Inner peace for Type A personalities under stress

‘Type A’ personalities

Since the term was invented in the early 1960s by cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman, ‘Type A personality’ has been the label given to up-and-at-’em’ individuals who are ‘immensely competitive, over-achieving, time-pressured, impatient and hostile’, according to Robert Sapolsky’s book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers. Friedman and Rosenman carried out ‘a “prospective” study; they looked at healthy people, examining whether being Type A increased the risk of eventually getting heart disease – which is precisely what they found.’ And two decades later, a ‘panel of some of the biggest guns in cardiology . . . checked the evidence, and concluded that being Type A carried at least as much cardiac risk as does smoking or having high cholesterol levels.’

Passively hostile

Subsequent scientific research rigorously challenged their finding in order to discover ‘which of the Type A traits are the most central to heart disease’ and demonstrated that the one consistent characteristic that had a lot to do with cardiac problems was hostility, especially when coupled with the tendency to suppress anger. Richard J. Davidson and Andrew Tomarken of Vanderbilt University examined middle-aged doctors who had been tested twenty-five years earlier in medical school and found that some of them characteristically suppressed anger. These were self-disciplined planners who don’t like surprises or ambiguity: ‘stoic, regimented, hard-working, productive, solid folks who never stand out in a crowd’ and who don’t get depressed or anxious, yet tests reveal their need of social conformity and approval.

Probably 5% of the population in the West show chronically active stress responses in medical tests, some of whom are very passively hostile. For instance, Davidson and Tomarken used ECG techniques that showed unusually enhanced activity in a portion of the frontal cortex of their brains.

Stressed by meditating!

What? Surely not! Meditating is supposed to induce calmness, contentment and confidence amid life’s ‘hectivity’. But scientists in USA have discovered that ‘meditation sickness’ (a term long used by Zen Buddhists) can bring on anxiety, hypersensitivity to light and sound, insomnia and even psychosis, seizures and mania in some cases.

Although many do find bliss by closing their eyes for a while and focusing on their breathing while engaging with beautiful thoughts, others emerge from their stillness and open their eyes to find themselves dazzled by life’s brightness and deafened by everyday noise, and even experience hallucinations.

Willoughby Britton, assistant professor in psychiatry at Brown University, Rhode Island, calls it ‘relaxation induced panic’ that can also lead to loss of appetite. And Professor Jared Lindahl reports how a study in insomnia concludes that relaxation also ‘arouses the frontal region of the brain.’

These facts were reported by Victoria Allen, the science correspondence of the Daily Mail, headlined: ‘Meditation can leave you more stressed’ and ‘Some people panic when they relax’

A biblical therapy

When our Lord sent out his disciples in pairs with authority to exorcise those who were demonised and heal the sick (Matthew 10:1-42) he bestowed his peace on them in many detailed assurances:

[] each had a supportive co-worker (Matthew 10:2-4);

[] they could travel light because food and accomodation would be provided in hospitable homes (Matthew 10:8-11);

[] he would personally follow soon after their arrival (Matthew 10:23). But

[] they must persevere against the opposition (Matthew 10:34-39) – ‘Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.’  There were ‘wolves’ out there threatening these ‘sheep’ – betrayal even by relatives – so they should ‘flee’ for their lives when necessary (Matthew 10:16-25; 35). Yet through all this they can maintain their inner peace which they can bestow in every home they visit. If rejected, ‘let your peace return to you’ (Matthew 10:12-13). ‘Don’t be anxious’, because the Creator who cares for two-a-penny sparrows cares even more for his children (Matthew 10:26-31).

Paul did not advocate that we concentrate on our breathing to induce peace by Hindu-style meditating. Rather, ‘whatever is true, . . . noble, . . . right,. . . . pure,’ . . . lovely, admirable – anything excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.’ That’s how to be sure that ‘the God of peace’ [not just ‘the peace of God’] ‘will be with you’ (Philippians 4:8-9). Then you will testify with King David: ‘While I meditated, the fire burned; then I spoke with my tongue’ (Psalm 39:3).

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