Prayer as an Aid to Mental Health

Learning to control what you can, and letting go of what you cannot, through steady and sincere prayers to God.

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Prayer as an aid to mental health

Many people believe and act as though mental health is separate from a person’s spirituality. After all, it’s mental, right? And “mental” is not synonymous with “spiritual.”

But human beings are mental, physical, spiritual and emotional beings—all at the same time. We are created as whole beings; our mental states are related to our spiritual lives, and vice versa. So it should not surprise us if spiritual practices can have an impact on our mental health.

For example, numerous studies suggest that prayer can affect a person’s levels of stress, depression and anxiety. One study by a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, suggests that prayer can prevent the onset of depression or reduce its severity. Another study, by a team including a psychologist at Georgia Southern University, found that participants who prayed or used encouraging self-talk reported lower stress levels than those who did not. And a study that was published in the British Journal of Health Psychology concluded that praying can reduce a person’s risk of depression and anxiety.

I have a few guesses as to why such things may be. One is that God answers prayer; I truly believe that. But there is another contributing factor to prayer as an aid to mental health. 

My wife is a gifted professional counselor (which has obvious benefits, considering who she married). She and I often remind each other of our personal definition of “mental health,” which is “controlling the things you can control and not trying to control things you cannot control.”

I strongly believe that is one of the reasons prayer is a boon to a person’s mental health. When I “carry everything to God in prayer,” as the hymn (“What a Friend We Have in Jesus”) says, I go through something of a sorting process. I lay before God my burdens, concerns, problems and challenges. In some cases, as I do so, I see how I need to take action toward solving or improving a certain situation.

In other cases, I confront the reality that there’s little or nothing I can do to change things—so I must surrender them to God and trust Him to deal with things that are beyond my ken or beyond my “can.” The more I pray, the clearer things become, and light begins to dawn as my concerns separate into “things I can control” (or at least influence) and “things I cannot control.” The former I ask for God’s help in addressing; the latter I ask for God’s help in surrendering. In both cases, prayer helps me maintain, shall we say, mental equilibrium between the things I can control and those things I cannot control.

See if it doesn’t hold true in your case as well. The more you pray, sincerely and submissively, the more often you’ll know whether you need to take action or surrender your cares to God and trust Him for the outcome.

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