Care of the Nerves
Agatha M. Thrash, M.D.
Many persons blame their family temperament for their nervous qualities. However, it is not normal to be nervous, overly talkative, morose or withdrawn, or to speak in a strange way, even if one was born in a foreign country. It is true that some families tend to be more expressive of certain personality traits than others, to be more high strung or active than others, but even these individuals can become calm and relaxed while still retaining the desirable qualities of being affable, showing kindly interest, or using mental faculties to make quick decisions.
If one has undesirable characteristics such as those noted above, positive personality characteristics such as cheerfulness, thought concentration, ambition, and social ease are increased by following certain guidelines. Proper sleep is a most important prerequisite to proper mental health. Each individual should study his own characteristics and schedule so as to make time for a proper amount of sleep. To the best of our current knowledge, around eight hours, give or take one hour is ideal. It is known that individuals who regularly sleep less than six hours or more than nine hours do not live as long as do those sleeping between seven and nine hours. For insomnia, the simple rule of regularity in the hour of retiring and arising is mandatory. Excessive sensory inputs such as television, family bickering, or the reading of exciting fiction, set the stage for insomnia. Instead, a family worship period followed by a time of prayer and meditation at bedtime will be helpful in promoting sleep. If one makes a habit of retiring always on an empty stomach, drinking plenty of water so that the brain will stay well hydrated, and keeping the bedroom fresh and tidy at all times, sleep may be much more ready. Consistently refuse to use sleeping pills, as these only borrow sleep from the future. It is well known that the sleep of a working man is sweet. Therefore, vigorous exercise out-of-doors is primary to proper sleep. If sleep refuses to come, a long tub bath of 20 to 30 minutes at a neutral or slightly warm temperature will do wonders for relaxation.
The diet is of unusual importance in the care of the nerves. Most important of all is the liberal use of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, prepared in a natural, yet tasty way. The food should be kept free from sugar and protein concentrates. If the person is overweight, refined oils and fats should be kept from the food. All constipating and gas forming foods should be omitted, including milk, white flour products, polished rice, and the white pastas (macaroni, spaghetti, etc). Refined proteins which are sometimes used to enrich foods such as non-fat dry milk powder, nut butters or powders, and supplemental protein may put a tax on the body. The concentrated sweeteners such as honey, sugar, molasses, and syrup cause the B vitamins to be used up in their metabolism, making them unavailable for use by the nerves. The B vitamins, as they are balanced in natural foods, keep the nerves calm, the disposition smooth, and the concentration better. Excessive fat in the food tends to cause clumping of the red blood cells, cutting down on oxygenation of the nerve tissues in the brain, causing malfunctioning of the brain cells.
If one is careful to take a generous variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, the nutrients necessary to maintain proper nerve health will be assured. Individual dishes should be simple and few in number, at most three simple dishes with bread. All meals should be on a regular schedule, not varying so much as five minutes in nervousness or depression. Most individuals do far better on two meals than on three, the third meal being the most important one to leave off. Breakfast should never be omitted, dinner should be in the early or mid-afternoon, and a third meal is needed only to prevent excessive weight loss. We work on breakfast, work on dinner, and sleep on supper. Food taken near bedtime promotes fermentation, and acts as a metabolic burden on the delicate biochemical mechanisms. If it is deemed necessary to take a third meal, a piece of fruit and a slice of bread taken several hours before bedtime is all that is needed. Five hours should be placed between the meals, from the end of one meal to the beginning of the next.
Certain foods are stimulatory or irritating to the nervous system. All concentrated foods, that is, those having a high calorie or high nutrient density per unit of food are stimulatory to the nervous system. That includes free sugars, free oils, free proteins; even free minerals and vitamins are usually stimulatory to the nervous system. Beverages containing caffeine are also irritating, as are spices, pepper, baking powder, baking soda, and too much food, even of good quality.
Fresh air has a great calming effect on the nerves. A current of fresh air should be flowing through the living quarters day and night, winter and summer, good weather and bad. If smog, tobacco smoke, exhaust fumes, or the miasma from decaying vegetable matter make the air impure, one should seriously consider moving one's place of living or working. The health is far more important than the location of the home or work. Good posture can go far toward soothing the nerves and lifting a gloom from the spirits.
The stress of living cannot be avoided. There are many things that can help to neutralize stressful factors, exercise being perhaps the most important of these. For every hour of stressful labor, an hour of outdoor activity should be planned. Not all of one's daily life is stressful, however, and does not need outdoor exercise to balance it as much as do the stressful portions of the day. If one is in a high stress occupation for three hours during the day, three hours out-of-doors should be planned. All stressful factors that can be eliminated from the life should be promptly eliminated. Being chilly is one stress factor that many people overlook. However, in experiments to induce stress in animals, chilling of the animal is often the stressor used. Noise and an irregular schedule go far toward upsetting the calmness of even phlegmatic individuals. Certain classes of thoughts produce hormones that tend to destroy the health of the mind. These include anxiety, jealousy, anger, fear, envy, excitement, prolonged or abnormal sexual stimulation, excessive ambition, and worry. On the other hand, calming thoughts have a beneficial effect on the circulation, digestion, movement of the intestines, and the maintenance of proper hormone balance. This class of thoughts includes patience, love, joy (not exciting fun, the counterfeit of true joy), peace, kindness, sympathy, and self-control. This kind of mental activity will increase blood production and antibodies and make the bones and muscles stronger.
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