Mind - Self-suggestion - Cultivation of Unselfishness
Under the subject of tension, we have discussed the misuse of nervous force, and advocated relaxation of mind and body as essential to cure. The great majority of women do not know how to rest. They live in an exaggerated state of mental and physical tension all the time.
By proper relaxation they could, if they liked, have periods of real rest, of nervous recuperation. They would store force and energy for future needs and gain poise and balance. The truth of this is realised by most nervous people. They are aware that they are nervous, but they lack will and decision, and have allowed despondent thoughts and fears to grip them. Probably they will agree that if they could relax in mind and body, they might be enabled to overcome their nervous condition.
But how to relax? That is the question. The mere fact that they are victims of nervous strain makes relaxation difficult, but it can be done.
It means that you must make up your mind to cure yourself, to regain control of your nerves. Begin with your muscles.
First, you must practise how to lie absolutely quiet, with every muscle off tension. Lie flat on your back on a couch or bed or the floor. Try to give your whole weight to whatever is supporting you. Let your limbs feel heavy, your head fall back, your jaw drop. See that your muscles, even those acting upon the finger-tips, are relaxed so that, if you try to raise your hand, it falls like a dead weight under the action of gravity. It will not be easy at first. You will be sure to find that one part of your body is on tension, even if your arm or leg is relaxed. But gradually the tense feeling is overcome, and you learn to he relaxed, with every muscle off tension.
This in itself is wonderfully soothing to the mind. Ten minutes of such complete relaxation will be more restful than an hour or two of what you formerly termed " rest." Now practise this relaxation, perhaps twice a day, and always just before you fall asleep. It will be found an excellent cure for insomnia, because relaxation of the muscles has the effect of taking strain off the brain and of soothing the mind.
Whenever you are in a train or 'bus, try some part of this relaxation plan. That is, whilst you sit see that you are sitting comfortably, relaxed as much as possible, not stiff and tense, as was probably your habit. Do not be continually gazing about you, your attention rapidly passing hither and thither, your mind working all the time. Make up your mind that the twenty minutes of your journey will be spent restfully. Do not imagine for a moment that this is waste of time. The constant thought and tension of your mind, the incessant worrying over business or home affairs you have become accustomed to, is not in any sense productive of good result as is rest. Rest makes new energy for you, calms and soothes your nerves. It fits you to do your work better later in the day, and to do it with less effort.
Then practise a few relaxation exercises.
1. One of the best of these is simply stretching. First, get your body into the state of complete relaxation whilst lying on the floor or couch. Then take one limb at a time, slowly and gradually stretching it out and relaxing again. The way in which a cat stretches itself before the fire forms an excellent object lesson in relaxation.
2. Another exercise requires someone to take hold of your hands and pull you slowly to a sitting posture, whilst you keep relaxed, so that your head falls backwards like a dead weight. The helper must slowly let your body sink back again while preventing you from falling. Many people are teaching this exercise in England and America, and it is quite instructive and interesting to watch the teachers at their relaxation exercises.
Whilst the patient is lying flat and relaxed, the teacher lifts a leg or arm up, and lets it go, and, if the person is really relaxing, the limb naturally falls like a weight. But it takes time to acquire perfect relaxation; as a rule, the patient will arrest the falling arm in midair because the muscles are not off tension. But this power of remaining passive or relaxed can be gradually acquired, and it has a marvellous influence for good upon overstrained nerves.
3. A third exercise might be practised with great advantage. Get into the habit of breathing quietly, deeply, and easily. Practise it whilst you are relaxing. Take a deep breath, and then slowly and gradually exhale. Inhale rhythmically and regularly. Every breath and every movement must be as slow as you can possibly make it, and it is a good plan to take a few long breaths, then do stretching exercises, then breathe deeply again. Do not imagine that at first you will enjoy these exercises. Nervous people will find it exceedingly difficult, and perhaps unpleasant, to relax at all. But give it a fair trial, and you will not wonder if it is worth while in a month. You will be absolutely certain that it is.
But equally important is the power of keeping the mind off tension at will. The nervous person often complains of a feeling of tightness and tension in the head, a sense of hurry and worry and flurry, even when there is no need. These are signs that the mind is not in a state of health. Quite truly has it been said, "We are not conscious of the action of our bodies until they are out of order." That is, in a state of health, all vital processes are, if not pleasurable, at least painless. Worry and nervous tension begin by being unpleasant, and end by poisoning one's pleasure in life. The symptoms point to over-fatigue of the mind, not necessarily over-work. The healthy mind can work hard and be all the better for it. This misuse of energy is at the root of all the trouble. To tell a person who is a victim of nerves not to worry is futile. The worrying person simply cannot help worrying, and it is very rare that she has sufficient will power and decision to refrain from the worry habit that has gradually established itself. At the same time, instead of telling that person not to worry, you can suddenly concentrate her attention upon some idea or interest. She will at once stop worrying, for the moment at least. This means that if we could fill her consciousness with new ideas, there would be no room for worrying thought to intrude. So that here we have a suggestion for cure. The nervous person must free the mind of petty, harassing thoughts by taking up some new interest or ideal, must train the mind to a more hopeful, happier habit. Thus one forms a new habit in the place of the old bad habit of introspection.
The Japanese regard the emotions of anger, worry, hatred, jealousy, and fear as evil spirits, which can be cast out by an effort of will, and there is a great deal in such a point of view. People waste energy in harbouring disturbing emotions, which they would throw off if they realised how much the body is depressed through the influence of mind on body. But just as bodily relaxation can be cultivated, so we can acquire the power of resting the mind. We can deliberately thrust worrying thoughts from us by an effort of will. At first you will find it difficult, just as you found muscular relaxation irksome, but every time you make the effort you will succeed a little more, because mind action, like muscular effort, tends to become automatic with repetition. Gradually this mind exercise helps you to build up will energy, will power, and decision. Combine this idea with the determination to cultivate hopefulness and a happier outlook upon life. It will be easier if you devote yourself to some big interest or unselfish work. Most people would be happier if they cultivated the best of all virtues-unselfishness. We all, even the worst of us, know the elation of having done some good act for another. This healthful, inspiring emotion would reward us if we determined to cultivate the habit of unselfishness, to practise it all the time. Anyone who studies human nature must have noted the unhappiness which follows upon self-pity, and one reason why the nervy people are unhappy is because their condition of mind tends to make them selfish. They are constantly analysing their own emotions, thinking about their ills, worrying about themselves. This increases the nervous instability, and a vicious cycle of worry is established. Let these people determine to cultivate hope, unselfishness, courage, and kindness, and immediately their minds are happier and freed from the morbid emotions which formerly gripped them.
The power of suggestion is incalculable. Let nervous persons combine mind rest with healthful self-suggestion, and the world will seem a different place to them in a month. The effort and treatment must be continuous, persistent, and that is what is so difficult at first. Remember, however, that every time you succeed in overcoming tension of mind and body, it will be easier for you next time. The more difficult the process is at first, the more need for you to persevere. By effort and will we can do anything we like, and there is no more pathetic spectacle than the man or woman who has lost grip of the power of will, whose mind and body are not servants but master. "Sow a thought and reap a word; sow a word and reap an act; sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a character; sow a character and reap a destiny." We are what our thoughts are. We become what we wish to be, if we try hard enough.
The great need is to get into the way of right living. Live each hour by itself. If we do our work or duty for the time being to the best of our ability, we shall come to regard unnecessary worry as useless waste of energy we need for the work in hand, When we can eliminate that feeling from our consciousness, we have conquered " nerves " and attained to that attitude of mind which is in harmony with all the best and strongest in life.