Stress and De-Stress: Perspectives on Mind, Body and Spirit

May 7th, 2014 | Category: Church Work Professional, Faith/Learning
By Sudi Kate Gliebe

Editor’s Note: Teaching is a stressful occupation and calling. Period. And much of the work is done alone. We do a solo act on stage for the entire school day and then some with extra duties. Afterward comes the solitary work of planning grading and setting up classroom activities, labs, tech presentations and the like. The good days are counted as blessing, the not so good ones are sometimes cause for dwelling on what went wrong, a particular student, a parent or “those people” – whoever they are – who make things more difficult than they need to be. So it may seem, anyway.

Not only are there physical and emotional consequences of all of this, stress can get at one’s spirit and sense of worth in ways that can diminish one’s sense of God’s Call to teach. While the debilitating physical effects of chronic stress may very well call for medical attention, physical and emotional wellness are strengthened and supported by spiritual wholeness and are recognized as being effective in addressing it as well.

Regular Journal contributor, Sudi Kate Gliebe offers thoroughly documented psychological and scripturally-based spiritual insights. LEJ

Abstract

This article will explore the effects of three constructs on stress. The first two, positive reappraisal and rumination are cognitive emotion regulation strategies; the third is optimism. A secular explanation of each construct as it relates to stress will be presented. This article will then submit a biblical perspective on stress and the three constructs. The article will conclude by proposing biblical meditation as a viable solution to the experience of stress.

Psychologist Richard Lazarus known for his cognitive-mediational theory within emotion, was one of the first researchers to explore the relationship between cognition and emotion. He defines psychological stress as the relationship between the person and the environment that is appraised by the person as taxing and endangering quality of life (Lazarus & Folkman 1984). Lazarus argues that defining stress objectively by depending only on environmental conditions is not desirable. He believes that the person-environment relationship that brings stress about is subjective (Lazarus & Lazarus 1994). Thus, Lazarus (1994) emphasizes the need to study stress in terms of the relationship between the environment and the way individuals appraise it. He declares that for years, stress has been studied without any consideration to emotion. He considers this separation an absurdity given that stress produces distressing emotions like anger, envy, jealousy, anxiety, guilt and shame (Lazarus 1999). Additionally, research highlights the practical importance that emotions play in physical health and social functioning (Lazarus 1999). In fact, a growing body of research now focuses on stress and its relationship to emotional health (Marc A. Brackett et al., 2010, Naring, Briet, & Brouwers, 2006).

The study of stress is futile without addressing how stress can be diminished and/or handled, hence the close link found in the literature between stress and coping. Coping has been defined as the cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external/internal demands that are appraised as taxing (Monat, Lazarus, & Reevy, 2007). Especially noteworthy is that not all coping strategies are helpful. Some may indeed exacerbate the problem.

To further explain the impact that cognitive processes have on stress, which is the aim of this article, Roseman explains that it is the interpretation of events rather than the events themselves which determine which emotions are felt (George S. Everly & Lating, 2007). Therefore, the individual’s interpretation of the event determines the stress response (Everly & Lating, 2007). Having established the inseparable relationship between the environment, the individual, stress and emotion, the following cognitive coping strategies (emotion regulation and optimism) will be explored.

Emotion Regulation, A Cognitive View of Emotion

Lazarus defines emotion as a complex process that involves appraisal, subjective experience, physiological change, emotional expression and action tendencies (Lazarus, 2001). As an ardent proponent of the cognitive view of emotion, Lazarus (1991) believes that “cognition is both a necessary and sufficient condition of emotion” (p. 353). He explains that thoughts are not only capable of producing emotion, but that emotions cannot occur without some kind of thought (Lazarus & Lazarus, 1994). Lazarus asserts that cognition plays a key role in emotion; cognitive appraisals are evaluations that “depend on motivation and yield personal meaning” (Lazarus, 1999, p. 9). Appraisal (evaluative judgment), he declares, “is the main process of reasoning on which emotions depend, the heart of the emotion process” (Lazarus & Lazarus, 1994, p.143).

