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What Is It That Makes Me So Nervous?
Source: Nerves And Common Sense
THE two main reasons why women are nervous are, first, that they do
not take intelligent care of their bodies, and secondly, that they
do not govern their emotions.
I know a woman who prefers to make herself genuinely miserable
rather than take food normally, to eat it normally, and to exercise
in the fresh air.
"Everybody is against me," she says; and if you answer her, "My
dear, you are acting against yourself by keeping your stomach on a
steady strain with too much unmasticated, unhealthy, undigested
food," she turns a woe-begone face on you and asks how you can be
"so material." "Nobody loves me; nobody is kind to me. Everybody
neglects me," she says.
And when you answer, "How can any one love you when you are always
whining and complaining? How can any one be kind to you when you
resent and resist every friendly attention because it does not suit
your especial taste? Indeed, how can you expect anything from any
one when you are giving nothing yourself?" She replies,
"But I am so nervous. I suffer. Why don't they sympathize?"
"My dear child, would you sympathize with a woman who went down into
the cellar and cried because she was so cold, when fresh air and
warm sunshine were waiting for her outside?"
This very woman herself. is cold all the time. She piles covers over
herself at night so that the weight alone would be enough to make
her ill. She sleeps with the heat turned on in her room. She
complains all day of cold when not complaining of other things. She
puts such a strain on her stomach that it takes all of her vitality
to look after her food; therefore she has no vitality left with
which to resist the cold. Of course she resists the idea of a good
brisk walk in the fresh air, and yet, if she took the walk and
enjoyed it, it would start up her circulation, give her blood more
oxygen, and help her stomach to go through all its useless labor
When a woman disobeys all the laws of nervous health how can she
expect not to have her nerves rebel? Nerves in themselves are
exquisitely sensitive--with a direct tendency toward health.
"Don't give me such unnecessary work," the stomach cries. "Don't
stuff me full of the wrong things. Don't put a bulk of food into me,
but chew your food, so that I shall not have to do my own work and
yours, too, when the food gets down here."
And there is the poor stomach, a big nervous centre in close
communication with the brain, protesting and protesting, and its
owner interprets all these protestations into: "I am so unhappy. I
have to work so much harder than I ought. Nobody loves me. Oh, why
am I so nervous?"
The blood also cries out: "Give me more oxygen. I cannot help the
lungs or the stomach or the brain to do their work properly unless
you take exercise in the fresh air that will feed me truly and send
me over the body with good, wholesome vigor."
Now there is another thing that is sadly evident about the young
woman who will not take fresh air, nor eat the right food, nor
masticate properly the food that she does eat. When she goes out for
a walk she seems to fight the fresh air; she walks along full of
resistance and contraction, and tightens all her muscles so that she
moves as if she were tied together with ropes. The expression of her
face is one of miserable strain and endurance; the tone of her voice
is full of complaint. In eating either she takes her food with the
appearance of hungry grabbing, or she refuses it with a fastidious
scorn. Any nervous woman who really wants to find herself out, in
order to get well and strong, and contented and happy, will see in
this description a reflection of herself, even though it may be an
Did you ever see a tired, hungry baby fight his food? His mother
tries to put the bottle to his mouth, and the baby cries and cries,
and turns his head away, and brandishes his little arms about, as if
his mother were offering him something bitter. Then, finally, when
his mother succeeds in getting him to open his mouth and take the
food it makes you smile all over to see the contrast: he looks so
quiet and contented, and you can see his whole little body expand
It is just the same inherited tendency in a nervous woman that makes
her either consciously or unconsciously fight exercise and fresh
air, fight good food and eating it rightly, fight everything that is
wholesome and strengthening and quieting to her nerves, and cling
with painful tenacity to everything that is contracting and
weakening, and productive of chronic strain.
There is another thing that a woman fights: she fights rest. Who has
not seen a tired woman work harder and harder, when she was tired,
until she has worn herself to a state of nervous irritability and
finally has to succumb for want of strength? Who has not seen this
same tired woman, the moment she gets back a little grain of
strength, use it up again at once instead of waiting until she had
paid back her principal and could use only the interest of her
strength while keeping a good balance in reserve?
"I wish my mother would not do so many unnecessary things," said an
A few days after this the mother came in tired, and, with a fagged
look on her face and a fagged tone in her voice, said: "Before I sit
down I must go and see poor Mrs. Robinson. I have just heard that
she has been taken ill with nervous prostration. Poor thing! Why
couldn't she have taken care of herself?"
