Sources: Nerves And Common Sense
MANY people suffer unnecessarily from "nerves" just for the want of
a little knowledge of how to adjust themselves in order that the
nerves may get well. As an example, I have in mind a little woman
who had been ill for eight years--eight of what might have been the
best years of her life--all because neither she nor her family knew
the straight road toward getting well. Now that she has found the
path she has gained health wonderfully in six months, and promises
to be better than ever before in her life.
Let me tell you how she became ill and then I can explain her
process of getting well again. One night she was overtired and could
not get to sleep, and became very much annoyed at various noises
that were about the house. Just after she had succeeded in stopping
one noise she would go back to bed and hear several others. Finally,
she was so worked up and nervously strained over the noises that her
hearing became exaggerated, and she was troubled by noises that
other people would not have even heard; so she managed to keep
herself awake all night.
The next day the strain of the overfatigue was, of course, very much
increased, not only by the wakeful night, but also by the annoyance
which had kept her awake. The family were distressed that she should
not have slept all night; talked a great deal about it, and called
in the doctor.
The woman's strained nerves were on edge all day, so that her
feelings were easily hurt, and her brothers and sisters became, as
they thought, justly impatient at what they considered her silly
babyishness. This, of course, roused her to more strain. The
overcare and the feeble, unintelligent sympathy that she had from
some members of her family kept her weak and self-centered, and the
ignorant, selfish impatience with which the others treated her
increased her nervous strain. After this there followed various
other worries and a personal sense of annoyance--all of which made
her more nervous.
Then--the stomach and brain are so closely associated--her digestion
began to cause her discomfort: a lump in her stomach, her food
"would not digest," and various other symptoms, all of which mean
strained and overwrought nerves, although they are more often
attributed merely to a disordered stomach. She worried as to what
she had better eat and what she had better not eat. If her stomach
was tired and some simple food disagreed with her all the discomfort
was attributed to the food, instead of to the real cause,--a tired
stomach,--and the cause back of that,--strained nerves. The
consequence was that one kind of wholesome food after another was
cut off as being impossible for her to eat. Anything that this poor
little invalid did not like about circumstances or people she felt
ugly and cried over. Finally, the entire family were centered about
her illness, either in overcare or annoyance.
You see, she kept constantly repeating her brain impression of
overfatigue: first annoyance because she stayed awake; then
annoyance at noises; then excited distress that she should have
stayed awake all night; then resistance and anger at other people
who interfered with her. Over and over that brain impression of
nervous illness was repeated by the woman herself and people about
her until she seemed settled into it for the rest of her life. It
was like expecting a sore to get well while it was constantly being
rubbed and irritated. A woman might have the healthiest blood in the
world, but if she cut herself and then rubbed and irritated the cut,
and put salt in it, it would be impossible for it to heal.
Now let me tell you how this little woman got well. The first thing
she did was to take some very simple relaxing exercises while she
was lying in bed. She raised her arms very slowly and as loosely as
she could from the elbow and then her hands from the wrist, and
stretched and relaxed her fingers steadily, then dropped her hand
and forearm heavily, and felt it drop slowly at first, then quickly
and quietly, with its own weight. She tried to shut her eyes like a
baby going to sleep, and followed that with long, gentle, quiet
breaths. These and other exercises gave her an impression of quiet
relaxation so that she became more sensitive to superfluous tension.
When she felt annoyed at noises she easily noticed that in response
to the annoyance her whole body became tense and strained. After she
had done her exercises and felt quiet and rested something would
happen or some one would say something that went against the grain,
and quick as a wink all the good of the exercises would be gone and
she would be tight and strained again, and nervously irritated.
Very soon she saw clearly that she must learn to drop the habit of
physical strain if she wanted to get well; but she also learned what
was more--far more--important than that: that _she must conquer the
cause of the strain or she could never permanently drop it._ She saw
that the cause was resentment and resistance to the noises--the
circumstances, the people, and all the variety of things that had
"made her nervous."
Then she began her steady journey toward strong nerves and a
wholesome, happy life. She began the process of changing her brain
impressions. If she heard noises that annoyed her she would use her
will to direct her attention toward dropping resistance to the
noises, and in order to drop her mental resistance she gave her
attention to loosening out the bodily contractions. Finally she
became interested in the new process as in a series of deep and true
experiments. Of course her living and intelligent interest enabled
her to gain very much faster, for she not only enjoyed her growing
freedom, but she also enjoyed seeing her experiments work. Nature
always tends toward health, and if we stop interfering with her she
will get us well.
