Nervous Breakdown—Cure or Prevention?
EARLY in 1972 it was made public that Col. Edwin Aldrin, Jr., the second man to set foot on the moon, had undergone psychiatric treatment. It seems that the pressure of publicity associated with his Apollo 11 flight had been too much for him. Said he: “The fact of the matter is that I was on my way to having a good, old-fashioned American nervous breakdown.” The condition is one that some persons prefer to describe as “chronic nervous exhaustion.”
The role that our nerves play in our bodies might be likened to the role played by an automobile’s electrical system. An auto may have all its mechanical parts in good order and yet it will not be able to move if something is wrong with its electrical system. The situation is similar if our nervous system is not functioning properly. That is why doctors distinguish between organic disease, in which something is wrong with some organ or part of the body, and functional disease, in which a physical examination reveals nothing wrong with the organs.
And if we were to imagine an auto electrically powered and capable of being driven by a robot we would have a still more apt illustration—the robot corresponding to the mind, whereas the rest of the auto’s electrical system could be likened to the rest of our body’s nervous system. Just as neither the robot nor the auto could function properly if the electrical energy were low, so when there is nervous exhaustion neither the mind nor the body can function properly.
However, we should not oversimplify the matter. A nerve impulse is not just a simple electrical current. Further, while wires in an auto serve merely as conductors, in the human body the nerves themselves forward the nerve impulse, even as a fuse of gunpowder carries a spark along by feeding it. Yes, a nerve impulse retains its strength no matter how far it travels, for it is continually regenerated as it moves along.
Many different symptoms can accompany a nervous breakdown. Among these is fatigue, not related to any physical exertion; a feeling of being tired that may range from vague to so heavy as to preclude one’s doing any work at all. Restlessness, insomnia and nervous indigestion are other common symptoms, even as are loss of appetite, headaches and constipation. A nervous breakdown may be accompanied by irregular heartbeat or palpitation of the heart, by spells of dizziness or fuzzy vision, skin rashes, excessive sweating, muscular pains and tingling sensations in the hands and feet. In fact, practically all physical ills can be simulated by nervous breakdown.
More likely than not, mental and emotional symptoms will also manifest themselves. There may be inability to make decisions or to meet people comfortably. Extreme cases are marked by weeping, panic or near hysteria. There may be excessive fear or apprehension for apparently no reason, severe mental depression, a desire to die and even suicidal tendencies. Christians at times have said that their nervous breakdowns were accompanied with fears that they had committed the ‘unforgivable sin’ and that there was no more hope for them.
Since all our mental, emotional and physical processes and activities consume nervous energy, it can readily be seen why a nervous breakdown can manifest itself in such a variety of ways. But let no one jump to the conclusion that he has a nervous breakdown just because he may have some of these symptoms!
Well has it been said that a nervous breakdown is a disorder arising from conflicting attitudes, that it is due to mental and emotional difficulties. Someone once said, “The Lord may forgive our sins, but the nervous system never does.” More accurately, the Bible says: “Whatever a man is sowing, this he will also reap.”—Gal. 6:7.
A very common cause of nervous exhaustion is oversensitiveness, which often is inherited along with excitability and a quick temper. These cause one to make ‘mountains out of molehills,’ to be unduly hurt by real or imagined slights, and to expect too much of others. Closely related thereto is being overly fussy, never satisfied with one’s own efforts or achievements. All such emotional states likewise take a toll in nervous energy and can lead to a nervous breakdown.
A nervous breakdown can also be brought on by what is called a trauma. This could be in the form of a serious accident, loss of a loved one in death, an unhappy love affair, loss of a job or financial reverses. Or it could be brought about by environment. An unhappy marriage, unfavorable working conditions, too much pressure or responsibility, being the victim of discrimination or arbitrariness, also the problem of trying to make ends meet have time and again taken a heavy toll in nervous energy.
Then again, failure to use the spirit of a sound mind can bring on a nervous breakdown. A man may be overworking himself, either because of ambition, overconscientiousness or because of being too easily imposed upon. He may be tense nearly all the time, may never be able to relax. This wastes nervous energy, and so does worry. In fact, overworry hurts far more people than overwork. Closely related to worry are indecision and anxiety.
Causes of nervous breakdown must also include what the Bible terms “works of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:19-21) These are such things as loose conduct, unwise use of drugs, indulging too freely in alcoholic beverages and such unwholesome mental attitudes as rebellion, carrying on conflicts with others, holding grudges and hatreds. Yet it has been discerningly observed that a curious thing about human nature is that it seldom sees a connection between its emotional torment and its illness, and there seems to be no limit to the ingenious ways in which people manage to deceive themselves in these matters. Here again a scripture is to the point: “The heart is more treacherous than anything else and is desperate.”—Jer. 17:9.