"But, mother," her daughter answered, "I have been to see Mrs.
Robinson, and taken her some flowers, and told her how sorry you
would be to hear that she was ill."
"My dear," said the fagged mother with a slight tone of irritation
in her voice, "that was very good of you, but of course that was not
my going, and if I should let to-day pass without going to see her,
when I have just heard of her illness, it would be unfriendly and
unneighborly and I should not forgive myself."
"But, mother, you are tired; you do need to rest so much."
"My dear," said the mother with an air of conscious virtue, "I am
never too tired to do a neighborly kindness."
When she left the house her daughter burst into tears and let out
the strain which had been accumulating for weeks.
Finally, when she had let down enough to feel a relief, a funny
little smile came through the tears.
"There is one nervously worn-out woman gone to comfort and lift up
another nervously worn-out woman--if that is not the blind leading
the blind then I don't know. I wonder how long it will be before
mamma, too, is in the ditch?"
This same story could be reversed with the mother in the daughter's
place, and the daughter in the mother's. And, indeed, we see slight
illustrations of it, in one way or the other, in many families and
among many friends.
This, then, is the first answer to any woman's question, "Why am I
so nervous?" Because you do not use common sense in taking exercise,
fresh air, nourishment, and rest.
Nature tends toward health. Your whole physical organism tends
toward health. If you once find yourself out and begin to be
sensible you will find a great, vigorous power carrying you along,
and you will be surprised to see how fast you gain. It may be some
time before Nature gets her own way with you entirely, because when
one has been off the track for long it must take time to readjust;
but when we begin to go with the laws of health, instead of against
them, we get into a healthy current and gain faster than would have
seemed possible when we were outside of it, habitually trying to
oppose the stream.
The second reason why women are nervous is that they do not govern
their emotions. Very often it is the strain of unpleasant emotions
that keeps women nervous, and when we come really to understand we
find that the strain is there because the woman does not get her own
way. She has not money enough.
She has to live with some one she dislikes. She feels that people do
not like her and are neglectful of her. She believes that she has
too much work to do. She wishes that she had more beauty in her
Sometimes a woman is entirely conscious of when or why she fails to
get her own way; then she knows what she is fretting about, and she
may even know that the fretting is a strain that keeps her tired and
nervously irritated. Sometimes a woman is entirely unconscious of
what it is that is keeping her in a chronic state of nervous
irritability. I have seen a woman express herself as entirely
resigned to the very circumstance or person that she was
unconsciously resisting so fiercely that her resistance kept her ill
half of the time. In such cases the strain is double. First, there
is the strain of the person or circumstance chronically resisted and
secondly, there is the strain of the pose of saintly resignation. It
is bad enough to pose to other people, but when we pose to other
people and to ourselves too the strain is twice as bad.
Imagine a nerve specialist saying to his patient, "My dear madam,
you really must stop being a hypocrite. You have not the nervous
strength to spare for it." In most cases, I fear, the woman would
turn on him indignantly and go home to be more of a hypocrite than
ever, and so more nervously ill.
I have seen a woman cry and make no end of trouble because she had
to have a certain relative live in the house with her, simply
because her relative "got on her nerves." Then, after the relative
had left the house, this same woman cried and still kept on making
no end of trouble because she thought she had done wrong in sending
"Cousin Sophia" away; and the poor, innocent, uncomplaining victim
was brought back again. Yet it never seemed to occur to the nervous
woman that "Cousin Sophia" was harmless, and that her trouble came
entirely from the way in which she constantly resented and resisted
little unpolished ways.
I do not know how many times "Cousin Sophia" may be sent off and
brought back again; nor how many times other things in my nervous
friend's life may have to be pulled to pieces and then put together
again, for she has not yet discovered that the cause of the nervous
trouble is entirely in herself, and that if she would stop resisting
"Cousin Sophia's" innocent peculiarities, stop resisting other
various phases of her life that do not suit her, and begin to use
her will to yield where she has always resisted, her load would be
steadily and happily lifted.
The nervous strain of doing right is very painful; especially so
because most women who are under this strain do not really care
about doing right at all. I have seen a woman quibble and talk and
worry about what she believed to be a matter of right and wrong in a
few cents, and then neglect for months to pay a poor man a certain
large amount of money which he had honestly earned, and which she
knew he needed.
The nervous conscience is really no conscience at all. I have seen a
woman worry over what she owed to a certain other woman in the way
of kindness, and go to a great deal of trouble to make her kindness
complete; and then, on the same day, show such hard, unfeeling
cruelty toward another friend that she wounded her deeply, and that
without a regret.
