Fostering Mental Health With Prayer 

by Faith & Life, Prayer

The Early Bird Finds Serenity

The first step in fostering improved mental health with prayer is to have a regular time and place for prayer. For years I was a night owl. I stayed up late and slept in whenever I could. During the work week, I would get up, shower, grab a protein bar and a coffee and race out the door to work. Sound familiar to anyone? 

Now that I’m so much older and wiser, I choose to get up an hour before I “need” to. I make my coffee, shower, and head into my prayer room. This peaceful, quiet time sets me up for a positive and Christ-centered day no matter how busy or stressful it may become. A few minutes of calm where I breathe deeply, relax my muscles, and invite God’s presence into my heart and my mind changes my disposition for the better. I’m reminded that I’m loved by God and that my life is in His hands. I choose to offer my heart back to Him. 

If the morning really doesn’t work for you, perhaps an afternoon break will work. I encourage people to set a daily alarm on their phone as a reminder. Many people also choose to have evening prayer, perhaps after dinner or before bed. The point is to be consistent and create a daily rhythm. 

Having a regular prayer space (it can be a corner, a wall, a room, a porch, or a balcony) is important as well. I need a regular, dedicated place where I can have icons, candles, and my prayer books. There are mornings I don’t feel like it, so the routine is important as it keeps me consistent. I tell myself that even 5 minutes will help. And once I’m settled into my prayer room, I always want more than 5 minutes. 

Research has shown that daily prayer and meditation improves mood, sleep, one’s sense of self-worth, memory, and emotional regulation. Prayer can help relieve the symptoms of many disorders including obsessive-compulsive thoughts and social anxiety. Prayer increases the production of serotonin in the brain, which is the neurotransmitter that improves mood and reduces stress levels. 

For more insights into the benefits of prayer on mental health see the following: https://psychcentral.com/blog/new-study-examines-the-effects-of-prayer-on-mental-health#1.

Pray the Psalms

I recommend praying one psalm every day. Just choose a psalm, read it out loud, slowly pausing after each line. Reflect on how the psalm might speak to your heart. If any particular line or stanza speaks to you, read that part again and offer it to God. Then sit in silence and see how the Holy Spirit is moving your heart. 

I love the psalms for mental health because the psalmist expresses a range of emotions from despair to joy. Most psalms are either psalms of Lamentation or psalms of Thanksgiving. You can choose the category you need for that day. We are invited to open our hearts and share with God our true feelings. It is essential for good mental health that we don’t repress our feelings and that we have opportunities to express what’s really going on inside. God wants that kind of intimacy with us. In return He leads us, like He did with the Israelites, out of fear, shame, and bondage to a new life of peace, joy, and healing. 

Ideally, I recommend praying the Liturgy of the Hours (or Divine Office) every day, especially morning and evening prayer. Along with prayers, antiphons and readings, the Hours include the psalms. 

For more information on the Liturgy of the Hours, go here: https://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgy-of-the-hours. 

Pray the Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer is simple. Breathe in and say, “Lord Jesus, Son of the Living God.” Then breathe out and say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” This simple prayer which comes from the Eastern Christian tradition connects body, mind, and heart. You can pray this prayer anytime throughout the day, even when driving, and feel your anxieties dissipate. 

For more information on the Jesus Prayer go here: https://catholic-link.org/podcast/60-seconds-what-the-jesus-prayer-means/

Pray the Litanies of the Heart

Attachment Theory is a research-based psychological approach that explores how we develop healthy secure attachments in childhood that lead to a positive sense of self-worth and healthier relationships as adults. Unfortunately, because of Original Sin, we all experience trauma and disconnection from God and others even from an early age. As a result, we often develop either an anxious or avoidant attachment style (or a combination of both types). 

I developed three litanies based on Attachment Theory to help us go from insecure attachment with God to greater intimacy, connection, and a sense of safety. There is the Litany of the Wounded Heart, the Litany of the Closed Heart, and the Litany of the Fearful Heart. Each prayer is directed to Jesus as we bring him our feelings of fear, shame, and hurt. 

You can order these prayers for free and listen to the audio recordings here: https://www.soulsandhearts.com/lit. You can also order printed copies (utility or laminated). 

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