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A Mind at Ease
By Dr Marion Ashton
A mind at ease is life and health.
Proverbs 14 v30 (Moffatt)
Tension and stress are common to all of us and to experience, as the Bible puts it, ‘peace that passeth understanding’ is sometimes desperately elusive, even for the Christian believer.
The Lord Jesus, when He walked this earth as the Son of Man, was subjected to all kinds of stress and strain, yet He never showed the slightest sign of abnormal tension. He suffered pressure from foes, pressure from friends, pressure from circumstances, pressure from Satan, physical, mental, and spiritual pressure; and yet through it all He had such peace that when we read His words ‘peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you’ our hearts know that this is the very kind of peace we want, HIS peace, which He displayed in the midst of all those pressures; when here on earth.
Marion Ashton was a Christian doctor who had spent many years counselling people suffering from mental tension. Her aim in writing this book was to share in the simplest possible language, some of the things concerning this subject, which she had learned as a Doctor, some from her study of the Bible, some from the experience of others and some from her personal experience as she had sought to deal with areas in her own personality which she had known to be subject to tension.
‘A Mind at Ease’ will be a real help to those who are grappling with the problems of tension, conflict, pressure or breakdown in their own life. It will also provide thoughtful and practical guidelines for ministers, pastors and lay people who are trying to support friends in a troubled state of mind.
Of recent years the words ‘tension’ and ‘stress’ have been increasingly used in medicine. Doctors speak of mental, nervous, or emotional tension, and of stress-symptoms, stress-behaviour, or stress, changes. At Medical Conferences they have discussed the Meaning, the Causes, and the Treatment of tension and stress, and have expressed deep concern over the great increases in the use of tranquillising drugs for these states.
The Bible give us promises concerning ‘perfect peace’, ’peace that passeth understanding’, ‘rest’, ‘a mind at ease’, all of which awake in the hearts of many, a cry that they might be helped to find the way of passing from STRESS to REST.
My aim, in writing what follows, is to share in the simplest possible language, some of the things concerning this subject, which I have learned as a doctor, some from my study of the Bible, some from the experience of others, and some from personal experience, as I have sought to deal with areas in my own personality which I have known to be subject to tension.
THE MEANING AND RESULTS OF TENSION
Some degree of tension is normal to the human frame. The athlete’s muscles are in a state of tension while running in a race, the student’s mind is in a state of tension while he is studying or doing an examination. We are often brought into states of emotional tension through sorrow or joy, or through the strain of entering into the problems and sufferings of others. This sort of tension is the normal response of our bodies to the demands made upon us, and does us no harm, in fact it only increases our capacity to act or think or feel. Normal tension is always followed by relaxation. When the race is over the muscles relax, when the examination is over the brain relaxes, when the emotional strain ends there is relaxation. If the muscles refused to relax the normal state of tension would pass into one which is abnormal. If the brain of the student refused to relax the normal would pass into an abnormal mental tension. If the emotions refused to relax the normal tension would pass into abnormal emotional tension. It is this abnormal persistent tension which is meant when doctors speak of mental and emotional tension.
Sometimes the tension is abnormally prolonged so that the person concerned never relaxes mentally or emotionally, at other times the tension is far greater than is justified by the circumstances. The person who is in a state of mental tension will turn every ‘mole-hill into a mountain’, the one who is in a state of emotional tension will weep at every small mishap.
These abnormal tensions sooner or later produce results and lead to what are known as stress-symptoms or stress-behaviour. The nature of the results varies according to the personality of the one affected, but in every case it has the opposite effect to that of normal tension, it decreases the ability to act and think and feel normally.
The results of tension may range from the minor reactions which all of us must recognize and suffer from at times, to serious physical and mental illness.
Owing to the fact that the mental and physical is so closely related in our make-up, it is impossible to draw a clear line between results which are mental and nervous, and those which are physical; however, for the sake of clarity it may be helpful to divide the results into those which are primarily mental or nervous, and those which are primarily physical.
