power-of-prayer-in-chronic-illness

The Power of Others

When dealing with a chronic illness, it is sometimes our deepest desire to enlist the help of others. We might be too afraid to ask on the surface, but unconsciously we desire connection to others, especially when we feel alone. Often people want to help us, but can’t or don’t know how best to do so. Sometimes the best thing they can do is pray or send positive thoughts our way.

Is the concept of “thoughts and prayers” actually helpful? Or is it something we say to each other, and accept on our behalf as low-effort?

I think it boils down to your perspective. If you are a glass-half-full person, then having someone pray or reflect on you is helpful. If you are a glass-half-empty person, then it might be a hollow offer.

How can others help you through your health crisis? If you are new to my blog, please review this month’s disclaimer before reading any further.

The Power of Prayer (or Positive Thoughts)

As a teenager, I remember sitting and listening to my religious leader “cite” a study on the effect of prayer for those in crisis. I use quotes not to disparage, but because the leader was extremely vague about the study, the details, and did not provide resources to find the study on our own.

Reflecting back, I believe they were referring to Dr. Randolph C. Byrd’s 1988 study, “Positive therapeutic effects of intercessory prayer in a coronary care unit population.” The study found that participants who received intercessory prayer fared better in their follow-up appointments than those in the control group, who received no prayer at all.

Unfortunately, subsequent studies found that Dr. Byrd’s 1988 study to be at best flawed, and at worse irresponsible. Relying on prayer, regardless of the religion, to heal a patient can prevent the patient from receiving the necessary medical intervention needed to help with the illness. Each study that comes out relating to prayer and health finds little correlation between prayer and improvement of health.

Here comes the “but…”

While prayer itself may not change the outcome of a medical diagnosis, there is something behind knowing that others are thinking about you. It may not improve your health, but do you feel comfort when you know others tell you they are thinking/praying about you?

Unfortunately, I ran into a bunch of dead-ends in my research for this post surrounding the benefits of having others think about you. Current trends are to not worrying about what others think, and focusing solely on self-care. Both of these are positive in its own right, but it doesn’t answer the question: what are the benefits knowing others are thinking about us?

What I am about to say is speculative and unscientific: I believe knowing others think about you, whether it’s via prayers or positive thoughts, provides comfort. It allows those of us with a chronic illness to know we aren’t alone. Others may not know our experience, we may be alone (mentally) in our disease, but when others care for us to spend a few moments out of their day to reflect on our journey, it means a lot.

Going Beyond “Thoughts and Prayers”

If you are reading this as a friend or family member of someone with a chronic illness, there are some things you can do to stretch out your “thoughts and prayers” for them.

Use the time you reflect on them and find ways you can help. Sometimes, when we say we’re thinking about someone, it’s the most we can do. That’s fine, but consider doing something in their honor.

What You Can Do to Help

  1. If the person is dealing with a massive health crisis, consider getting yourself screened. For example, if they have cancer, try to get tested for that particular form of cancer. Or, get yourself screened as a potential donor for them or in general.
  2. Learn all you can about their health crisis and be better prepared for how to engage with the patient. In your research, find out what other patients say about the “dos and don’ts” in conversations.
  3. Donate money in the person’s honor towards research for their illness.
  4. Share across social media the latest information and research on the illness, but make sure to get their consent before tagging them.
  5. If you can physically help the person, take them to appointments or for a social outing of their choosing.

There are many other ways you can help someone with a chronic illness to extend the efficacy of thinking about them. You just have to find what works best for you and them.

Powerlessness and Control

Often, those in our lives feel powerless when we get a chronic illness diagnosis. They stand beside us, hold our hand, and do everything to help us manage our illness and still feel like they can do more.

Prayer or reflecting on us is an additional way to feel like they are helping. It’s calling on a higher power or the universe to intercede on our behalf. While the answer may never come, or be positive, it’s yet another way for our friends and family to feel in control in an out of control situation.

Sometimes saying “I will pray/keep you in my thoughts,” is enough to empower the person to go beyond the statement and spring into action.

When faced with powerlessness, the smallest action can help someone regain a sense of control. Next time someone says, “I am thinking about you,” think not of it as a common thing we say when there’s nothing to say, but rather a way of providing comfort at the moment.


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Featured photo credit: Canva

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Belief, Positivity, and Chronic Illness

“Embrace the power of positive thinking!” We hear that all the time when we endure a health crisis, a rut, or embark on a wellness journey. We are told if we want to change our mindset or become healthier, we need to shift our thinking to be positive. It’s something I frequently promote on the blog. But that isn’t possible with a chronic illness. Sometimes we need a little extra help.

Can positive thinking help you manage your illness? What if you are feeling particularly low on positivity?

This is where a higher power or greater cause can step in to help. Belief comes from the same place in our brains, whether it’s religious or not. Having strong beliefs, no matter the source, helps us create a sense of community and support when we find others who are similar. Prayer or meditative practices can help quell darker emotions that arise in illness.

Depending on your perspective and your practices, it’s effortless to slip in positive thinking. You just have to use what you already know to work with you, rather than against you.

Positivity, Meditation, and Prayer

Nature works against us when we want to sit down and focus on the positive. Geared towards survival, we get caught in the negativity to help keep us safe. Yet, negative thinking causes so much mental and physical harm. We no longer need it to survive, yet it still follows us around.

Belief can help us ward off negative thoughts. If you have a higher power, you can engage in your practices to find comfort in the routine and tradition. If you don’t have a higher power, you can participate in relaxation/self-care exercises to help set your mind at ease.

Regardless of your background, when you want to start engaging in positive thinking, there are tools available to you. If you are religious, look into your texts, and any devotionals explicitly created for comfort. If you aren’t religious, there are a lot of secular and science-based books available to get you started.

