In the "good old days" doctors, whose diagnostic powers were of a somewhat limited order, characterised all the nervous ailments they did not understand as "hysteria."
The term was especially applied to women, and it was used to express not only the diseases the doctors could not cure, but the emotional disturbance and spiritual discontent which are very often the result of physical ill-health.
Most nervous ills were considered imaginary, in the sense that the sufferer could cure herself if she liked to make an effort at self-control. But nervous ailments are widespread, and prevalent amongst men and women alike at the present time. The fact that nine out of ten people live the strenuous life, burn the candle not only at both ends, but in the middle as well, do their work on tension all the time, is the real cause of that worry, restlessness, and vague unhappiness which somebody has called the " disease of the age."
" Nervy " People
Men and women both are rushed off their feet with the pace of living in this age of wireless telegraphy, aeroplanes, taxicabs, and express trains. The domesticated woman, the professional woman, the business girl of all classes and all types are prone to a state of nervous tension which makes for overstrain and " nerves." A few people can stand this strain of work or pleasure-hunting, but the majority show signs of the wear and tear after a few years. They are easily upset, fuss over trifles, develop irritability and a tendency to "nerves."
Perhaps they get a headache after a long day's work or develop insomnia. These are signs of "nerves." Depression of spirits may be a prominent symptom, or the feeling that one is unappreciated, misunderstood by one's nearest and dearest. The fussy woman is a victim of "nerves." The nagging woman would become a pleasant individual if the vitality of her nerves could be ensured. Temper, nagging, worry are simply explosions of nervous energy. The Causes of "Nerves"
The fact that "nerves" spoil not only the health, but the looks and the personality of anyone they get a grip of is sufficient reason for desiring, whole-heartedly, a cure. It is a fatal policy to let matters slide, with the idea that we shall grow out of the condition in time. Perhaps we shall; but meantime we make not only ourselves, but every person we come in contact with in home life and business life, more miserable as a result, and perhaps permanently damage our nervous systems as well.
There is always a cause for "nerves," and that cause is rarely over-work. The healthy human animal is fit for a very large amount of work, both mental and physical. In fact, without a fair allowance of strain and effort we do not grow and develop-we degenerate. If, however, we have overdoses of work, they will operate in association with other things in the causation of "nerves." Let us consider briefly the commonest causes of nervous derangement.
1. Some chronic health weakness which is allowed all the time to sap the vitality.
Many women are careless about health matters which do not cause them any great inconvenience or unbearable pain, and are extremely unwise in putting off from day to day the treatment of health conditions which could be put right by a doctor. The nagging woman is nearly always the product of physical ill-health. The woman who worries over unnecessary trifles might be cured in a month if she would put herself under the care of a doctor.
2. Digestive derangement is such a common cause of " nerves " that it deserves a section to itself. The Fletcher school believe that by strict limitation of diet, and thorough mastication, most of the nervous ailments that exist could be permanently cured. There is no doubt that this would apply to a great many cases, and a sufferer from " nerves " should bear the fact in mind.
3. The strenuousness of modern life is a very large factor in causing the fashionable nervous ailments of the present day. Life is very competitive in business, professional, and social circles. There is a morbid craving for worldly success which, in a higher sense, counts for so little in comparison with what we lose in acquiring it. The habit of tension is acquired as a result of the desire not to miss anything which might be turned to advantage, and " tension " is a most terrible power for evil. It is absolutely necessary to learn a few simple facts about relaxation and its effect upon health and happiness. The strain of modern life may not prove too much for the perfectly happy and perfectly sound in mind and body. Probably they love the excitement which, like strong tea or alcoholic stimulant, excites them to greater effort. In the great majority of cases, however, the pace is a killing one in the real sense of the word, and the sensitive, highly organised, finer types are often those who suffer first. The best and the worst of the whole thing is that the evil effects could be avoided. It matters very little that we have to work hard, if we know how to do our work and how to keep our health. Very few people do. Very few take the trouble to try until an attack of "nerves" warns them of the need. By that time it is much more difficult to pull up. We are all creatures of habit-so much so that the cause of most nervous ailments in the first place might be designated:
4. "The habit of 'nerves.'" It is the easiest thing in the world to allow your nerves to get into the habit of controlling your existence. "You are frightfully nervous," you say to yourself, perhaps rather pleased with the idea that you are not of the common order of commonplace people. When your nerves begin to assert themselves you make no effort to break the habit. That is a fatal policy. The brain responds to repeated stimuli, whether physical or psychical. If you accustom it to worry it will worry, and after a time you will find it very difficult to take an ordinary healthy, cheerful view of life. So much of our health and happiness in this world depends upon our will power. I am always amazed that so few women seem to make a determined effort to get a grip of their will. They are always undecided, always not quite sure what they are going to do, always inclined to let things slide, and to sit waiting for " something to turn up." When they have any trouble to bear or unusual strain to meet, this habit of mind has to be dearly paid for. They cannot stand a shock in the sense that their nervous systems and " will " have no power of healthy reaction. Even a severe physical illness, such as influenza, may be too much for them, so that they develop " nerves " in convalescence. The habit of " nerves" is very quickly established, and after a time very difficult to break.