The fourth chapter of the book of Philippians instructs the faithful, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God."
But for those who are anxious about everything, prayer can sometimes help and sometimes hurt. Past research on the mental-health benefits of praying have been mixed. Some studies have found that people who pray more are more satisfied and happy, others found no relationship to well-being, and still others found a negative correlation.
A new study published in Sociology of Religion suggests that prayer can help ease people's anxiety, but whether it does so depends on the personality of the God they believe in. That is, whether someone has a relationship with what they perceive to be an angry, vengeful God or more of a friendly figure could determine whether prayer brings relief—or simply more stress.
"For many individuals, God is a major source of comfort and strength that makes the world seem less threatening and dangerous," Matt Bradshaw, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University's College of Arts and Sciences, said in a release. "But other people form avoidant or insecure attachments to God—meaning that they do not necessarily believe God will be there when they need Him. For them, prayer may feel like an unsuccessful attempt to cultivate and maintain an intimate relationship with God."