Is It All In Our Heads?

Is the connection between health and religion psychosomatic only? When we pray, or are prayed for…is it all in our heads?

First, let me say the health of our physical bodies and our minds are connected. When the link between our mind and our body is weakened or broken our bodies don’t do well.

But, in regards to the power of positive thinking, the little red train that said, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can” will only work to a certain point in improving our health.

I would like to share with you some research that has been done in recent years.

In 2015 researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of nursing analyzed data from 10,283 people examining the effects of early traumatic stress on mental and physical health and the buffering effect that religious coping has on this relationship. The results show that in men Negative Religious Coping (God’s going to punish you for that) improved their health, while in women Positive Religious Coping (God’s loves you and wants the best for you) improved their health, both mental and physical.

A study at the department of psychology at the University of South Alabama and the National Center for PTSD found spirituality improved quality of life for Veterans with severe PTSD symptoms.

A group from the University of Connecticut conducted a 5 year study of 191 patients with congestive heart failure, examining the effects of spirituality. They found that spiritual peace decreased the risk of mortality by 20%.

Loma Linda University researchers analyzed data from 9,581 middle aged Seventh-Day Adventists. They found “the level of intrinsic religiosity was inversely related to hypertension.” In other words, their religion improved their blood pressure. It was also interesting to note that many in both groups, those who reported an improvement in blood pressure as well as those without improvement, took medication for it. A conclusion was also made in this study that the more religious seemed to be more attentive to control their blood pressure with medication.

Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem North Carolina examined the effects of religious identity and religious participation on emotional well-being in Asian American Adolescents. Results show that religious identity and religious participation was significantly associated with higher self-esteem, greater positive affect, the presence of meaning in life, and reduced depressive symptoms.

Cambridge University (in the UK) studied the effects of Parkinson’s disease on religious faith. The results of the study show that religious faith is important in dealing with Parkinson’s disease.Theyset out to study how the disease affects faith, and found that faith has a positive effect on the disease.

In Chile researchers found that patients with schizophrenia have a better quality of life when they are actively involved in and supported by their religion.

Lebanese youth (in Lebanon, the Middle East) found a significant positive relationship between happiness and religiosity.

In a study done at Dartmouth Medical Center (of 232 patients) on the 6 month mortality rate after open heart surgery, those with high religious and high social support, only 2 of 72 had died (3%). In those with low religious and low social support 10of 49 (20%) had died.

University of Michigan researchers analyzed data from 1774 adults to identify associations between a benevolent view of God, gratitude to God, hope, and physical health. They found that persons who attended religious services more often and received spiritual support from members of their congregation had a more benevolent image of God, were more grateful to God, and experienced more hope and fewer physical symptoms. Researchers concluded that the foundational views that people have of God may have important health consequences.

In over 3000 studies on the relationship between spirituality/religion and health, 75 % of the studies show a positive relationship. If you would like to read some of these studies, you can find many of them here:

The apostle Paul said that there are “three things that last forever: faith, hope, and love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Those seem to be eternal elements of our relationship with God. Through faith we believe his promises and have hope. Because of faith and hope we love him and want to please him in everything we do.