Seek out someone more knowledgeable too: a leader in your community, life coach, or counselor. They can give you text, tools, and mantras equivalent to meditation or prayer.

Prayer, or self-reflection, help bring comfort to the practitioners. It can take the edge off of emotions, help you collect your thoughts, and self-soothe. Most importantly, it can give us a break we need to refocus our thoughts to be objective. While coping with a chronic illness, we sometimes sink into darkness and crisis. Prayer/meditation grants our brains the break we need to help see beyond the darkness.

If you have a higher power, you might hear them speak to you with words of comfort. If you don’t, you might gain a similar moment of peace while meditating. These practices serve as a wonderful means to distract us from our despair.

Is it Helpful?

Finding a sense of direction within your personal philosophy should always be helpful. Your belief system (of any kind) needs to bring you comfort, not additional stress. If you find that you aren’t getting the support you need, figure out what’s going on. You may need to re-examine your beliefs to see why it’s not fulfilling your needs.

When you are in a time of personal crisis, such as a diagnosis or exacerbation, you want something to draw your strength upon.

I found as I grew older that the philosophy I used as a child no longer worked or brought me comfort. It only brought anger and resentment. I needed to look elsewhere to draw support as I dealt with my MS and settled on one that I dabbled in since I was a teenager. It took me a long time to feel okay with this switch, but it was more important to care for my mental health than anything else.

If your philosophy works for you and brings you comfort, continue to find ways to keep it working for you. If not, then speak with someone objective: they might be able to healthfully redirect you to materials to help you reaffirm your beliefs. Examination and reflection is essential no matter your faith, or non-belief.

Keep trudging forward as you deal with your illness and continue to draw sources of strength close to you as a means of help.


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Featured photo credit: Canva


Parenting with Compassion: Remembering the Caretaker

This is the second week in a 3-week series on parenting observations. Week one is based on gentle parenting, week two is about parenting with compassion, and week three is about parenting with a disability.

These posts are based on my personal experiences as a parent and are not meant in any way to judge other parenting styles or decisions. I am offering my personal research and conclusions as possible suggestions for others out there, therefore these posts will be as objective as possible. When it comes to parenting: provided the method isn’t abusive, there really isn’t a wrong way to parent your child. Be secure and do what works best for you and your family and ignore outside judgment.


This week isn’t based on any parenting style, it’s about remembering the importance of incorporating compassion in day-to-day parenting. It’s easy to forget being kind to ourselves when having a particularly rough day, but by keeping it in the back of our minds each day we can combat any unwarranted judgments we make.

Incorporating compassion into the daily routine won’t alleviate all the stress from parenting, but it will help make the more stressful moments easier to handle and remind ourselves of our humanity. We are imperfect beings and tend to be the hardest on ourselves when we feel that we aren’t living up to our expectations. Yet, it is important to remember that the person most deserving of compassion is yourself.

Nota bene: This post will be using the universal “you/second person” pronouns throughout, so while it may not speak to your experience directly, it may apply to someone else you know.

Embracing our Flaws

Humans aren’t perfect.

I feel like that is worthy of a “well, duh” response. But perfectionists need constant reminders that they aren’t perfect. Perfectionists try so hard to get everything right, everything in place, everything “just so” that they forget they are attempting to achieve the impossible: humans cannot be perfect and anyone who attempts to do so will be doomed to fall short of expectations.

Again, all of this is pretty obvious.

That desire for perfection can transfer over to parenting. For myself, I want to make sure I do everything just right for Jai so he is well-rounded, well-adjusted, and a happy human being. But the thing is, in my desire to be perfect, I am setting him up to fail.

The best thing I could for Jai is show him my failings as a person and as a parent. It humanizes me to him, but more importantly, it provides a healthy example of an adult making mistakes, owning up to them, and handling them in a mature way.

How I handle my imperfections is important. When I mess up, I need to show him that it’s okay and to apologize either to him or in front of him. Sit down and explain that I have flaws and how we handle those flaws are important. I want him to see how I grow from my mistakes so he knows that mistakes aren’t a bad thing, but a chance to become a better person.

That’s all easy to say in theory, but in practice, it’s one of the hardest things a parent can do. There’s always that fear of undermining ourselves in front of our children. I am not sure if that will entirely be the case. I suspect it will allow them to have a deeper respect, and therefore more likely to listen to us, than cause them to misbehave and not listen.

When we do something that we don’t like, when we have that moment of imperfection, it is important to be mindful of what it is about that moment that upsets and frustrates us. Understand that we are doing the best we can in the given circumstances and figure out what would be better tools to use in the future.

By embracing flaws and acknowledging them as part of our humanity, we can free ourselves from our personal judgment. There will be moments when the judgment comes through and we may be frustrated with ourselves, but by being mindful in those moments can help refocus us on what we are capable of doing for our children.

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Make a “Day of Service” a Year-Round Event

In the United States, today is a day of service meant to honor the life and message of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many people have the day off, so it’s easy to coordinate events for people to volunteer and do good within their community. There are plenty of opportunities to go out and do something specifically for the day. These tend to be small time commitments meant to make the most of the volunteers’ work.

Yet, it is only one day out of the year set aside for helping others. Consider expanding commitments to be a year-round thing if capable, double/triple/quadruple the good throughout the year. It doesn’t need to be every week or every month; if committing once every other month is possible, it still goes a long way to help others.

Making the commitment to do something more has its place, specifically for your health. I’ve already mentioned that there’s a lot of positive health benefits for a person who is generous with their time for others. And being generous to themselves. It also sets a great example for your children to do more within their community when they get older.

Below are some ideas for honoring Dr. King’s legacy throughout the year.

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