, Gloucester, MA

July 19, 2013

'Faith factor' enhances well-being, cuts stress

Personal Matters
Susan Britt

---- — Finding happiness is often connected to being nurtured on many levels. If you are physically nourished, mentally challenged, emotionally healthy, and financially secure you may experience more happiness than others. Psychology research has shown that spiritual awareness or daily prayer or various forms of meditation frequently bring a sense of increased happiness and security, too.

An article in Prevention magazine titled “Pray for Peace” discusses how to enhance the “relaxation response” through the “faith factor,” and notes that Dr. Herbert Benson (whose work I have referenced in previous columns), author of the book “The Relaxation Response, “pioneered research into the effects of faith and prayer in reducing stress. The relaxation response — defined as “a physiological response characterized by decreased heart rate and blood pressure, and feelings of tranquility” — was a focus of his work.

To prompt the relaxation response in patients, Benson taught them to sit in a relaxed position and silently repeat phrases or words of their own choosing. Eighty percent of the subjects chose words related to their religious beliefs. According to Benson’s investigations, those who used religiously-oriented words were more successful at staying with their meditation program. They experienced better results regarding reduced stress and improved health. Benson termed the difference the “faith factor” and reports, “My study in this field has convinced me that, for whatever reason, faith does make a difference in enhancing the power of the mind over health and disease.”

In your day-to-day life, you may, as many people do, call on God, heaven, and, or your own sense of a “Higher Authority” to help you in times of stress or danger. “Oh, my God,” “Heaven help us!” or “God, no!” are expressions you may use in difficult or frightening situations. Although on some level these words may be almost automatic, around the world they still recognize the presumed existence of someone or something more powerful than we are. That connection to the Divine can, for some, provide hope, strength, and security.

Whether or not you attach a definite spiritual or religious quality to inner peace and calmness is, of course an individual choice. It does seem, however, that a deep sense of serenity can emanate from the belief in something larger and beyond ourselves. While calling on a higher authority or the power of nature in times of duress can often comfort and reassure, focusing some time each day on that same higher authority, or great spirit, or life force, seems to bring a more sustained peace of mind. The daily practice of prayer or meditation is one way to experience and develop a deeper and ongoing sense of internal peace because it builds a stronger baseline of calmness that can help you cope, not only with daily stresses, but also when positive or negative major events occur.

Herbert Benson has trained hundreds of individuals to prompt the relaxation response with simple whole body relaxation techniques. Try adding the “faith factor,”psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at or 978-546-9431.