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.