Today more and more persons resort to drugs to bring relief when suffering from nervousness or a nervous breakdown. But as one authority noted, drugs bring only temporary relief and they do not increase wisdom or insight, which is important for a cure. As Dr. W. C. Alvarez so well notes, after years of overdrawing recklessly on the bank of health, one’s loans get called in, as it were, and, as a result, one goes into a sort of “nervous bankruptcy.” So it follows that cure will take time. In particular is it of the utmost importance to appreciate the fact that a cure requires self-control. But “most persons would rather try to get well with medicine or an operation than by making the effort at self-control.”
In view of the fact that so many different things could be the cause of a nervous breakdown, one should, first of all, seek to find the particular cause or causes, as often more than one factor enters into the picture. Did it result from being oversensitive, from some mishap or trauma? Is it the result of environmental conditions under which one is living? Or could it have had an emotional cause such as frustration, worry, fears? Try to take inventory, either by yourself or with the help of a mature friend, a Christian minister or a family physician. Sometimes just getting to recognize the cause is sufficient to bring relief.
And while in some quarters it may be fashionable to consult a psychiatrist when suffering a nervous breakdown, many have been able to get real help from a physician practicing physical medicine, or from a chiropractor or an old-style osteopath. It could well be that massage will help you, provided you get in the hands of a skillful, cheerful, understanding massagist.
Of course, if the cause is tenseness, being unable to relax, then one must simply learn to relax if one would recover. Put forth an effort, practice relaxing, taking time for it. While lying on a firm bed or couch try relaxing one part of the body at a time: the hands and forearms, then the feet, legs, neck muscles, and so forth. Also give thought to relaxing when at work. Try to adopt a steady, regular pace rather than a hasty one. Learn to slow down. Instead of running all the time, learn to control yourself and to walk instead. Especially take time to practice relaxing before going to bed at night; it will help you to get to sleep quicker and to sleep more soundly. Listening to melodious, soothing and cheerful music can also greatly help your nerves. If possible, take mini-vacations over weekends. If you are a housewife, try to spend mornings in bed for a month or two. Put good health above good housekeeping until you recover.
Then again, if certain bad habits brought about a nervous breakdown, these must be dropped if cure is to be effected. Bad eating habits must be replaced by good ones; drug habits must be broken and moderation and self-control regarding the use of alcoholic beverages must be exercised.
Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Aids
Most likely, use of physical means of themselves will not be adequate. The mental, emotional, yes, and spiritual aspects must also be given attention. In this regard it is indeed noteworthy how helpful Bible principles are. Thus a good recipe for mental hygiene is found at Philippians 4:8, where we are counseled to keep considering whatever things are true, lovable, well spoken of, virtuous and praiseworthy. The Bible also tells us that “a heart that is joyful does good as a curer.”—Prov. 17:22.
Are you a “worry bird”? Ask yourself, Is the problem that I am worrying about really my problem? Can I do something about it now? If not, dismiss it from your mind. Carry only today’s problem; do not worry about tomorrow’s. Here again we have fine Scriptural counsel: “Do not be anxious over anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication along with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God; and the peace of God that excels all thought will guard your hearts.” And as Jesus put it: “Never be anxious about the next day, . . . Sufficient for each day is its own badness.”—Phil. 4:6, 7; Matt. 6:34.
Another great aid is learning to adjust. Are you married to a shrew? Adjust by being extremely tactful. Or you can seek to adjust by bringing about a change in her. The same is true if you have a husband who is an alcoholic brute. You can either try to avoid confrontations over the situation, or you can try to change the environment. As one wit put it: “O Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” Yes, as the saying goes, “What cannot be cured must be endured.” What will help you to endure? Love, for the Bible says that love “endures all things.”—1 Cor. 13:4-8.
You must also learn to distinguish between what is important and what is not. Avoid needless issues by ‘being peaceable with all men, as far as it depends upon you.’ (Rom. 12:18) Further, all “works of the flesh,” such as loose conduct and fits of anger, must be avoided.—Gal. 5:19-21.
Prevention Better than Cure
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is an adage that applies here also. It goes almost without saying that most of the things that will help to cure a nervous breakdown would have, if practiced, prevented it in the first place. Thus we are told that the most important lesson one can learn for nervous health is that of cooperation. Certainly cooperation will follow if we heed the admonition ‘to do to others as we would have them do to us.’—Luke 6:31.
Another great aid in preventing a nervous breakdown is contentment, a quality that the Bible repeatedly recommends to us. Most helpful also is its warning against a greedy love of money and a craving to be rich, for these can result not only in spiritual loss but also in being stabbed “all over with many pains,” including that of a nervous breakdown.—1 Tim. 6:6-10.
While practical wisdom will go far in aiding us to avoid or prevent a nervous breakdown, even more so will unselfish love. The Scriptural principle that “love builds up” applies in every way, mentally, physically, emotionally as well as spiritually. (1 Cor. 8:1) Since, as it has been shown, the “works of the flesh” can bring on a nervous breakdown, it follows that cultivating the very opposite, the fruits of the spirit, can also help you to prevent one. And what are these? “Love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, self-control.” No question about it, more than anything else, the application of Bible principles in one’s life will serve either to cure or to prevent a nervous breakdown.—Gal. 5:22, 23.