A 2005 study out the University of Iowa sought to better understand the relationship between religion/spirituality and physical and mental health in patients with chronic musculoskeletal pain. Research from this study and many others suggests that there is a connection between religious and spiritual activity and better health.
First, it is important to note that religion and spirituality are two different things. Spirituality is sense of peace, purpose and connection with others. It can also involve a relationship with God or a higher power. By contrast, religion, is composed of beliefs and rituals linked to a specific group. To be spiritual, you don’t have to be linked with a religion or religious group.
Religious or spiritual activities that are linked with better health include prayer, inspirational reading, going to religious services, spiritual meditation, and asking for support from clergy or members of a religious community.
For many people who live with chronic pain, prayer is part of their spiritual medicine for dealing with and coping with the pain. In fact, one arthritis study found that 92% of African Americans and 50% of Hispanics use prayer to help cope with pain. Another study involving patients with arthritis or neck and back pain finds that prayer is the mostly commonly used non-medicinal way to manage and cope with pain. (Other nonmedical approaches include diet changes, exercise and massage therapy.)
How does prayer help with chronic pain? First, it is a distraction from the pain. Second, it makes it easier to relax which in turns changes how pain feels. Next, it reduces your levels of stress and we all know that stress is associated with pain. Last, if you are praying with others, you are getting emotional support which again, helps us to deal with and cope with pain. A research study on spirituality found that those who meditate are more positive, have lower anxiety levels, have increased overall spiritual feelings, and are better able to cope with and tolerate pain.
That same study out of the University of Iowa also found that some chronic pain patients view God or universal life in a negative way. Some may feel that God has abandoned them at a time when they need the most help. Others may feel that chronic pain is a punishment for something they have done. In this case, the research shows that people who think in a negative light about their pain tend to be in worse physical and mental health than those who have positive religious and/or spiritual views.
Have you tried prayer or mediation to help you deal with and cope with chronic pain?