Now that studies suggest praying could be beneficial for our health, scores of doctors encourage patients who are looking for a spiritual connection to do so through prayer.
Harold G. Koenig, MD, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University and director of the University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, encourages patients struggling with their spiritual connections to talk to their doctors or a trusted advisor.
“I ask them to tell me more about their trouble connecting with God. I want to know about their experience in this area,” he says. Koenig notes it’s usually a past experience or something they did that they can’t forgive themselves for that blocks this relationship.
Koenig says he doesn’t evangelize but rather tries to provide an environment where patients can proceed along a spiritual path to grow and feel love. His hope is they know God wants the best for them and can transform the worst situations in life into something better.
While prayer isn’t a silver bullet or substitute for cancer treatment, it can provide benefits that make it easier to cope and recover after your diagnosis.
Body, Mind and Faith
Scientists have begun to study the benefits of prayer, because there is evidence finding strength in one’s faith and beliefs and harnessing it through prayer can have a positive impact. Praying has been compared to meditation in that it calms the mind and body. This can have several benefits for anyone, even if you take just a few moments to pray.
An Escape From Stress
Prayer serves as a form of mindful meditation that can possibly improve health, particularly because it has the ability to reduce stress. Getting a cancer diagnosis and going through treatments is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. This can have a negative impact on your overall wellbeing—and more specifically, your immune system. Prayer as a form of meditation has been shown to reduce stress levels, improve mood and even boost the immune system.
A Focused Mind
Going through cancer treatments will change your lifestyle. It takes a lot of willpower to stick to new routines and make choices that may positively impact your health. Researchers from Saarland University and the University of Mannheim in Germany have found willpower, or self control, can be improved with prayer. Their study determined people who prayed before a taxing mental task were able to better harness their self control and get through it.
Other studies have found practicing prayer can make someone more positive, focused and compassionate. A new study published in the American Cancer Society’s journal, Cancer, also shows people who pray regularly report better physical health.
Whether or not you believe in a higher power, giving yourself a few quiet moments each day to pray or meditate may help you find peace when living with cancer or when the long-term effects become overwhelming.
Connecting With Others Through Prayer
Some research has shown that in addition to praying alone, praying with others can also be beneficial. If you're open to incorporating prayer and spirituality as part of your treatment plan, Dr. Koenig recommends the following:
- Find a time each day to talk with your God or higher power about whatever is troubling you, as well as what you’re grateful for in your life. Talk to God just like you would a trusted friend. Begin with five minutes a day in a quiet place where you will not be interrupted.
- Extend the time you pray each week by five minutes until you reach 20 to 30 minutes a day. Make it a part of your regular schedule, so it can become a daily habit.
- Find someone with your similar faith whose life and behavior represent the teachings of your faith. Ask them for council or advice on reading materials that can help you get started.
- Search for a place of worship to connect with a group of like-minded believers who are friendly, welcoming, and whose minister preaches inspiring and practical sermons. Get involved in this group by going to meetings outside services and donating a little time each week to help with the group’s ministries.