Believing that many doctors have encouraged people to turn so quickly to sedatives or tranquilizers. Dr. Meares presents a natural method for the relief of nervous tension and anxieties.
In his book, Tension and Anxiety Relief Without Drugs, he describes step-by-step natural techniques that can be practiced by anyone, at any time. This self-management involves the complete relaxation of both body and mind.
The causes and the signs of anxiety, and many interesting facts about the nature of pain, are also set out in the book.
Feelings of tension and anxiety
Feelings of tension and anxiety seem all too common in today’s hectic and complex world. Perhaps you cannot describe too well exactly what the feeling is. But I am sure you will recognize some of the symptoms I am going to describe.
Anxiety or tension may not be very severe – perhaps nothing more than a kind of restlessness, or a slight nervousness in social situations or at work. Perhaps you find yourself getting a little too impatient too often. Your wife or husband, your children, your friends may complain that you are on edge.
Perhaps you have trouble concentrating, or have vague feelings of fear, without quite knowing what you are afraid of. Your nervous tension may show itself in a stiff, unnatural way of walking, or in the way you speak. Perhaps you have trouble falling asleep, or sleep comes in short, unsatisfying patches.
Everybody feels some of these symptoms in one degree or another at some time. You may have become so used to being in a tense or anxious state that you don’t even recognize it as unnatural.
I am going to describe to you a tray of dealing with anxiety that may seem almost too simple to believe. It is, in fact, the most natural way of improving the mental and bodily sense of well-being.
My method for relieving anxiety and tension requires only that you learn how to relax your body and your mind. And you can learn to do this. You can learn by practicing simple relaxing mental exercises that I am going to describe later – exercises that can be done at any time and in any place.
As you become increasingly able to do them successfully, you will have an increasing ability to let your body relax and your mind regress to a simpler, less distressed state. Your anxiety and tension diminish and the annoying and painful symptoms they bring disappear.
My method is, in fact, the body’s own way of coping with distress.
The biological significance of nervous tension is not so obvious. But whereas pain acts as a warning that all is not well with the body, anxiety warns that all is not well in the mind.
When people have too much to do, too many decisions to make, they experience anxiety in the form of nervous tension and are warned to do less. This situation arises more commonly when some moral decision is involved or when something links the present problem with some similar experience in the past which has not gone well.
Suffering is reduced by the relief of anxiety because the person with anxiety really suffers from his mental turmoil, and the relief of anxiety in itself helps to restore normal mental functioning.
If after a reasonable trial of the relaxing exercises described later, the signs of anxiety should persist, and particularly if they are associated with feelings of depression, then you should consult your doctor with a view to possible psychiatric treatment.
What is anxiety?
Here are some general statements that help to define it.
The brain is continually receiving a great number of nervous impulses. Some are conscious, but the great majority are unconscious. These impulses arise from three different areas – from the person’s external environment, from the body itself, and from the mind.
All these impulses have to be dealt with and integrated to allow the smooth working of the brain. If the number of impulses becomes too great, the brain is unable to cope. There is in fact a level at which integration of the impulses becomes incomplete, and this is experienced as anxiety.
The body reacts to anxiety with a number of physiological responses. The heart rate is increased, blood pressure rises, blood is diverted from the organs to the muscles, and the pupils of the eyes are dilated. The body prepares to meet some emergency. It is really a preparation for action – for fight or flight. This biologically ancient reaction is inherited from times when dangers were usually a threat of physical attack.
But the beating of the heart and tensing of muscles for physical action only tends to increase anxiety, because there is no outward foe on whom we can vent the physical strength which has been mobilized.
The mind becomes very alert, too alert so that all the time it seems to be searching for the cause of its own disquiet. There develops a pathological overalertness. Thus a noise which would normally go unheeded causes an anxious person to start.
This overalertness shows itself in many ways. The individual is on the lookout all the time. He is fidgety and cannot let himself go off guard. He cannot rest because his mind keeps him alert even when there is no need for it. To relax and sit still becomes a near impossibility.
Sometimes, however, another type of reaction takes place so that the anxious individual is dulled and apathetic – as in an overwhelming national or personal disaster.
The person is “struck dumb,” “in a daze,” “unable to think or move.”
This comes about by the overactivity of the self-regulatory mechanisms of the body. There is a surge of anxiety with its accompanying overalertness, but if this were too great the body would be overwhelmed and unable to respond effectively. To prevent this, the self-regulatory mechanisms come into play and inhibit the anxiety reaction. It is thus the overreaction of the inhibiting mechanism that causes the individual to be tired, listless, dull, apathetic, and unable to take effective action.