Results of tension which are primarily mental include insomnia, lack of concentration, a mind which ‘goes round in circles’, different forms of hysteria, anxiety states in which the patient is always anxious and apprehensive quite apart from circumstances, and chronic depression.
The simplest physical symptoms resulting from tension are those which we all know only too well because they can be passing accompaniments of normal tension. We know the loss of appetite and insomnia associated with anxiety, the palpitations which accompany fear, and amongst students there is a condition known as ‘examination diarrhoea’. Normally these all pass away when the strain passes, but in conditions of stress they may continue persistently. Dr. Paul Adolph, in his helpful book, HEALTH SHALL SPRING FORTH, writes concerning these physical symptoms, ‘Three of the more common tension patterns suggest themselves for mention which for convenience we may name; 1 The stiff-neck pattern; 2 The chest tension pattern; and 3 The stomach tension pattern.’ Later he writes, ‘These patterns may co-exist or may change from one to the other.’
An experienced doctor learns to recognise one of these three patterns in a patient and will quickly realize that the underlying cause is tension.
In the first, the patient complains of a stiff or painful neck, the pain often running up the back of the head, and giving the patient a feeling of constriction in the head, or of a tight band around the head. This is often associated with difficulty in sleeping.
The second set of symptoms focus upon the heart and the patient is often convinced that there is real heart trouble. Palpitations and feelings of constriction and pressure round the heart are the commonest of the symptoms in this group.
The stomach tension may show itself in feelings of nausea or of continual feelings of fullness, so that the appetite is impaired.
It is interesting to notice that expressions which we commonly use, show that there is recognition of the fact that these symptoms can be caused by mental reactions. We speak of a person as being ‘a pain in the neck!’ We say we must get things ‘off our chests’, and how many times have we said that we are ‘sick’ of a thing or that we are ‘fed up!’
Then there is a group of illnesses in which the primary cause may be tension, these include asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and certain skin rashes.
In some cases of stomach ulcer, and of an inflammation of the lower bowel known as mucous colitis the chief cause is tension.
Quite apart from being the primary cause of certain sicknesses, it is well known in the medical profession that tension tends to lower resistance to disease, and to increase the severity and length of any illness.
Even if the tension is not serious enough to cause any of these symptoms or illnesses, we know that the smallest degree of abnormal tension hinders the one who suffers from it from being his best physically and mentally. For those who are Christians, therefore, it is of great importance to recognise tension in its early stages, and seek to find the way of rest and release. Our whole beings have been bought by the Lord Jesus Christ to become temples of the living God, and to be used in His Service. We should desire therefore that our minds and bodies be efficient, and that we avoid, if possible, states of tension.
I have spoken of mental and physical results of tension but there are also spiritual results. Tension robs us of that rest and quietness of heart which is so essential to close communion with God. God says to us, ‘Be still and know that I am God,’ but stillness is impossible to the one whose mind and emotions are in a state of tension. Our fellowship with God and our knowledge of God are hindered by tension.
Our witness to the Lord Jesus and our usefulness in His service are marred by tension. Unbelievers are very quick to discern whether Christians have minds at ease and are really resting in the Lord; they are not likely to listen seriously to such invitations as that of the Lord Jesus when He said, ‘Come unto Me and I will give you rest,’ if the invitation is passed on to them by those who, though professing to know the Lord, are not displaying in their lives the rest which He gives. There are many people in these days who are subjects of great tension. Anxiety and fear are gnawing at their hearts and minds, and they long for someone to help them. They are not likely to be drawn to the Christian who is in a state of tension, but they will be drawn in their troubles to one who is truly manifesting the rest and peace of the Lord and who has ‘a heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathise.’
Our relationship with fellow-Christians is marred by tension. A Christian in a state of tension is likely to be irritable, and easily upset; misunderstanding and strained relationships may follow and hinder that fellowship of the Spirit which is such a blessing in any work for the Lord.
As we think of these things we may well echo the prayer of the hymn-writer: ‘Take from our lives the strain and stress, And let our ordered lives confess The beauty of Thy Peace.’
(1. ‘Health Shall Spring Forward’ pp. 15 and 17)