Then—the stomach and brain are so closely associated—her digestion began to cause her discomfort: a lump in her stomach, her food “would not digest,” and various other symptoms, all of which mean strained and overwrought nerves, although they are more often attributed merely to a disordered stomach. She worried as to what she had better eat and what she had better not eat. If her stomach was tired and some simple food disagreed with her all the discomfort was attributed to the food, instead of to the real cause,—a tired stomach,—and the cause back of that,—strained nerves. The consequence was that one kind of wholesome food after another was cut off as being impossible for her to eat. Anything that this poor little invalid did not like about circumstances or people she felt ugly and cried over. Finally, the entire family were centered about her illness, either in overcare or annoyance.
You see, she kept constantly repeating her brain impression of overfatigue: first annoyance because she stayed awake; then annoyance at noises; then excited distress that she should have stayed awake all night; then resistance and anger at other people who interfered with her. Over and over that brain impression of nervous illness was repeated by the woman herself and people about her until she seemed settled into it for the rest of her life. It was like expecting a sore to get well while it was constantly being rubbed and irritated. A woman might have the healthiest blood in the world, but if she cut herself and then rubbed and irritated the cut, and put salt in it, it would be impossible for it to heal.
Now let me tell you how this little woman got well. The first thing she did was to take some very simple relaxing exercises while she was lying in bed. She raised her arms very slowly and as loosely as she could from the elbow and then her hands from the wrist, and stretched and relaxed her fingers steadily, then dropped her hand and forearm heavily, and felt it drop slowly at first, then quickly and quietly, with its own weight. She tried to shut her eyes like a baby going to sleep, and followed that with long, gentle, quiet breaths. These and other exercises gave her an impression of quiet relaxation so that she became more sensitive to superfluous tension.
When she felt annoyed at noises she easily noticed that in response to the annoyance her whole body became tense and strained. After she had done her exercises and felt quiet and rested something would happen or some one would say something that went against the grain, and quick as a wink all the good of the exercises would be gone and she would be tight and strained again, and nervously irritated.
Very soon she saw clearly that she must learn to drop the habit of physical strain if she wanted to get well; but she also learned what was more—far more—important than that: that she must conquer the cause of the strain or she could never permanently drop it. She saw that the cause was resentment and resistance to the noises—the circumstances, the people, and all the variety of things that had “made her nervous.”