The Grateful Brain

| 27 November 2019

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

I was driving my boys to school one day and out of the blue, my youngest son said, “People who are fearful live shorter lives.” His words were so profound that they caught me off guard. Did God just fill this twelve-year old with wisdom beyond his years or was he manipulating me to allow him to do something that I might deem dangerous? Either way, his words gave way to conversation with God and study on what Scripture says regarding fear.

Depending on the translation, the Bible says, “fear not” or “do not be afraid” around 150 times. One of the more well know passages on anxiety and fear is Philippians 4:6-7. The Message says it this way: Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, and everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.”

So how exactly does this happen? In Your Teenager is Not Crazy, authors Jeramy and Jerusha Clark state, Brain research clearly shows that anxiety and gratitude are mutually exclusive neural pathways. Physiologically, you cannot be anxious and grateful at the same time. In his book, What Happy People Know, Dr. Dan Baker writes, During active appreciation, the threatening messages from your amygdala (fear center of the brain) and the anxious instincts of your brainstem are cut off, suddenly and surely, from access to your brain’s neocortex, where they can fester, replicate themselves, and turn your stream of thoughts into a cold river of dread. It is a fact of neurology that the brain cannot be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. The two states may alternate but are mutually exclusive.

In July of 2019, studies at UCSD reported that focusing on the positive and feeling grateful can improve your sleep quality and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. Furthermore, levels of gratitude correlate to better moods and less fatigue and inflammation, reducing the risk of heart failure, even for those who are susceptible.

Modern science has figured out what the Bible has been saying for centuries! Gratitude and fear physiologically cannot co-exist. Gratitude may not guarantee the quality or length of our lives, but we do know that it brings an incomprehensible peace, that will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. What an amazing promise!

What anxieties keep you awake at night? You may not be ready to thank God for whatever trials you are facing but you can thank him for his creation and his love. God doesn’t promise to take every trial away, but he does promise to give you his peace right in the middle of the storm.

Lynette Fuson
Director of Women’s Ministries