Prayer can be part of a holistic treatment plan that offers not only practical support but also compassionate, loving comfort for those who are suffering from chronic pain.
What do we mean by prayer?
The act of prayer is one of the most universal activities across the globe and has been for centuries. “Prayer” can be more broadly defined as the act of speaking to whatever higher power you worship.
Prayer might also include things like quiet meditation and setting a powerful intention. People not only welcome prayer into their homes and lives to develop relationship with a higher power, but to also ask for help when they are afraid or in distress.
Prayer and meditation can be any meaningful, contemplative inward-turning pause to reflect, express gratitude, and offer compassion to yourself and to others. It is not confined or restricted to any one group, and there are many ways to express yourself prayerfully.
The benefits of prayer
The act of praying—in a house of worship or in your own home—is a kind of ritual, and research has proven that ritual can have a powerful effect on healing.
Dr. David Spiegal, associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and medical director of the center for integrative medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine, has made a study on the effects of prayer on the brain. He notes:
“Praying involves the deeper parts of the brain: the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex—the mid-front and back portions. These parts of the brain are involved in self-reflection and self-soothing.”
This soothing action is clearly visible in MRIs. This response in the brain essentially turns off the parts of the brain that govern action, allowing for a pause in the body’s desire to react.
Further, one study found that prayer had a remarkable effect on the brains of alcoholics. It essentially shut down the cravings that were visible on an MRI. Marriage, family, and addictions therapist Dr. Paul Hokemeyer noted that prayer activates the parasympathetic nervous system and deactivates the flight-or-fight response of the sympathetic nervous system. He notes that:
“[Prayer and meditation] are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves. During times of stress, our limbic system, more commonly known as our central nervous system, becomes hyper-activated, which does two things: it thrusts us in to survival mode where we freeze, fight or flee the situation…This also shuts down our executive functioning [and] prevents us from thinking clearly. This is why when we’re stressed out we can make poor decisions and act in self-destructive ways.”
Prayer for chronic pain
In terms of chronic pain conditions, prayer and meditation may help manage your perception of pain. Although studies have not shown a decrease in pain with prayer, people who prayed did develop better coping mechanisms and were better able to combat the stressful effects of chronic pain. Put simply, prayer helps move the body away from a stressful, reactive state into a calmer, more intentional frame of mind.
Prayer and meditation may also boost the release of feel-good brain chemicals, including:
- Growth hormones
Dr. Loretta G. Breuning, founder of the Inner Mammal Institute, found that prayer and meditation activate the neural pathways that release hormones such as oxytocin. These pathways form when we are young, so we feel comfort when they activate. She notes: “[When] a situation comes up and you’re out of ideas and you are helpless, feeling much like you did when you were a baby, prayer can provide some other source of hope.”
An estimated 55% of people in the U.S. pray daily, and 40% of the U.S. meditates once a week. Those who make prayer or meditation a habit may find themselves better able to cope with the stress of a chronic condition, or simply the daily stresses of life, by taking a step back.
Find support for chronic pain
Our team at Arizona Pain understands that pain is complex, affecting every part of the mind, body, and soul. Every patient experiences pain in a way that is completely individual to them. Our doctors work with patients to develop an individualized treatment program for every patient. Our pain management plans utilize all of the tools for healing that make sense for that patient. This may include cutting-edge interventions and complementary therapies, but on the personal level, it may include things like meditation and prayer.
We also offer access to support that includes our weekly support groups and cognitive-behavioral therapy to work through the challenges of living with a chronic pain condition.