Solomon (2007) joins Lazarus, “Emotions are not irrational, people are irrational” (p. 14). He goes on to explain that emotion control “is the willingness to become self-aware, to search out, and challenge the normative judgments embedded in every emotional response” (Solomon, 2007, p. 17). Lazarus and Solomon are not the only ones that believe in a cognitive view of emotion. In fact there is a growing interest among neuroscientists to study the pivotal role that cognition plays in emotion (Phelps et al., 2001, Whalen et al., 2004, Wheeler & Fiske 2005).

Even though the cognitive view of emotion will be assumed on the following explanation of emotion regulation, there are psychologists and neuroscientists that hold an opposing view. They see emotions as non-cognitive, irrational and primitive (Solomon, 2007). Zajonc and other reductionists explain the psychological through the physiological; emotions are reduced to physiology and automatic processes (Zajonc 1984). Contrary to what Lazarus postulates, LeDoux (1989) believes that “affective computations can be performed without the assistance of cognitive computations” (p. 279). This functional separation between cognition and emotion goes back to the Greeks and later to the Middle Ages. “Passion was regarded as animal-like, and people were enjoined to control their animal natures by reason” (Lazarus, 1991, p. 357). The tendency to separate cognition and emotion is long-lasting.

Definition of Emotion Regulation

According to Larsen and Prizmic (2004), emotion regulation influences how emotions are expressed, as well as their intensity and duration. Considered a crucial contributor to mental health, emotion regulation is the ability to monitor, evaluate, modify and influence the experience and expression of emotion (McRae, 2009). In terms of processing negative affect, emotion regulation is considered a helpful endeavor (Kross, Ayduk & Mischel 2005). Shaver and Mikulincer (2007) add that when the “experience, enactment, and expression of an emotion” are undesirable, regulatory strategies are employed to “alter, obstruct, or suppress” the emotion, bringing about a more desirable emotional state (p. 449). More specifically, cognitive emotion regulation (CER) has been defined by Garnefski & Kraaij (2007) as the “conscious, cognitive way of handling the intake of emotionally arousing information” (p. 141). CER is “the mental way of managing distressing problems and emotions” (Garnefski & Kraaij, 2009, p. 168).

Cognitive Emotion Regulation Strategies

There are a variety of cognitive coping strategies. Some help ameliorate negative affect and some intensify it; some work positively for a short time, while others yield enduring benefits. Garnefski and Kraaij (2007) identify the following cognitive emotion regulating strategies: Self-blame, Other-blame, Acceptance, Catastrophizing, Rumination, Putting into Perspective, Positive Refocusing, Planning and Positive Reappraisal. Attention will be given to the two most prominent cognitive coping strategies found in the literature: Rumination (negative coping strategy) and Positive Reappraisal (positive coping strategy).

Rumination

Rumination consists of “repetitive thinking about one’s feelings and thoughts, including dwelling on the negative aspects” (Schroevers, Kraaij, & Garnefski, 2008, p. 553). These repetitive thoughts revolve around a common theme where immediate environmental demands are absent (Ray, Wilhelm, & Gross, 2008). Research shows that Rumination increases negative affect in general and anxiety, depression, anger, stress and cortisol (stress hormone) levels specifically (Denson et al., 2009, Rimes & Watkins 2005, Kross, Ayduk, & Mischel, 2005, Thomsen, 2006).

