By Kimberly Burnham
On one level it makes sense that someone who has a life threatening condition, cancer or a strong sense of their own mortality would think about what is next and might turn to pray or their spiritual tradition. This study, Effectiveness of prayer in reducing anxiety in cancer patients looked at the physical effects of prayer and “religiosity.”
Concluding that, “Prayer proved to be an effective strategy in reducing the anxiety of the patient undergoing chemotherapy,” Camila Csizmar Carvalho, Erika de Cássia Lopes Chaves, et al. looked at a variety of physical factors before and after prayer.
Study volunteers answered “a questionnaire of sociodemographic, clinical and spiritual characteristics, the Index of Religiosity Duke University and the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory Vital Signs.” The researchers also collected salivary cortisol. Produced in the adrenal glands cortisol is a measure of how stressed a person is. The higher the cortisol the more stress a person is feeling. The lower the cortisol levels the more relaxed a person is.
Carvalho said, “The data found between the pre and post-intervention samples showed different statistically significant for state anxiety, blood pressure, diastolic [heart rate measure], and respiratory rate.”
This 2014 University of São Paulo, Brazil Nursing School Journal (Revista da Escola de Enfermagem da USP) study helps us imagine two people with cancer. One, before praying or without a prayer practice is lying anxiously awake at night. Their heart is working hard. Their digestive system is not functioning well. They are breathing faster than the other person who is still having chemotherapy treatments but is relaxed, with better heart function and good blood pressure. They are drawing in the nutrients in their food and taking calm deep breaths.
Which one do you think will have less chemotherapy side effects (many of which have to do with digestion) and make a better recovery?
Another strategy for decreasing anxiety and cortisol levels comes from Harvard business professor Amy Cuddy, who looked into the effects of posture on
chemistry and hence class participation. She found that if a person stands for two minutes in a Wonder Woman or Superman posture (feet solidly planted, hands on hips, open to the world) their cortisol levels go down and their testosterone levels go up. This two minute posture helps the person to look and feel more powerful, making them in fact more powerful. Cuddy’s research indicates that “your body language shapes who you are.”
Imagine if you pray or stand in a powerful posture before eating. What would change in your life? Research is piling up in favor of the influence of how we think and act on our brain chemistry and body functions.
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