There is just this difference between the healing of a physical sore
and the healing of strained and irritated nerves With the one our
bodies are healed, and things go on in them about the same as
before. With the other, every use of the will to free ourselves from
the irritation and its cause not only enables us to get free from
the nervous illness, but in addition brings us new nerve vigor.
When nervous illness is met deeply enough and in the normal way, the
result is that the nerves become stronger than ever before.
Often the effect of nervous strain in women is constant talking.
Talk--talk--talk, and mostly about themselves, their ailments, their
worries, and the hindrances that are put in their way to prevent
their getting well. This talking is not a relief, as people
sometimes feel. It is a direct waste of vigor. But the waste would
be greater if the talk were repressed. The only real help comes when
the talker herself recognizes the strain of her talk and "loosens"
People must find themselves out to get well--really well--from
nervous suffering. The cause of nervous strain is so often in the
character and in the way we meet circumstances and people that it
seems essential to recognize our mistakes in that direction, and to
face them squarely before we can do our part toward removing the
causes of any nervous illness.
Remember it is not circumstances that keep us ill. It is not people
that cause our illness. It is not our environment that overcomes us.
It is the way we face and deal with circumstances, with people, and
with environment that keeps our nerves irritated or keeps them quiet
and wholesome and steady.
Let me tell the story of two men, both of whom were brought low by
severe nervous breakdown. One complained of his environment,
complained of circumstances, complained of people. Everything and
every one was the cause of his suffering, except himself. The result
was that he weakened his brain by the constant willful and enforced
strain, so that what little health he regained was the result of
Nature's steady and powerful tendency toward health, and in spite of
the man himself.
The other man--to give a practical instance--returned from a journey
taken in order to regain the strength which he had lost from not
knowing how to work. His business agent met him at the railroad
station with a piece of very bad news. Instead of being frightened
and resisting and contracting in every nerve of his body, he took it
at once as an opportunity to drop resistance. He had learned to
relax his body, and by doing relaxing and quieting exercises over
and over he had given himself a brain impression of quiet and "let
go" which he could recall at will. Instead of expressing distress at
the bad news he used his will at once to drop resistance and relax;
and, to the surprise of his informant, who had felt that he must
break his bad news as easily as possible, he said "Anything else?"
Yes, there was another piece of news about as bad as the first. "Go
on," answered the man who had been sick with nerves; "tell me
And so he did, until he had told him five different things which
were about as disagreeable and painful to hear as could have been.
For every bit of news our friend used his will with decision to drop
the resistance, which would, of course, at once arise in response to
all that seemed to go against him.
He had, of course, to work at intervals for long afterward to keep
free from the resistance; but the habit is getting more and more
established as life goes on with him, and the result is a brain
clearer than ever before in his life, a power of nerve which is a
surprise to every one about him, and a most successful business
The success in business is, however, a minor matter. His brain would
have cleared and his nerve strengthened just the same if what might
be called the business luck had continued to go against him, as it
seemed to do for the first few months after his recovery. That
everything did go against him for some time was the greatest
blessing he could have had. The way he met all the reverses
increased his nerve power steadily and consistently.
These two men are fair examples of two extremes. The first one did
not know how to meet life. If he had had the opportunity to learn he
might have done as well as the other. The second had worked and
studied to help himself out of nerves, and had found the true secret
of doing it.
Some men, however, and, I regret to say, more women, have the
weakening habit so strong upon them that they are unwilling to learn
how to get well, even when they have the opportunity. It seems so
strange to see people suffer intensely--and be unwilling to face and
follow the only way that will lead them out of their torture.
The trouble is we want our own way and nervous health, too, and with
those who have once broken down nervously the only chance of
permanent health is through learning to drop the strain of
resistance when things do not go their way. This is proved over and
over by the constant relapse into "nerves" which comes to those who
have simply been healed over. Even with those who appear to have
been well for some time, if they have not acquired the habit of
dropping their mental and physical tension you can always detect an
overcare for themselves which means dormant fear--or even active
fear in the background.