Positive Reappraisal

Positive reappraisal is the gold standard of cognitive emotion regulation. It consists of “construing a potentially emotional situation in a way that enhances positive or diminishes negative affect” (Loewenstein, 2007, p. 182). It is the cognitive effort to discover the “silver lining to the calamity” by attributing to it a new meaning (Loewenstein, 2007, p. 182). Garnefski and Kraaij (2007) define it as thoughts that give a positive meaning to an event “in terms of personal growth” (p. 142). Gross argues that since Reappraisal takes place earlier in the emotion-eliciting situation and since it does not require constant self-regulation, it is the least costly strategy in terms of cognitive, physiological and social long-term ramifications (Ochsner & Gross 2005). When facing an emotional experience, Reappraisal decreases amygdala activation by re-thinking, reframing, reinterpreting and/or cognitively transforming one’s appraisal of meaning (Honig 2010, Thiruchselvan et al., 2001). Reappraisal has been found to alleviate the negative effects of grief, burnout, anxiety, stress, depression, trauma and anger (Eftekhari, Zoeller, & Vigil, 2007, Garnefski & Kraaij 2007, Ray, Wilhelm, & Gross, 2008). Lastly, once the work of reappraising is done, it yields abiding benefits, particularly when it comes to dealing with personal situations that recur (McRae et al., 2009). Now attention will be given to the third construct: optimism.

Optimism

Carver and Scheier (2002) define optimists as people who expect good things to happen to them. Dispositional optimism refers to hopeful expectations or general expectations that are positive (Scheier & Carver, 1993). According to Carver and Scheier (2002) optimists are confident and persistent in the face of challenges, while pessimists tend to be doubtful and hesitant. Optimists and pessimists differ considerably on how they approach and cope with adversity (Scheier & Carver, 1992). Seligman (1984) emphasizes the attributions that people make about the adversity in their lives. Because optimism rests on how people routinely explain setbacks and tragedies, Seligman (2006) believes that optimism can be learned. He explains that “learned optimism works not through an unjustifiable positivity about the world but through the power of ‘non-negative’ thinking” (Seligman, 2006 p. 221).

The Benefits of Optimism

There is a growing body of research that shows the benefits of optimism. Optimistic people are happier; they report higher levels of life satisfaction and psychological well-being (Lyubomirsky, 2008, Yalcm 2011). Optimism has proven to be good medicine as well (Bolt, 2004). Among the physical health advantages that optimists enjoy, researchers have found reduced pain sensitivity, cardiovascular mortality prevention, reduced risk of coronary heart disease and stroke, faster rates of physical recovery after surgery and reduced risk of frailty for the aging (Seligman 2008, Andrew L. Geers et al., 2008, Giltay et al., 2004).

In the realm of academics, researchers are finding that decision making is enhanced by optimism in that positive affect “can markedly influence thought processes” (Isen 2000, p. 417). This might be one of the reasons why optimism is such an important ingredient in academic achievement (Seligman 2009). Optimistic students experience less stress, burnout and suicide ideation (Krypel & Henderson-King 2010, Hirsch, Conner & Duberstein 2007). Resilience, human flourishing and creative problem solving are three examples of positive psychological outcomes set forth by optimism (Brunwasser, Gillham & Kim 2009, Fredrickson & Losada 2005, Isen, Daubman & Nowicki 1987).

Learning Optimism

Having mentioned a plethora of benefits that optimism offers, none is more relevant to this article than the fact that optimism is a protective balm against stress (Grote et al., 2007, Solberg Nes & Segerstrom, 2006, Baldwin, Chambliss, & Towler, 2003). Additionally, Seligman believes that learning optimism is possible by changing individuals’ explanatory style. According to Weiner’s attribution theory, human behavior is controlled by the explanations people make for why things happen (Seligman 2006). When attributions (explanations) about situations are stable (“It’s going to last forever”), global (“It’s going to undermine everything”) and personal (“It’s all my fault”), they lead to pessimism (Peterson & Steen 2002 p. 247).

The solution, Seligman (2006) proposes, is to learn to dispute pessimistic thoughts. Once people learn to identify the event that causes distress (adversity), their explanations about that event (beliefs) and the results of those explanations (consequences), they can proceed to dispute distorted beliefs with explanations that are temporary, specific and external, as opposed to stable, global and personal (Seligman 2006). Seligman and others have discovered that it is indeed possible to replace negative attributions, learn optimism and reap all its benefits (Barber et al., 2005, Fresco et al., 2009, Boyer 2006).

