Study Finds Churchgoers Are Less Stressed, Happier In Life
Does faith have any impacts on one’s longevity and stress relief? A recent study suggests it does.
A study recently published by the Public Library of Science, “Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-Aged Adults,” found that churchgoers have a significantly lower risk of dying at the time of follow-up. The subjects of the study were tracked for 14 years, and were surveyed on church attendance, as well as their allostatic load, which is the exposure to elevated or repeated stress and its consequences.
The study found that non-churchgoers had higher Allostatic Load rates, as well as higher rates of blood pressure, “good” cholesterol called HDL cholesterol and a higher rate of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol ratio. In the study, 36 percent said they never attended church, while 64 percent said they attended church at least once a year. The frequency of attendance didn’t seem to matter, however. People who attended church regularly and those who attended once a year didn’t have a big difference in Allostatic Load.
The study found that churchgoers are healthier, had higher levels of education, lower levels of poverty and reduced rates of smoking and drinking.
Local pastors said they have found that faith can help lower stress in their own lives and in the lives of their parishioners. The Rev. Adam Rohler of First Covenant Church in Jamestown said a large amount of stress in life comes from an identity crisis of sorts.
“Some of our greatest stress comes from not knowing who we are,” he said. “Faithful people know they are created in the image of God and are part of a family of faith no matter what is happening in their life. This gives us a stability and community to weather all life’s storms.”
Rohler said stress can also come from not knowing where to turn to for hope, which those who have a faith have already answered that question. When in doubt, those who follow a certain belief system rely on it for the future.
“Faithful people know and trust in a God who has planned a good and beautiful future for all of us,” he said. “Therefore, we can work with but do not have to place our hope in the institutions of this world.”
The Rev. Corey Errett of Conduit Ministries said stress can be either on the surface or a deeper issue that can put a “squeeze” on one’s inner self for something to change, either to do less or do more. The can be a catalyst which moves a person toward faith which can be a good thing, Errett said.
“It invites us into a place of uncertainty because of what needs to be changed,” he said. “That uncertainty screams at us to do more or less. Our greatest human desire is certainty, (and) God’s greatest desire for us is uncertainty, because in uncertainty – it requires great faith (and informs us of) our need for him.”
Errett said stress or anxiety invites people into a place where they are forced to trust or lean on others or, ultimately, lean on God. He said this can be evidence of how people are knit together and made for each other.
“But, even in how we are made, we must be careful with how we attempt to fill the space of uncertainty and stress,” Errett said. “Ultimately, this invites us to see the bigger picture of our need for faith. Not faith in ourselves, not faith in others, but great faith in our King. When we trust him and put our faith in him, not only does he save us from others, but he saves us from ourselves. Then, on mission (to serve others), he fills ourselves with him, and therefore we can fill others.”
In that way, Errett said God becomes the source of stress relief and people become conduits of freedom for others.
The Rev. Luke Fodor of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said his personal faith can act as a place to change his perspective on stress at times.
“One of the things I cherish most about my faith tradition and my personal faith is the way it reframes life’s stressors – reminding me that I don’t need to be perfect for things to be good,” Fodor said. “Coming to church regularly provides us a place where we can be seen, where everybody knows our name and we are embraced for who we are: a beloved child of God.”
He said at church, there is a “friendly cohort” that works alongside each congregant to help them find wholeness and to cultivate their “best selves.” He said church also helps people find hope and reminds them that they are not alone.
“It expands our narrow, self-focused vision and casts a larger dream of what is possible when we work together,” Fodor said. “At St. Luke’s our goal is nothing short of transforming the world, which can seem like a stressful aim until you learn to rely on each other and the very ground of our being: God.”
The Rev. Mark Hinman of Hillcrest Baptist Church said regular church attendance can be helpful in a variety of ways. He said church can act as a weekly “reset button” and also can act as an invitation to let God enter in.
“Many in our culture have written-off the ‘Sabbath Rhythm’ that God hard-wired into us,” Hinman said. “Everybody needs a day each week to rest and recharge – that includes recharging your soul. While sleeping in on Sunday morning might help, getting up for worship will recalibrate your mind and recharges your soul.”
The important thing to remember about faith is that it can help with the burdens people carry, he said. Hinman said God can deal with what stresses us out when we invite him in.
“God promises peace to the brokenhearted and strength for the weary,” he said. “Things like exercise, yoga, medication and a day off can help deal with the symptoms of stress, but God deals with root causes. Because he made us, he knows where we are weak. He gets involved in our finances, work life, relationships and worries about the future. The Bible has incredibly practical things to help us deal with stress.”
Hinman said it is important to note that church is one of the few places where people can open themselves up to God speaking into their lives.
“People come to church stressed-out and they leave with the weights lifted and burdens lightened,” he said. “I see it every week.”