Most people when they experience anxiety take heed of the warning and do something about it. They do a little less work and so reduce the stream of impulses to the brain, or take a holiday away from disturbing conflicts, or rest and give the brain a chance to re-establish equilibrium, or take sedatives and tranquilizing drugs. This works well enough when the major inflow of disturbing impulses comes from outside sources, but it is generally ineffective when it arises in the unconscious mind.
It is then that the relaxing exercises described later are needed.
How can you identify anxiety?
Everybody experiences the nervous tension of some degree at some time, and all are familiar with the more obvious signs of anxiety. However, there is a multitude of ways in which anxiety may manifest itself, and some mislead both patient and doctor to believe the trouble is due to some organic cause rather than to the disordered function of the mind.
This state of mind is anxiety in pure form. There is a feeling of fear, but the person knows there is nothing to make him afraid. If the anxiety is severe, this irrational element may evoke feelings of approaching insanity, and disquiet of the mind is increased.
In less severe form, apprehension may show itself as a vague uneasiness.
2. Nervous tension
Nervous tension is a less complicated sensation than apprehension, though they may both occur together, and lacks the feeling of impending disaster. The sufferer feels tense in the mind, the brain, or the whole self. Relaxation seems impossible. He feels wound up like a spring and cannot let go.
This nervous tension of anxiety is often accompanied by physical muscle tension.
Minor degrees of nervous tension show themselves in the way people function in everyday life. There is a lack of ease. Even in walking, the arms do not swing in the accustomed fashion, and the gait has the appearance of being strained and awkward. Sometimes these symptoms of anxiety very closely resemble those of organic illness. There is a tendency to talk abruptly and too quickly. In writing, the pen is held too tightly. The hand starts to shake, the writing becomes jerky.
Anxiety commonly shows itself in irritability. People react too quickly and too much to minor frustrations.
Poor sleep is the rule for the anxious individual. There is difficulty in falling asleep. It seems impossible to get comfortable, and he tosses and turns and worries.
Sleep is commonly disturbed by frightening dreams, so he wakes in a sweat with a pounding heart and the other physiological signs of anxiety.
As one would expect from the over-alertness, nervous tension, and lack of sleep, fatigue is a constant symptom of anxiety. However, where the normal fatigue of a day of mental and physical activity leads to contented rest, the fatigue of anxiety is restless, alert, and lacks the pleasant relaxing quality of normal tiredness.
It is important to consider the matter of depression carefully. Depression may be caused through anxiety, loss, or bereavement, in which case it can be relieved by the techniques I am about to describe; on the other hand, it may result from a quite different type of nervous illness that is best treated by other means.
If the sense of depression is sufficiently severe to bring the feeling that life is not worth living, or if fleeting thoughts of suicide come to mind, or if the depression is accompanied by feelings that you are somehow being punished for your past sins, then it is important that you consult your doctor.
7. Lack of concentration
Students and those whose occupation requires steady brainwork often find that their anxiety shows itself primarily in lack of concentration (common at exam time). Others may notice the inability to concentrate when reading, or even in conversation with friends.
8. Difficulties with friends
Anxiety often shows itself in difficulty in interpersonal relations. The anxious one is no longer at ease when meeting people, even those he knows. Oddly enough, professional and business dealings with people are more easily handled than social occasions, even when the social occasion is of no consequence. The reason is that in professional and business dealings there is something definite to do. But small talk is more difficult.
This difficulty in interpersonal relationships resulting from anxiety may come between husband and wife or young lovers, cutting off the free interchange of their emotions. In a similar way the anxious mother may become separated from her baby; the infant, in animal fashion, senses her tension and reacts to it.
The anxious patient cannot sit still. He cannot settle to the task in hand; he starts one job, leaves it, and starts something else. He is less restless when there is something definite that he has to do, so he is more comfortable at work than at home. On weekends, in spite of happy relations with his family, it is common for him to wish for Monday and the routine of work.
Some people with anxiety are benefited by a holiday, but when restlessness is a feature the anxious patient only returns more tense and frustrated than ever.
10. Phobias and phobic tension
In a phobia, the patient remains reasonably at ease until confronted with the phobic situation. He then experiences discomfort which may vary from mild apprehension to uncontrollable panic. The patient develops a fear of the particular situation which causes him this distress, and the condition is known as a phobia.