A Biblical Framework

The review of the literature previously presented is largely secular. It indicates that non-Christians are capable of learning cognitive emotion regulation strategies and optimism, which alleviate stress. However, Christians have spiritual resources available to them that the world does not have. Believers can take advantage of these resources as they apply cognitive coping strategies to stressful situations. The theological foundation of stress, cognitive emotion regulation and optimism will be discussed by exploring several biblical passages that relate to stress and cognitive coping. Finally, an example of cognitive emotion regulation in the life of King David will be presented.

The passage, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18 NIV), provides a panoramic view of how this article plays out in the lives of believers. Calvin explains that “all miseries of this world” (stress) will be “easy to endure” when believers carry “forward their thoughts” (cognitive coping) to eternity (optimism) (Calvin 1849, p. 214). The carrying forward of thoughts is what positive reappraisal means. Positive cognitive strategies consist of raising the mind “heavenward” (Calvin 1849, p. 214). Dwelling on that which is visible, engulfs believers with higher levels of stress (Hughes 2006). In contrast, by positively reappraising stressful circumstances, believers think about “the burden of the present suffering” as “incomparable” to the “immeasurable amount of glory in store” for them (Shillington 1998, p 107).

Optimism in the midst of difficulty is achieved by a new way of thinking about stress. Paul teaches that “the suffering and adversity of the evil age” are temporary (Hafemann 2000, p. 191). They will not last forever. Therefore, strugglers no longer focus (cognitive attention) on the temporary, but give attention to the future glory that awaits them (Hafemann 2000). Calvin asserts that present stressors are “temporal” and do not offer anything “to rest upon” (Calvin 1849, p. 214). It is the future life and the eternal promises of God that offer the soul comfort, confidence and good reason to be optimistic (Calvin 1849).

Biblical Perspective of Stress

Paul encouraged the church of Philippi with these words:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:6-7 NIV).

Paul, who was himself in dire circumstances when he wrote these words, exhorts the Philippians not to be anxious. He reminds them that believers are called to live “without care” (Fee 1995, p. 408). Having established in the previous verse, “the Lord is near” (Phil 4:5b), Paul invites his followers to live without anxiety, because their heavenly Father knows and cares for them (Fee 1995, p. 408). Fee emphasizes that “apprehension and fear mark the life of the unbelieving, the untrusting, for whom the present is all there is” (Fee 1995, p. 408).

Paul’s next exhortation is prayer. Calvin explains, “our consolation, our relief, is to deposit, or to unload into the bosom of God everything that harasses us” (Calvin 1965, p. 289). Through prayer, which is a “sacred refuge,” believers can attain “tranquility of mind” in the midst of stressful circumstances (Calvin 1965, p. 289).

The reward of trusting and seeking God brings forth a “sublime result” (Hughes 2007, p. 169). This reward is the peace of God which is the antithesis of stress and agitation (Hughes 2007, p. 290). Perfect peace is promised to those committed to cultivating a steadfast mind as illustrated in Isaiah 26:3 (NIV), “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” The New Living Translation states, “whose thoughts are fixed on you” and the English Standard Version says, “whose mind is stayed on you.” Calvin eloquently explains,

They who have fixed their minds on God alone will at length be happy; for in no other way does God promise that he will be the guardian of his people than when they rely on his grace with settled thoughts, and without change or wavering (Calvin 1948, p. 213).

Biblical Perspective of Cognitive Emotion Regulation

Romans 12:1-2 (NIV) says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” “The mind must be given to God,” says MacArthur (1994); it must not be “unstable” or “fashioned after the present evil age” (p. 149). On the contrary, it must be transformed (Greek-metamorphousthe), completely changed and renewed (Greek-anakainosei), which refers to a new way of thinking and a new perspective (Barton, Veerman & Wilson 1992, Sproul 2011). Willard declares, “The ultimate freedom we have as human beings is the power to select what we will allow or require our minds to dwell upon. Though ‘dead in trespasses and sins,’ we still have the ability and responsibility to try to retain God in our knowledge” (Willard 2002, p. 95).

