What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

For me, it’s simple — I pray.

Making prayer a priority is undoubtedly vital to our spiritual health, but I’m not so sure it’s as widely known that consistent prayer can also contribute to our mental health and emotional wellbeing, as well.

While it’s a good thing that Mental Health Awareness month is getting more attention this year, it’s unfortunate that the cause is rising rates of mental health issues. According to a study conducted by Mental Health America, the number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has increased with higher rates than were seen prior to COVID-19. The study found that 8 in 10 people who took a depression screen scored with symptoms of moderate to severe depression since March 2020.

During this stressful time in our nation’s history, when so many of us are struggling with anxiety and depression, I wanted to share how the power of prayer has helped me.

I use prayer to stay spiritually connected, mentally strong and emotionally balanced.

In 2015, when my business partner died suddenly in a plane crash outside Medellín, Columbia, it rocked my world. Without prayer, I’m not sure I would have gotten through that time, and frankly back then, I didn’t even know how to pray. Throughout this season of my life prayer led me on a journey to grow deeper in my faith, helping me to find peace, joy, and God’s purpose for my life.

After finding so much comfort in the power of prayer, and learning about different ways to pray, I decided to do some research into the topic to see if there was any science behind it. An important study in this field conducted by the University of California showed that meditation – activities such as calming our breathing, closing our eyes and focusing on encouraging and soothing words, images or music – can reduce some of the symptoms of stress and anxiety, such as accelerated heart rate, increased blood pressure and cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

I always knew that prayer went beyond meditation and I wanted to see what the research said about it. Adding the spiritual component – that connection to God – helps us connect with our higher power and not feel hopeless and alone in our struggles. This was confirmed by a study in the Journal of Behavioural Medicine, showing that including a spiritual meditation or religious devotion activity among its subjects led to increased feelings of closeness to God as well as to other people and the world around them, more so than for participants who practiced secular meditation or mindfulness techniques. And as reported in this study on mental health, religion and spirituality from the UK, even mental health professionals and theologians are in agreement about prayer’s benefits. Simply put, when you give your burdens and cares to God, He alone will sustain you.

This echoes my own experience. When I was feeling confused and alone after my partner’s death, it was that connection I felt through prayer that God gave me the strength to keep going. For those who aren’t religious, meditation is a nice first step, and I found that prayer supercharged my life, helping me grow stronger. As I practice the act of praying it helps me focus on the present, embrace God’s plan for my life, and turn my worries into innocent wonderment.

A day doesn’t go by that I don’t think about my business partner, which is very common for those who have experienced the sudden loss of someone close to them. I am grateful that through this tragedy I have learned to pray and embrace God’s plan for my life. Through prayer, I grow stronger each day. While meditation can begin to help you, prayer adds a divine element to your life that is unmatched. This is what makes prayer so powerful in combating fear, stress and grief. It turns the internal focus of meditation to the external praise accompanied by prayer. As so many of us are experiencing similar feelings and emotions these days, I encourage everyone to give prayer a try.

If you aren’t sure where to begin or what to pray for, I recommend the Pray.com app. It’s something that my friends and I created for this very purpose. Pray.com offers daily prayers, inspirational sermons and podcasts that can help you with your personal prayer journey.

Finally, the Bible itself offers some great prayers we can use, and for those for whom the Bible may seem overwhelming, the Pray.com app also has a Bible in a year prayer plan, with 365 short, daily prayers. This can be very helpful in both learning the Bible and growing our faith experience as we connect with God each day.

God has a purpose for your life and when you pray, God hears your prayers. No matter how inadequate, unstructured, or non-traditional you think your prayers might be, they always land on God’s ears when they come from your heart. Make prayer a priority in your life, and you will be surprised at the difference it makes in your mental, physical, and spiritual health.

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