There are some wounds which the surgeons keep open, even though the
process is most painful, because they know that to heal really they
must heal from the inside. Healing over on the outside only means
decay underneath, and eventual death. This is in most cases exactly
synonymous with the healing of broken-down nerves. They must be
healed in causes to be permanently cured. Sometimes the change that
comes in the process is so great that it is like reversing an
If the little woman whom I mentioned first had practiced relaxing
and quieting exercises every day for years, and had not used the
quiet impression gained by the exercises to help her in dropping
mental resistances, she never would have gained her health.
Concentrating steadily on dropping the tension of the body is very
radically helpful in dropping resistance from the mind, and the
right idea is to do the exercises over and over until the impression
of quiet openness is, by constant repetition, so strong with us that
we can recall it at will whenever we need it. Finally, after
repeated tests, we gain the habit of meeting the difficulties of
life without strain--first in little ways, and then in larger ways.
The most quieting, relaxing, and strengthening of all exercises for
the nerves comes in deep and rhythmic breathing, and in voice
exercises in connection with it. Nervous strain is more evident in a
voice than in any other expressive part of man or woman. It
sometimes seems as if all other relaxing exercises were mainly
useful because of opening a way for us to breathe better. There is a
pressure on every part of the body when we inhale, and a consequent
reaction when we exhale, and the more passive the body is when we
take our deep breaths the more freely and quietly the blood can
circulate all the way through it, and, of course, all nervous and
muscular contraction impairs circulation, and all impaired
circulation emphasizes nervous contraction.
To any one who is suffering from "nerves," in a lesser or greater
degree, it could not fail to be of very great help to take half an
hour in the morning, lie flat on the back, with the body as loose
and heavy as it can be made, and then study taking gentle, quiet,
and rhythmic breaths, long and short. Try to have the body so loose
and open and responsive that it will open as you inhale and relax as
you exhale, just as a rubber bag would. Of course, it will take
time, but the refreshing quiet is sure to come if the practice is
repeated regularly for a long enough time, and eventually we would
no more miss it than we would go without our dinner.
We must be careful after each deep, long breath to rest quietly and
let our lungs do as they please. Be careful to begin the breaths
delicately and gently, to inhale with the same gentleness with which
we begin, and to make the change from inhaling to exhaling with the
greatest delicacy possible--keeping the body loose.
For the shorter breaths we can count three, or five, or ten to
inhale, and the same number to exhale, until we have the rhythm
established, and then go on breathing without counting, as if we
were sound asleep. Always aim for gentleness and delicacy. If we
have not half an hour to spare to lie quietly and breathe we can
practice the breathing while we walk. It is wonderful how we detect
strain and resistance in our breath, and the restfulness which comes
when we breathe so gently that the breath seems to come and go
without our volition brings new life with it.
We must expect to gain slowly and be patient; we must remember that
nerves always get well by ups and downs, and use our wills to make
every down lead to a higher up. If we want the lasting benefit, or
any real benefit at all when we get the brain impression of quiet
freedom from these breathing exercises, we must insist upon
recalling that impression every time a test comes, and face the
circumstances, or the person, or the duty with a voluntary
insistence upon a quiet, open brain, rather than a tense, resistant
It will come hard at first, but we are sure to get there if we keep
steadily at it, for it is really the Law of the Lord God Almighty
that we are learning to obey, and this process of learning gives us
steadily an enlarged appreciation of what trust in the Lord really
is. There is no trust without obedience, and an intelligent
obedience begets trust. The nerves touch the soul on one side and
the body on the other, and we must work for freedom of soul and body
in response to spiritual and physical law if we want to get sick
nerves well. If we do not remember always a childlike attitude
toward the Lord the best nerve training is only an easy way of being
To sum it all up--if you want to learn to help yourself out of
"nerves" learn to rest when you rest and to work without strain when
you work; learn to loosen out of the muscular contractions which the
nerves cause; learn to drop the mental resistances which cause the
"nerves," and which take the form of anger, resentment, worry,
anxiety, impatience, annoyance, or self-pity; eat only nourishing
food, eat it slowly, and chew it well; breathe the freshest air you
can, and breathe it deeply, gently, and rhythmically; take what
healthy, vigorous exercise you find possible; do your daily work to
the best of your ability; give your attention so entirely to the
process of gaining health for the sake of your work and other people
that you have no mind left with which to complain of being ill, and
see that all this effort aims toward a more intelligent obedience to
and trustfulness in the Power that gives us life. Wholesome,
sustained concentration is in the very essence of healthy nerves.