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Religious faith helps recovery from stress

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Faith-based, positive religious beliefs can protect psychological well-being during a stressful experience, like heart surgery, through enhanced hope and stronger perception of having social support, according to a study presented Thursday.

The study, presented during the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in New Orleans, also found that having negative religious thoughts and struggles may hinder recovery.

Although links to religious faith and health-related well-being and outcomes have been studied for years, recent research indicates the connection is more complex than once thought.

Amy Ai of the University of Washington and Crystal Park of the University of Connecticut analyzed the postoperative adjustment of 309 heart surgery patients treated at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

They found that perceived social support and hope contributed to less depression and anxiety for patients who used positive religious coping styles in their everyday lives.

"The contribution of social support to hope suggests that those who perceive more support at this critical moment may feel more hopeful about their recovery."

Ai and Park said positive religious coping included religious forgiveness, seeking spiritual support and fellowship with others who share the same beliefs, spiritual connection (prayer), religious purification and thoughts of benevolence.

Negative religious coping styles were associated with patients' inability to protect their psychological well-being against the distress of depression and anxiety that impede recovery after heart operations.

Examples of negative coping included spiritual discontent, thoughts of punishing God, insecurity, interpersonal religious discontent, religious doubt and discontented spiritual relations.

"These pathways appear to be key in understanding how religious coping styles may be helpful or harmful to a person's ability to handling stressful situations," Ai said. "This implies that health and mental health professionals need to be more attentive to faith factors as inspirational or motivational springboards" for patients in some contexts.