He argues that “feelings that must dominate the transformed life are love, joy, and peace which are not only feelings, but choices and conditions of the heart” (Willard 2002, p. 128). Ruminating is not the by-product of a renewed mind. Positive reappraisal is. It imposes God’s meaning and purpose on stressful situations. Cognitive regulation rests on the choices and conditions that Willard speaks about; it requires discipline. It demands that believers reappraise adversity with hopeful thoughts and God-given promises. “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Ps. 43:5 NIV).

Biblical Perspective of Optimism

In the book of Philippians, Paul states,

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil. 4:7-8 NIV).

Newberry (2007) declares that no area of life is untouched by the thought life; habitual thinking patterns either encourage believers toward excellence or nudge them into weakness. Similarly, Calvin (1965) declares, “Meditation comes first, and then the deed follows” (p. 291). For this reason, Hughes (2007) argues that “it is imperative” that believers invite Christ to take over their minds (p. 174). Paul exhorts the Philippians to “embrace exalted thought patterns and practices that would enhance God’s presence and peace” (Hughes 2007, p. 174).

As stated earlier, explaining adversity in positive ways is the essential component to learning optimism. Destructive thoughts must be disputed and replaced. Paul admonishes his hearers to “reject irrational thinking” and to dwell upon the truth instead (Hughes 2007, p. 175). These truthful thoughts are noble and heavenly, not mundane or earthly (MacArthur 2001). Thinking accurately means to meditate on “doing the right thing” (Hughes 2007, p. 175). By focusing on “whatever is pure,” believers avoid what is “tainted by evil” (Hughes 2007, p. 175) and can instead dwell upon things that are lovely, “sweet, gracious, generous and patient” (MacArthur 2001, p. 290). Paul encourages the Philippians to think about all things admirable and to fix their attention “on the loftiest themes” (MacArthur 2001, p. 290). Lastly, musings must be excellent, praiseworthy and “in keeping with God’s own righteousness” (Fee 1995, p. 419). By disputing false thoughts and replacing them with Paul’s prescription for thinking, a “happy heart” will enjoy a “continual feast” (Prov. 15:15 NIV).

Cognitive Coping in the Life of King David

King David, portrayed in Scripture as a man after God’s own heart, was not exempt from stress in his life (1 Sam. 13:14). In fact, his life was replete with stressful events such as the battle against Goliath, the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17), Saul’s relentless pursuit and attempts to kill David (1 Sam. 19), bloody battles with ruthless enemies like the Amalekites and the Ammonites (1 Sam. 30, 2 Sam. 10) and David’s own sin with Bathsheba and all its consequences (2 Sam. 11-12). Additionally, David experienced the stress inherent in his role as king (1 Sam. 16), and a tumultuous relationship with Absalom, his son, who died a violent death (2 Sam. 15,18). David, therefore, is well qualified to serve as a model for cognitive coping. Indeed, the Psalms provide a tapestry of God-honoring coping strategies.

Psalm 13 (NIV) states,

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and day after day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Look on me and answer, LORD my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have overcome him,’ and my foes will rejoice when I fall. But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation. I will sing the LORD’s praise, for he has been good to me.

Psalm 13 is an “ultimate” and “extreme” cry for help, characteristic of someone who is enduring “unbearable afflictions; David cries out to the Lord with questions and complaints” (Kraus 1993, p. 214-215). In the midst of stress, Calvin (1949) explains, David resorts to doing what is typical of men in adversity. He searches for answers as he finds himself “destitute of all resources, giving way to discontent” (Calvin 1949, p. 183). He ruminates over “a multitude of thoughts” that “torment him greatly” (Calvin 1949, p. 183). He catastrophizes by losing “hope for divine intervention” (Wilson 2002, p. 279). These strategies leave him “violently agitated within” as he initially fails to seek “relief” by pursuing a “composed and tranquil mind” (Calvin 1949, p. 183). This leads him to explain his situation in permanent, pervasive and personal terms, filled with “decline, defeat, and death” (Wilson 2002, p. 279). David assumes God no longer “beholds” his needs, and feels utterly forsaken (Calvin 1949, p. 184).

