over and over. And it is very reassuring to know that there is somebody bigger than you, who is able to help you out when you are in a tight spot.
2. Be Authentic
When something is bothering you, it is not the moment to recall a prayer you have memorized as a child, or recite 10 times the Lord’s Prayer. It is the moment to speak to God as to a friend. Be honest about what is bothering you. And you do not need to wait for the right moment, present your request to God as soon as you feel a need. Be very specific about what is your problem, if you are formulating it into words, the undefined and abstract is becoming something concrete that you can put a handle on. The Christian Author Ellen White expresses it nicely in her book Steps to Christ:
“Keep your wants, your joys, your sorrows, your cares, and your fears before God. You cannot burden Him; you cannot weary Him. He who numbers the hairs of your head is not indifferent to the wants of His children. “The Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy.” James 5:11. His heart of love is touched by our sorrows and even by our utterances of them. Take to Him everything that perplexes the mind. Nothing is too great for Him to bear, for He holds up worlds, He rules over all the affairs of the universe. Nothing that in any way concerns our peace is too small for Him to notice. There is no chapter in our experience too dark for Him to read; there is no perplexity too difficult for Him to unravel. No calamity can befall the least of His children, no anxiety harass the soul, no joy cheer, no sincere prayer escape the lips, of which our heavenly Father is unobservant, or in which He takes no immediate interest. “He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.” Psalm 147:3. The relations between God and each soul are as distinct and full as though there were not another soul upon the earth to share His watchcare, not another soul for whom He gave His beloved Son.”
3. Pray With and For Others
Nobody is an island. If you can share your concerns with your friends then go for it. But instead of just be sorry and whine, use the moment to present your problems together with your friends to your Heavenly Father. Sometimes the faith of your friend can inspire you to take courage. It can relieve your stress if you can share your challenges and get some upbeat to put you on the right track.
Some other times you can pray for some of your friends, neighbors or even strangers you meet at the road. Praying for the need of others makes you realize, that other people around you may face even larger challenges then you, and your problem may not be that big after all.
4. Take Action
By now you have identified your problem and you have submitted yourself to the care of God. You see some light at the end of the tunnel, you have hope to get your life under control, but there are things that still remain for you to do. Maybe you need some rest, take time to restore your body and mind. Get for real with a stress management plan. Get your priorities right, examine your diet and exercise plan. If you are working through some loss or tragedy, you may need to give you some time to heal and restore.
There are moments we need to take action, and other moments where we need to be just quiet. Reinhold Niebuhr is expressing it quite on the spot in his famous Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.
Elements of a Prayer for Stress Relief
You need no model or script to follow in your prayer life, like you do not need a script to have a chat with your friend. But there are some elements that can make your prayer experience more meaningful.
- Take time to talk openly about your life. Talk about the good, the bad, even the things you think are irrelevant to God. How are you talking to a friend? Are you worried that he is bored when you relate what is happening in your life? Probably not. So just take some time to be real.
- Analyze your actions. What did you do right, where did you fail? Where did you hurt somebody? What do you have to get straight? Confess your mistake and take responsibility for things you did the wrong way. Decide with whom you need to reconcile. And ask forgiveness for your wrong attitudes. In 1. John 1:9 we have the promise: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” You will feel a burden being taken off from your shoulders, and life will get so much easier.
- Surrender yourself to God. He is your Heavenly Father and will surely care for you. But sometimes His plans for you may be higher than yours. God says to you in Isaiah 56:9: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.” Trust that your Heavenly Father has the best intentions for you, and try to understand what He is trying to do in your life.
- Ask God for help. Be specific on what is going wrong and what you need. And when you have surrendered it to God, rest assured that He will take good care of you. Maybe the outcome is not always like you expected, but sometimes it is even better than you thought.
- Pray with Promises. The Bible is full of promises, and you can claim them within your prayer session. If you find a promise that applies to your situation, it is alright to claim it. If you are burdened with troubles, you can claim Mattew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.”. Or you may like to claim Psalms 4:8: “I will lie down in peace and sleep, for you alone, O LORD, will keep me safe.”
- Express your gratitude and praise. When we start to catalog the things we are thankful for, our list of challenges is less powerful. It gets things into perspective. Life is not all bad, there are a lot of things to be thankful for. Look at the psalms. They are full of sincere talk with God, but they are also full of thanksgiving and praise. And it helps a lot to remember that God still cares for us. Remember how He has brought you through in the past, and you will gain courage to face the future.
Now you have a number of tools to make your moments of prayer an opportunity to release stress from your lives. Once you apply them, you adapt those principles to make them something meaningful for yourself. It is good to create habits. Start out right in the morning, surrendering yourself and your plans in the hands of God. In the evening spend some special moments to reflect on the day, what was good and what needs to change. And whenever you face a problem, make it a habit to turn it over to somebody higher than you, so you have less on your plate to worry about.