What Is It That Makes Me So Nervous?

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

exaggerated reflection.

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

with satisfaction.

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

anxious daughter.

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

doing right.

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

entirely mistaken.

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.

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