Common phobias are heights, being away from home, being in crowds, or being in enclosed spaces such as lifts. Knives, swords, and firearms often become the objects of phobias. In a similar way people may develop an irrational fear of certain animals such as mice, cats, moths. The sufferer is always aware that his phobia is irrational, but this does nothing at all to relieve his sense of panic.
11. Obsessions and obsessional tension
People evolve their own ways of coping with tension. Some relieve it by “blowing their top” and ventilating their emotion, and in this way they dissipate their anxiety; some develop a studied calm; while with others the anxiety is concentrated in one particular limb or organ, so that the rest of the body is free.
Other people cope with inner tension by making sure that they have everything just right. They feel that if everything is right there can be nothing to worry about. This is likely to become an obsession with them so that they become preoccupied with it and spend much of their time checking things over time and again.
The need to have things just right leads to doubts about whether things are right or not. In this way the obsessive is continually in doubt, so that he becomes a constant worrier, and even trivial decisions may become a matter of great effort. If something upsets his set routines, he becomes tense and anxious.
Anxiety may have an effect on stuttering. In the right-handed person the left side of the brain is dominant over the right, and as a result the right hand is given preference over the left. In those who are left-handed the right side of the brain is dominant over the left.
It is believed that stuttering often develops when the dominance of the leading side of the brain is incomplete, or when a potentially left-handed child is trained to function as a right-hander. Stuttering results when the messages from the brain to the organ of speech are indecisive. This indecision may be increased by anxiety.
But some people stutter without showing or feeling much tension or anxiety at all. As a general rule, these do not gain much help in their speech difficulty by practicing relaxing mental exercises. However, the majority of stutterers do.
One of the commonest symptoms of anxiety is the abnormal awareness of the action of the heart which is due to hypersensitivity rather than overactivity of the organ itself. The individual comes to feel there is something wrong with the heart, and reassurance is difficult while his anxiety remains.
14. Pain in the region of the heart
Anxiety frequently produces pain on the left side of the chest which patients immediately suspect to be due to some disease of the heart. However, the pain of anxiety is usually situated well to the left of where the pain from the organic disease would be, and there are other differences.
15. Nervous dyspepsia
Discomfort in the stomach felt beneath the ribs in the upper part of the abdomen is one of the commonest signs of anxiety. The discomfort is very similar in nature to the pain of a peptic ulcer, except that the pain of nervous dyspepsia tends to be associated with emotional stress, whereas ulcer pain is more clearly related to food intake.
The normal response of the body to anxiety includes a dampening down of movement of the bowels. A mild anxiety reaction over a long period may lead to chronic constipation.
17. Nervous diarrhea
The self-regulating mechanisms of the body may come into action in an attempt to restore equilibrium. It is quite common for the self-regulating mechanisms to overcompensate. When this happens there is increased mobility of the bowel, and diarrhea results instead of constipation.
18. In sexual life
The tense or anxious woman commonly has a loss of both desire and response.
Young men are quite prone to sexual anxiety. This is an entirely psychological reaction, and virile appearance or athletic build are no armor against it. The anxiety often arises in an early experience which has been unsuccessful because of guilt. On subsequent occasions the anxiety is rekindled and the pattern of failure becomes even more firmly established. Older men also may be affected in a similar way by anxieties arising from non-sexual conflicts.
Allergy, infection, genetic constitution, and emotional influences are important factors in bronchial asthma.
However, preoccupation with allergy in the past 20 or 30 years has led to the neglect of the emotional factors, which are much more elusive and harder to appreciate as an aspect of science. But the importance of the emotional influence is beyond all doubt.
I have had a number of patients who suffered for years from classical asthma, with proven sensitivity to common pollens and dusts. They ceased to have attacks of asthma after being treated by relaxing methods (that is when their anxiety was reduced), even though they were still exposed to the same pollens and dusts which in the past had caused the attacks.
20. Nervous rashes
Emotional stresses in the mind are apt to produce nervous rashes in the skin. Self-management of these nervous rashes involves reduction both in the level of anxiety and responsiveness to emotional stress.
21. Nervous headaches and migraine
These two different conditions are both associated with anxiety – nervous headache directly so, and migraine less directly.
22. Painful monthly periods
There are physical conditions that pre-dispose toward this complaint, but nearly always there is an important emotional factor. If this can be remedied by reducing the patient’s general level of anxiety so that she ceases to overreact to stress, the condition is usually cured or greatly relieved.