The psychological benefits of prayer: What science says about the mind-soul connection

Prayer has been hard to study, but the research we do have shows that prayer can reduce feelings of isolation, anxiety and fear.

(CNN)Carol Kochon prayed during her husband's 42-day hospitalization for Covid-19.

Susceptible to lung infections, Rob Kochon had been feeling sick and developing shortness of breath for about four days when he was was admitted to a Florida hospital on Tuesday, March 17. He was diagnosed with double pneumonia.
The next day, a coronavirus test came back positive. On Friday, Rob was relocated downtown to AdventHealth Orlando so he could be intubated. On March 29, he flatlined three times after mucus blocked his lungs.
    During Rob's stay, Carol felt alone, sad, concerned and feared the unknown. As a faithful Christian for more than 40 years, she turned to praying to God and meditating upon Bible scriptures.
      "I think that it probably encouraged me," Carol said. "It calmed me at moments. ... I think it centered me back again and reminded me that I was not in charge."
      Carol prayed alone and with family, mostly on her knees in deference or while walking. The goal wasn't to change God's mind, Carol said. "God was in control of this before it happened."
      The purpose was to surrender her own desires and align herself with God to hear whatever he had to say. "I know it's a two-way conversation," she said. "I really felt the peace of God telling me that I wasn't even supposed to worry about that. So I did not worry. I'm usually a planner, but I knew that God had a plan."
        AdventHealth, a faith-based hospital system, facilitated virtual visits between Rob and Carol, through which Carol and family could pray over and encourage Rob. Rob was in and out of consciousness, but he remembered some of these moments, he said.
        Carol and Rob credited prayer as one of the factors that led to his recovery. Rob is back home now, recuperating.
        The Kochons aren't the only people who have prayed over pandemic-related outcomes. In March, the Pew Research Center reported that in a survey, 55% of US adults said they had prayed for an end to the spread of coronavirus.
        Large majorities of Americans generally and US Christians specifically who pray daily have turned to prayer during the outbreak. But so did some who seldom or never pray, and people who didn't belong to any religion have started praying.
        "People often turn to prayer in situations where they experience intense negative feelings, such as anger, grief or fear," said Brad Bushman, a professor of communication at The Ohio State University. "All of these things are common during a pandemic. People also pray when they feel like something is out of their control, and they need help from a 'higher power.'"
        Despite how many Americans pray and how often, scientific research on the health benefits is limited. But based on what science has shown, prayer might help reduce stress, loneliness and fear.

        Prayer is hard to study

        Studying prayer has been challenging for several reasons, said Kevin Masters, a professor of clinical health psychology at the University of Colorado, Denver.
        "Many scientists are very skeptical about anything religious," he said. There are also issues to overcome during a study, he said: What is prayer? Can researchers rely on self-reports? Will all participants mean the same thing by "prayer," or will some think thoughts while others formally pray? If scientists study prayer in a laboratory, how do they conduct the study?