The darkness begins to dissipate when David says, “Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death” (v. 3b). He realizes there needs to be a reappraisal, a different way of looking at foreboding circumstances. He also acknowledges that God is the only one who can help him. David begins to dispute previous “haunting thoughts” and forces himself to see the silver lining in his situation (Lawson 2003, p. 72). With “unwavering confidence,” he declares the truth (Lawson 2003, p. 72). God’s unfailing “covenant” love; his “enduring allegiance” to his children can be trusted (Wilson 2002, p. 279). His grace and eternal salvation guarantee future deliverance (Calvin 1949). David can exult in God’s goodness. His heart is filled with joy. And before he receives deliverance, being certain that he will, he “hastens with promptitude of soul to sing of God’s benefits” (Calvin 1949, p. 187).

Meditation

Meditation eases the soul from stress. It is a balm to the “multitude of employments” that load souls with “labors” and “clog” them with cares (Baxter, n.d., p. 163). What is meditation? What benefits does it yield? How is it done? James (1920) offers this admonition:

We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid in strokes of daily effort. By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities (p. 54).

Paul exhorts Timothy with these words:

Train yourself toward godliness (piety), [keeping yourself spiritually fit]. For physical training is of some value (useful for a little), but godliness (spiritual training) is useful and of value in everything and in every way, for it holds promise for the present life and also for the life which is to come (1 Tim 4:7b-8 Amplified Bible).

The book of Acts presents an example to follow in the Bereans, who were portrayed as men of noble character. The depth of their faith made them noteworthy. Their virtues were attributed to their commitment to discipline their minds and meditate on the word of God.

Now these [Jews] were better disposed and more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they were entirely ready and accepted and welcomed the message concerning the attainment through Christ of eternal salvation in the kingdom of God with inclination of mind and eagerness, searching and examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so (Acts 17: 11 Amplified Bible).

Unfortunately the word meditation evokes thoughts of new age and eastern religion contemplation, which are characterized by emptying the mind through mental passivity (Whitney, n.d.). Biblical meditation is anchored in the Word of God and stands apart from eastern mindlessness. Indeed, biblical meditation involves disciplining the mind and filling it with Scriptures. Biblical meditation is never passive; it is closely related to Bible reading, prayer and other spiritual disciplines (Whitney, n.d.). Although largely neglected by contemporary believers, Christians from previous generations considered meditation essential to spiritual growth, imperative to withstand pressures and tribulations.

What is meditation?

Meditation involves thinking, feeling/valuing and doing. First, meditation is a cognitive discipline; it requires focused attention and concentration. Watson defines it as “a holy exercise of the mind whereby we bring the truths of God to remembrance, and so seriously ponder upon them and apply them to ourselves” (Beeke, 2004, p. 74). Meditation produces a heavenly mind while living on earth (Baxter, n.d.). Second, meditation is affective; it involves the heart. Calamy explains that a believer must “meditate of Christ as to get his heart inflamed with the love of Christ” (Beeke, 2004, p. 74-75). Baxter asserts that a firm belief in the promises of God, and the sure hope of future glory will excite love and longing (Baxter, n.d.). Meditation actuates every affection (love, desire, hope, courage and joy) (Baxter, n.d.).

Third, meditation is behavioral; it requires disciplined action. Calamy asserts that deliberate meditation takes place “when a man sets apart…some time, and goes into a private Closet, or a private Walk, and there doth solemnly and deliberately meditate of the things of Heaven” (Beeke, 2004, p. 77). Baxter (n.d.) adds, meditation is a “steep ascent” heavenward, which demands “labor and resolution” (p. 167). This three-pronged spiritual habit is consistent with Jesus’ approach to teaching, which has been thoroughly developed by Yount (2010). It is a holistic approach to teaching and learning called the Teacher’s Triad (Yount, 2010). Specifically applied to meditation, the Triad involves “thinking clearly” about the Word of God, “valuing deeply” the Person of triune God and “doing skillfully” the work of meditation (Yount, 2010, p. 352, 355, 359).

What benefits does meditation yield?

