Waste of Energy - Nervous Tension and Excitement - Unnecessary Fatigue - Economy of
Nervous Force - The Art of Resting
There is something alarming in the amount of nervous tension that is becoming so apparent in modern life. Have you ever carefully watched the faces of people in a train, 'bus, or lecture-hall? If so, you must have noticed that most of them display signs of strain and tension, and the more highly " nervous " show an expression of abnormal concentration which is almost pitiable.
The other day a woman came into a lecture-hall, a typical example of the jerky, nervous type of modern woman who becomes a victim to nerves. Instead of waiting quietly for the beginning of the lecture, she kept up a constant rapid speech with her neighbour, accompanied by vehement gestures. She sat on the edge of the seat, with every muscle tense. She screwed her face up, clenched her hands, and lived just about twenty times as rapidly as was necessary and right. During the lecture she proved a good listener, but any pleasure she derived must have been of the painful order, owing to the nervous tension she kept up all through.
The State of Chronic Hurry
All the time she was wasting energy, mental and physical, too. The way she twitched her face and moved her hands restlessly spoke eloquently of nervous tension and excitement. That woman was living too hard, periodically spending her nerve force in a way that was absolutely unnecessary and almost absurd. What she needed-what nine out of ten women need-was some teaching in the art of relaxation, and the conservation of nerve force.
Far too many women live in a state of chronic hurry, and then wonder why they are always tired and out of sorts. They do every little act on tension, and spend too much nerve energy every day of their lives. The proof of nervous tension is not difficult to find. Look at the number of people whose muscles are always overstrained. Whatever they are doing is done with a sort of morbid concentration and force; even when they are supposed to be quietly "thinking" their facial muscles are contracted in an alarming frown. Their jaws are clenched, their throat muscles on tension, then-hands tightly closed. They are living too hard every hour, every minute of the day. Women and Railway Journeys
Even in sleep the victims of high tension are not really resting. They are not even lying in bed, because their muscles are not relaxed as Nature intends during sleep. Probably the knees are drawn up, the fists clenched, the neck muscles contracted, the spine rigid. The person is not resting in the real sense of the word. So it is in nearly every action in daily life. In writing, the pen is grasped feverishly, the mind runs away from itself, and the muscles are cramped. In reading, there is no sense of muscular rest and relaxation. Mind and body, too, are in a state of tension. Even the pleasures of life are not enjoyed as they should be, because of the strain and consequent fatigue. " People make me tired," says the woman subject to tension; the real truth of the matter being that she spends all her emotion and energy in over-talking, unnecessary movements, and superfluous strain.
People suffer from a vast deal of unnecessary fatigue because of this habit of nervous tension. If they go a railway journey, for example, they are on the strain all the time, anxious about their connections, worrying stupidly as to whether the train will be up to time, and thinking ahead. A railway journey could be utilised for rest if you could cure this habit of nervous straining against the motion of the train. You are probably sitting uncomfortably, instead of relaxing your muscles when you have the chance. Worry is one outcome of habitual overstrain of mind and body. Worry is simply a symptom of nervous prostration, although many women seem to believe that it is something to do with their particular temperament.
Avoiding a Breakdown
If you wish to cure the worry habit it is necessary to relax and to keep quiet. It is abnormal excitability that saps the vitality of people, and paves the way for nervous disorders, and even mental disease. If you suffer from nerves, ask yourself if you have got into the habit of over-tension, jerkiness, eagerness, and anxiety; if you work on tension, sleep on tension, amuse yourself on tension all the time. If so, you will have to alter your whole mode of life if you wish to regain nerve repose and nerve control. It is quite a mistaken idea that living hurriedly and excitedly enables us to do more work. The quiet, easy workers are the efficient women. The fussy, anxious, hurrying type is hindering herself all the time.
Some women know that they take too much out of themselves, and when they can stand the strain no longer they go to bed for a day or two if their circumstances permit. And the rest-provided they really rest, which is not likely if they continue their anxious worrying mental habit, and keep their muscles all the time on tension-has a most wonderful effect. Their nerves are quieter, their worries less oppressive, they feel happier, soothed, and rested. The social and domesticated woman has the opportunity for this rest. The worker, the business or professional woman, in most cases has to go on. After a time, an attack of nervous prostration may mean a compulsory rest cure, which invariably is expensive, awkward, and something of a calamity. It might have been avoided, too, just as the nervousness and the prostration need never have occurred if, at the beginning, the evils of "tension" and the wisdom of relaxation had been realised. A day in bed-a rest cure-alleviate the condition, because they provide rest. The harassed, overstrained, over-stimulated nerves are crying out for rest. The rest is only a temporary measure unless a new way of life is practised in the future.
The one thing necessary if a cure is desired is to learn to economise nervous force. Once a woman realises the folly of driving in tacks with a sledge hammer, of over-emphasising every little remark by a sort of convulsive contortion of the whole face and body, a good beginning is made. The writer once watched a "nervous" woman ironing at a domestic science school. She put her whole weight and strength and force into every sweep of her arm over the teacloth she was working on. She did the thing with ten times the force that was necessary, and therefore expended ten times the amount of energy that was really required of her. At the end of an hour's ironing that woman must have been utterly tired and worn out. Her nerves would probably be on edge before six o'clock at night. That is because she never learned to economise nerve energy. If she, or any other woman, could acquire the secret of living quietly and working easily it would make a wonderful difference to health and happiness.
Now for the remedy. Learn to economise all along the line. Cease spending extravagantly the vital nerve force of which you have only a definite allowance. Realise that your chief sin is high tension of mind and muscles, and make up your mind that you mean to learn the art of relaxation. In a later article of this series will be given special directions on the training of mind and muscles. Meantime, you can begin by making a few rules for yourself, and keeping them. Always let your muscles off duty when they are not called upon for definite work. If you are lying in bed, rest so that your muscles are relaxed, not tense and taut with a force that is tremendously fatiguing. Let the muscles be flaccid and relaxed. The jaw must drop, the fists unclench, the spine and legs and arms resting, relaxed, and quiet. In the same way, when you sit down, sit right into the chair, and allow it to support you comfortably. When travelling in 'bus or train do not resist the motion, but relax yourself into as comfortable a position as you can.
The dropping of the jaw may not add to the facial expression, but it is a wonderful aid in mind relaxation. Then, learn to breathe quietly, regularly, deeply, rhythmically, and restfully. The woman who breathes twenty or twenty-two times per minute is expending energy which could be preserved if she only breathed fifteen. When feeling worried and anxious the same fact of breathing quietly and deeply for a few minutes has a wonderful influence for good. Then, stop the hurrying habit. The domesticated woman who rushes through her morning, makes beds, dusts, tidies up at express speed is living too hard, even in the depths of the country. Too many women are always on the rush. If they are business women they attack their work with feverish haste, write letters, see people, arrange work, with all the time a sense of hurry at the back of their minds. Then they rush out to lunch, gulp it down, and return to a strenuous afternoon. It is all so useless, so unnecessary. They would get on just as fast if they attacked their work deliberately and quietly. They would probably get through a great deal more without the peevishness and irritability which spoil so many women's lives.
The great thing is to work quietly, in one's mind, at any rate; to refuse to harbour the sense of worry and hurry. Thus, one can get through a tremendous amount of work without fatigue, without the danger of succumbing to the nervous prostration which the woman who is always in a hurry has to face in the end. This subject will be continued in another article, entitled "Health and Relaxation."