God and worry

August 25th, 2011 in Life. Tags: , , ,

In what ways does belief in God change the way people think and respond to situations? Some recent university research studies are shedding some light on this question.

Thinking about God

University of Toronto Scarborough researchers measured brain patterns when people were thinking about God and found that their brains responded differently to when they were thinking about other things. A 2010 report on the study said that when believers think about God they feel less distressed. For example, they take setbacks in their stride and react with less distress to anxiety-provoking mistakes. Researcher Michael Inzlicht:

Thinking about religion makes you calm under fire. …. there is some evidence that religious people live longer and they tend to be happier and healthier.

It turns out that when atheists think about God they feel increased distress, perhaps because this contradicts the meaning systems they embrace. This perhaps explains the anger that some internet atheists show when discussing religion. “Maybe atheists would do better if they were primed to think about their own beliefs” Inzlicht said.


Researchers at Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital have found that those who believe in a benevolent God tend to worry less and be more tolerant of life’s uncertainties than those who believe in an indifferent or punishing God. One can perhaps assume that non-believers are midway between these two types of believers on the worry scale.

We found that the positive beliefs of trust in God were associated with less worry and that this relationship was partially mediated by lower levels of intolerance of uncertainty

The lead author, David H. Rosmarin recommends that psychiatrists take more account of patients’ religious beliefs.

So what?

None of this necessarily points to belief in God being true. But it does suggest some conclusions:

  • Religious belief, especially in a merciful God as in christianity, has some benefits in peace of mind and mental and emotional wellbeing. This may help explain why faith tends to have positive health and happiness benefits.
  • The findings are at least consistent with the thought that belief in God may be true – certainly we would wonder about belief in a God that had adverse health impacts!


  1. What an interesting study – thank you for sharing it. As a person who at various times has really struggled with worry/anxiety/generally active mental life – I have been fascinated by how different people deal with this issue – especially other Christians. Earlier this year I was asked to give a sermon to a group of women and could choose my bible passage and theme – I chose Philippians 4 and the theme of worry and anxiety. I discussed the fact that even people of faith can easily be consumed by the worries of life; and certainly the pressures of society to “have concern” about almost everything; the climate, the share market; taxation; health; beauty; social status (despite the fact we have more wealth and prosperity than majority of the world). It made me think that while we may have material wealth; it doesn’t make us any more sure or happy in ourselves; it doesn’t make us worry less, or want less… To me the assurance Paul gives in Philippians 4 is that if we entrust our doubts and worry to God – he in turn will take them upon himself (by his mercy) and give us his son Jesus as a shield against them. The peace we get as a result… is not because our lives are going smoothly or perfect but that we actively choose to reside in a different state of mental awareness and acceptance. Instead of worry and anxiety we actively attempt to dwell on thoughts that are of God, things that are “lovely, of good repute, just”. This is a major contrast to the new-age religious self-help “anxiety” battling advice – where many would have you “empty your mind of everything” to obtain inner-peace not fill it up with things that are positive and encouraging.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You have touched on a very important thought. The best way to combat anything negative (worry, anger, temptation, etc) is not to try to stop feeling those emotions (that just leads us to focus on them) but to think “in the opposite spirit””, about positive values that we want to replace the negative ones.

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