Not only is the labor of meditation triadic, but also its benefits. Although positive reappraisal, rumination and optimism are cognitive constructs (think), stress elicits negative emotions like fear, anxiety and anger (feel/value). Additionally, stress affects behavior (do). For this reason, the cognitive, affective and behavioral benefits of meditation are all relevant to this article.

The cognitive benefits of meditation involve cultivating Biblical knowledge and understanding that produces spiritual maturity (Beeke, 2004). Disciplining the mind to think like God yields wisdom (practical problem-solving) and understanding (insight) (Col. 1:9b) (Yount, 2010). It enables believers to “test and approve” what God’s perfect will is (Rom. 12: 2). Ranew calls this benefit a “habitual wisdom in the mind of the Christian” (Ranew, 1670, p. 68).

Affective benefits are also produced. Inflaming the heart for Christ yields God-honoring emotions like love, joy and peace. These become embedded in a heart transformed by meditation (Willard, 2002). Another benefit is the ability to selflessly rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:12) (Willard, 2002). Ranew (1670) explains that meditation keeps “the fire” of the soul alive for Christ (p. 71). Meditation “gathers the sticks, the fuel, and materials for keeping the fire from going out…it kindles them, blows upon them, and makes them burn and flame up to heaven” (Ranew, 1670, p. 72). “Cooling hearts” are kindled by meditation; “spiritual vivacity and warmth” are essentials to Christianity (Ranew, 1670, p. 73,76).

Lastly, exercising the will to practice a discipline, harvests Christ-like behavior. Meditation results in the “ability, facility, delight, and constancy in doing” the will of God (Ranew, 1670, p. 71). Habitual wisdom (mind) and kindled passion (heart) turn into “habitual skill (behavior)” (Ranew, 1670, p. 71). Meditation produces an “easiness to act” righteously (Ranew, 1670, p. 71). Finally, meditation results in acts of service. Edified believers offer others “precious truths,” encouragement, comfort and warmth; believers’ whose spiritual “store and supply” are full, offer others “apples of gold in settings of silver (Prov. 25:11 NIV)” (Ranew, 1670, p. 84-85).

How is it done?

Meditation has certain prerequisites. It must be preceded by confessing sin (1 John 1:9) (Beeke, 2004). It must be done with seriousness, appreciating its “potential” and “weightiness” (Beeke, 2004, p. 82-83). It must be scheduled and prioritized (Beeke, 2004). It must be done in a “quiet” place, “free from interruption” (Beeke, 2004, p. 82-83). By giving focused attention to the promises of God in times of stress, uncertainty and agitation, His words become “permanent fixtures” in the mind (Willard, 2002, p. 113). Yount (2010) explains, “As His mind speaks to ours, and we attend to what He says, our brains weave the circuits to think His thoughts” (p. 538). Whitney (n.d.) suggests five practical methods for meditating. These practical suggestions are: 1) Repeat the verse making emphasis on each word, 2) Rewrite the verse in your own words, 3) Look for applications of the verse, 4) Formulate a principle(s) from the text and 5) Pray through the text.

Conclusion

This article explored the effects of positive reappraisal, rumination and optimism on stress. A secular explanation of each construct as it relates to stress was presented. In addition, this article posed a biblical framework for stress and the three constructs, including a brief example of cognitive coping in the life of King David. This article concluded by proposing a practical application fusing research findings in neuroscience and biblical meditation. Biblical meditation aids believers in disciplining the mind (think), heart (feel/value) and hand (do).

Biblical meditation, therefore, can potentially ameliorates the effects of stress by enhancing both a hopeful perspective (optimism) and the ability to reframe events in a positive light (positive reappraisal), as well as diminishing the tendency to dwell on negative events and feelings (rumination).

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Author Information

Sudi Kate Gliebe received her doctoral degree in Childhood Education and Foundations of Education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, TX where she also completed the Masters in Christian Education. Consistent with the Great Commission, Christ-followers in science, education and other fields of study have the privilege of submitting their endeavors to the authority of Scripture and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Dr. Gliebe may be contacted at sudste@hotmail.com.

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