A nervous woman's emotions are constantly side-tracking her away
from the main cause of her difficulty, and so keeping her nervous. A
nervous woman's desire to get her own way--and strained rebellion at
not getting her own way--bedazzles or befogs her brain so that her
nerves twist off into all sorts of emotions which have nothing
whatever to do with the main cause. The woman with the troublesome
relative wants to be considered good and kind and generous. The
woman with the nervous money conscience wants to be considered
upright and just in her dealings with others. All women with various
expressions of nervous conscience want to ease their consciences for
the sake of their own comfort--not in the least for the sake of
I write first of the nervous hypocrite because in her case the
nervous strain is deeper in and more difficult to find. To watch
such a woman is like seeing her in a terrible nightmare, which she
steadily "sugar-coats" by her complacent belief in her own goodness.
If, among a thousand nervous "saints" who may read these words, one
is thereby enabled to find herself out, they are worth the pains of
writing many times over. The nervous hypocrites who do not find
themselves out get sicker and sicker, until finally they seem to be
of no use except to discipline those who have the care of them.
The greatest trouble comes through the befogging emotions. A woman
begins to feel a nervous strain, and that strain results in exciting
emotions; these emotions again breed more emotions until she becomes
a simmering mass of exciting and painful emotions which can be
aroused to a boiling point at any moment by anything or any one who
may touch a sensitive point. When a woman's emotions are aroused,
and she is allowing herself to be governed by them, reason is out of
the question, and any one who imagines that a woman can be made to
understand common sense in a state like that will find himself
The only cure is for the woman herself to learn first how entirely
impervious to common sense she is when she is in the midst of an
emotional nerve storm, so that she will say, "Don't try to talk to
me now; I am not reasonable, wait until I get quiet." Then, if she
will go off by herself and drop her emotions, and also the strain
behind her emotions, she will often come to a good, clear judgment
without outside help; or, if not, she will come to the point where
she will be ready and grateful to receive help from a clearer mind
than her own.
"For goodness' sake, don't tell that to Alice," a young fellow said
of his sister. "She will have fits first, and then indigestion and
insomnia for six weeks." The lad was not a nerve specialist; neither
was he interested in nerves--except to get away from them; but he
spoke truly from common sense and his own experience with his
The point is, to drop the emotions and face the facts. If nervous
women would see the necessity for that, and would practice it, it
would be surprising to see how their nerves would improve.
I once knew a woman who discovered that her emotions were running
away with her and making her nervously ill. She at once went to work
with a will, and every time something happened to rouse this great
emotional wave she would deliberately force herself to relax and
relax until the wave had passed over her and she could see things in
a sensible light. When she was unable to go off by herself and lie
down to relax, she would walk with her mind bent on making her feet
feel heavy. When you drop the tension of the emotion, the emotion
has nothing to hold on to and it must go.
I knew another woman who did not know how to relax; so, to get free
from this emotional excitement, she would turn her attention at once
to figures, to her personal accounts or even to saying the
multiplication table. The steady concentration of her mind on dry
figures and on "getting her sums right" left the rest of her brain
free to drop its excitement and get into a normal state again.
Again it is sometimes owing to the pleasant emotions which some
women indulge in to such an extreme that they are made ill. How many
times have we heard of women who were "worn to a shred" by the
delight of an opera, or a concert, or an exciting play? If these
women only knew it, their pleasure would be far keener if they would
let the enjoyment pass through them, instead of tightening up in
their nerves and trying to hold on to it.
Nature in us always tends toward health, and toward pleasant
sensations. If we relax out of painful emotions we find good
judgment and happy instincts behind them. If we relax so that
pleasant emotions can pass over our nerves they leave a deposit of
happy sensation behind, which only adds to the store that Nature has
provided for us.
To sum up: The two main reasons why women are nervous are that they
do not take intelligent care of their bodies, and that they do not
govern their emotions; but back of these reasons is the fact that
they want their own way altogether too much. Even if a woman's own
way is right, she has no business to push for it selfishly. If any
woman thinks, "I could take intelligent care of my own body if I did
not have to work so hard, or have this or that interference," let
her go to work with her mind well armed to do what she can, and she
will soon find that there are many ways in which she can improve in
the normal care of her body, in spite of all the work and all the
To adapt an old saying, the women who are overworked and clogged
with real interferences should aim to be healthy; and, if they
cannot be healthy, then they should be as healthy as they can.
Next: Positive And Negative Effort
Previous: The Habit Of Illness