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VIII.

NERVOUS STRAIN IN PAIN AND SICKNESS

   THERE is no way in which superfluous and dangerous tension is so rapidly increased as in the bearing of pain. The general impression seems to be that one should brace up to a pain; and very great strength of will is often shown in the effort made and the success achieved in bearing severe pain by means of this bracing process. But alas, the reaction after the pain is over--that alone would show the very sad misuse which had been made of a strong will. Not that there need be no reaction; but it follows naturally that the more strain brought to bear upon the nervous system in endurance, the greater must be the reaction when the load is lifted. Indeed, so well is this known in the medical profession, that it is a surgical axiom that the patient who most completely controls his expression of pain will be the greatest sufferer from the subsequent reaction. While there is so much pain to be endured in this world, a study of how best to bear it certainly is not out of place, especially when decided practical effects can be quickly shown as the result of such study. So prevalent is the idea that a pain is better borne by clinching the fists and tightening all other muscles in the body correspondingly, that I know the possibility of a better or more natural mode of endurance will be laughed at by many, and others will say, "That is all very well for those who can relax to a pain,--let them gain from it, I cannot; it is natural for me to set my teeth and bear it." There is a distinct difference between what is natural to us and natural to Nature, although the first term is of course misused.

   Pain comes from an abnormal state of some part of the nervous system. The more the nerves are strained to bear pain, the more sensitive they become; and of course those affected immediately feel most keenly the increased sensitiveness, and so the pain grows worse. Reverse that action, and through the force of our own inhibitory power let a new pain be a reminder to us to let go, instead of to hold on, and by decreasing the strain we decrease the possibility of more pain. Whatever reaction may follow pain then, will be reaction from the pain itself, not from the abnormal tension which has been held for the purpose of bearing it.

   But--it will be objected--is not the very effort of the brain to relax the tension a nervous strain? Yes, it is,--not so great, however, as the continued tension all over the body, and it grows less and less as the habit is acquired of bearing the pain easily. The strain decreases more rapidly with those who having undertaken to relax, perceive the immediate effects; for, of course, as the path clears and new light comes they are encouraged to walk more steadily in the easier way.

   I know there are pains that are better borne and even helped by a certain amount of bracing, but if the idea of bearing such pain quietly, easily, naturally, takes a strong hold of the mind, all bracing will be with a true equilibrium of the muscles, and will have the required effect without superfluous tension.

   One of the most simple instances of bearing pain more easily by relaxing to it occurs while sitting in the dentist's chair. Most of us clutch the arms, push with our feet, and hold ourselves off the chair to the best of our ability. Every nerve is alive with the expectation of being hurt

   The fatigue which results from an hour or more of this dentist tension is too well known to need description. Most of the nervous fatigue suffered from the dentist's work is in consequence of the unnecessary strain of expecting a hurt and not from any actual pain inflicted. The result obtained by insisting upon making yourself a dead weight in the chair, if you succeed only partially, will prove this. It will also be a preliminary means of getting well rid of the dentist fright,--that peculiar dread which is so well known to most of us. The effect of fright is nervous strain, which again contracts the muscles. If we drop the muscular tension, and so the nervous strain, thus working our way into the cause by means of the effect, there will be no nerves or muscles to hold the fright, which then so far as the physique is concerned cannot exist. So far as the physique is concerned,-- that is emphatic; for as we work inward from the effect to the cause we must be met by the true philosophy inside, to accomplish the whole work. I might relax my body out of the nervous strain of fright all day; if my mind insisted upon being frightened it would simply be a process of freeing my nerves and muscles that they might be made more effectually tense by an unbalanced, miserably controlled mind. In training to bring body and mind to a more normal state, the teacher must often begin with the body only, and use his own mind to gently lead the pupil to clearer sight. Then when the pupil can strike the equilibrium between mind and body,--he must be left to acquire the habit for himself.

   The same principles by which bearing the work of the dentist is made easier, are applicable in all pain, and especially helpful when pain is nervously exaggerated. It would be useless and impossible to follow the list of various pains which we attempt to bear by means of additional strain.

   Each of us has his own personal temptation in the way of pain,--from the dentist's chair to the most severe suffering, or the most painful operation,--and each can apply for himself the better way of bearing it. And it is not perhaps out of place here to speak of the taking of ether or any anaesthetic before an operation. The power of relaxing to the process easily and quietly brings a quicker and pleasanter effect with less disagreeable results. One must take ether easily in mind and body. It a man forces himself to be quiet externally, and is frightened and excited mentally, as soon as he has become unconscious enough to lose control of his voluntary muscles, the impression of fright made upon the brain asserts itself, and he struggles and resists in proportion.

   These same principles of repose should be applied in illness when it comes in other forms than that of pain. We can easily increase whatever illness may attack us by the nervous strain which comes from fright, anxiety, or annoyance. I have seen a woman retain a severe cold for days more than was necessary, simply because of the chronic state of strain she kept herself in by fretting about it; and in another unpleasantly amusing case the sufferer's constantly expressed annoyance took the form of working almost without intermission to find remedies for herself. Without using patience enough to wait for the result of one remedy, she would rush to another until she became--so to speak--twisted and snarled in the meshes of a cold which it took weeks thoroughly to cure. This is not uncommon, and not confined merely to a cold in the head.

   We can increase the suffering of friends through "sympathy" given in the same mistaken way by which we increase our own pain, or keep ourselves longer than necessary in an uncomfortable illness.

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