Harvard physiologist Dr. Walter Cannon performed a classic experiment studying a cat’s vital functions when confronted by a dog. He found the following changes in the cat took place: circulation increased, more energy-rich sugar appeared in its blood, blood-clotting mechanisms accelerated, muscle functions increased, breathing quickened, senses became keener, and unneeded digestive system functions shut down.
These adaptive changes enhanced the cat’s likelihood of survival. All of the cat’s reactions were involuntary. The cat didn’t make a conscious choice to speed up its circulation – it’s just the way the cat was designed to react to the presence of a potential threat. All of the changes actually helped the cat achieve two possible reactions: fight back or run. This “fight or flight” response is present in all animals, even humans.
Now, what if the cat used these responses ten hours a day – for ten years? And what if the cat never used the responses for actually fighting or running? What would happen to that cat? Perhaps that is where the phrase, “Nervous as a cat” comes from!
Whenever we encounter emergencies our bodies respond much like the cat in Dr. Cannon’s experiment. We don’t arch our backs, expose our claws, and hiss, but all of the other involuntary responses happen inside us with every emergency we perceive. Imagine going through life racing and battling as if a monster dog were attacking all the time. Can you imagine the toll it takes?
During the U.S. Civil War, a severe anxiety condition was documented called “soldier’s heart.” During World War I, soldiers termed it “shell shock.” By World War II it was known as “battle fatigue.” Vietnam War veterans were diagnosed with “post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD). We now know each of these illnesses was caused by a never-ending “fight or flight” environment.
But you’re not in a war – or are you? Are you involved in never-ending battles with finances, job pressures, and family problems? Then you’re experiencing stress in a modern “civilized” war. Those prolonged stress responses often result in chronic suppression of the immune system.
Stress is now known to be a major contributor, either directly or indirectly, to coronary heart disease, cancer, strokes, lung ailments, and accidental injuries – five of the leading causes of death in modern societies.
“Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him;
Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way,
Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.
Cease from anger, and forsake wrath;
Do not fret – it only causes harm.
For evildoers shall be cut off;
But those who wait on the LORD,
They shall inherit the earth.”
~ Psalm 37:79
God wants us to rest in Him. In other words, slow down. Relax. Trust. Go forward in peace, by grace, for love, with joy.
“Cast all your anxieties upon Him, for He cares about you.”
~ 1 Peter 5:7, RSV
No matter what our personal struggle is, God wants to hear about it. God longs to guide us every step of the way to healing and restoration.
“Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you.”
~ Isaiah 41:10