Understanding And Overcoming Neurasthenia

Many people are almost as much in fear of the word neurasthenia and its meaning as they are of cancer and its meaning. One reason for this is that they have known of one or more people who have had neurasthenia in its most severe form and who have gone from doctor to doctor and still endured the affliction for many months or years. There is no need for this fear regarding neurasthenia.

The term literally means merely loss of nerve strength, but it may mean any degree of reduction of nerve energy and physical strength from the condition slightly below normal to one of nervous prostration or nervous exhaustion. The symptoms of neurasthenia may result from many causes, especially excesses of any kind, perhaps particularly dietetic, also the failure to observe hygienic laws.

Neurasthenia usually develops between early adult life and the age of fifty. Men have it more often than women, though there is no great difference in the two sexes. Apparently many people are born with a more or less unstable nervous system which makes them susceptible to neurasthenia from various causes that would not result in this ailment in many others.

Fears and worries, anxieties, business cares, apprehension, grief or other severe shock, sexual excesses, and certain diseases and their wrong treatment may induce neurasthenia. In almost every instance there has been insufficient physical activity with too much food, or excessive physical activity also with an excess of food. That is, there is no balance between the intake of food and output of energy; also there is no balance between activity and relaxation and sleep. Many of these cases have burned the candle at both ends. Consumption of protein foods and sugars in excess provides causes of this condition.

The symptoms vary a great deal, depending upon the inherent stability of the nervous system, the degree of nervous debility and the induration of the various causes. In the mildest case there is merely a lack of energy and easy fatigue. As the severity of the condition increases or in other cases where the ailment begins fairly severely there will be a wide range of symptoms such as: failure of memory, insomnia, a sense of fullness at the top of the head or as of a band about the head, pain in the back, often in the neck, distension of the abdomen, with a moderate or more pronounced indigestion, constipation, impotence in the male, deficiencies or excessive menstruation, anemia, loss of weight, dread of the future and often fear of some impending physical, mental or financial calamity.

Any one case may have only a few of these symptoms, but some cases seem to have most all of them besides individual ones that they may have heard about, read about or are able to conjure up. Often the symptoms seem to be centered in one or more organ or system of organs, in which case we have, for instance, "sexual neurasthenia," "gastric neurasthenia," etc. Whatever the symptoms may be the patient usually greatly exaggerates their importance.

Treatment: Many cases of neurasthenia are difficult to correct for the reason that the affliction is mental as well as physical and it is quite difficult to get the patient into a cheerful or optimistic frame of mind. One of the characteristics of this disorder is to look upon the darkest side of life, to see only the cloud and never its silver lining. Neurasthenics as a rule are despondent and hopeless, and consider their condition incurable. In order to secure the best results, then, it is necessary that the mental outlook of the patient be altered to a more favorable one and that he be helped to restore his self-confidence and self-esteem.

In addition to this it will be necessary also to begin a program of treatment that will reduce the encumbrance of toxic wastes and that will restore normal nerve and muscle tone. The best results the patient can attain through physical development and activity, the better and the more permanent the results - though many cases have been restored to normal with only comparatively moderate physical activity. Nevertheless this is an important factor in the treatment.

For the correction of the altered condition of the blood, which in large measure has made the condition possible, a short water fast or fruit diet will be of great benefit, though usually these cases have to be under professional observation as they do not readily take to the water fast. As a rule a protracted fast is not necessary, three or four days being sufficient unless there is considerable amount of excess tissue. Even in these cases as well as in others it often is better to have the patient on a diet of fruit or fruit juices. They may have any of the fresh fruits available, or melons or berries, but it is better to have one article only each day. On such a diet the patient may remain for even two or three weeks. A small amount of the fruit or juice should be taken every hour or a somewhat larger amount every two hours. This frequent feeding allays restlessness and at the same time the fruit or juice will serve to improve the blood-chemistry. The natural fruit sugar will serve as a buffer to the nervous system so that the energy will not decline to any appreciable extent - and in fact may steadily increase for many days on this diet.

The milk diet is one of the very best diets a neurasthenic could possibly be on, after a fast or fruit diet. If the weight is normal or below, a quantity of five to six quarts may be taken daily; if above normal the quantity of milk may be sufficiently low to permit gradual reduction in weight while at the same time providing all of the other elements necessary to support the body and the nervous system. The daily enema may be required on the milk and the preliminary diets, and there should be at least one daily bowel evacuation.

The subsequent diet should include natural foods only - milk, egg yolks, whole grain cereals and all fruits and vegetables. Olive oil may be taken, and nuts may be added also. Since the neurasthenic almost invariably has over-eaten it usually is necessary that the diet be kept down to no more than the body can digest, utilize and dispose of satisfactorily, yet ample to fully nourish the body. There should be at least one large vegetable salad a day, and preferably two vegetable salads, and either a fruit salad or fruit as the main portion of one meal. A very satisfactory way to take the whole grain cereals is in the raw or whole grain form.

Spinal treatment is of great benefit in many of these cases. This may consist of hot packs covering the back and massage of this region; heat lamp treatment down the back and massage; or specific spinal treatment by osteopathy, naprapathy or chiropractic. The hot and cold spinal shower following a general shower - or the percussion hose - may be used also, but care must be taken not to have any treatment too stimulating. Any treatment must be regulated by the condition of the patient, and his individual reactive powers.

As soon as active exercise can be taken this should form a part of the daily program, and should increase in strenuousness as rapidly as is safe. Walking and deep breathing arc (rf especial value. There should be the daily sun-bath when possible, and every day a nude air-bath should be taken. Care must be taken to avoid over-use of hot baths or cold baths. As a rule these cares are better for a time for using the neutral bath, or slightly warmer for the cleansing bath and slightly cooler for the tonic effect. As soon as possible the patient should graduate to baths at lower and lower temperature until a decidedly cool or cold bath can be taken with prompt reaction. Massage may be employed at any time, but should not be necessary if one is able to take individual exercise.

One should attempt to get into some occupation that is interesting and yet that does not tap the patient's strength too much. Often it is advisable also to have a hobby - one that is quite different in nature from the daily occupation. When possible either the occupation or the hobby or both should be out of doors. Traveling or a change of environment, also sea-bathing, often will be of considerable benefit.

The patient must avoid over-sympathetic associates yet the environment must be cheerful. One must make every effort to develop the right mental attitude toward life and toward every factor of the patient's individual life. In practically every instance there can be a complete recovery to normal. Those who do not recover usually attempt to compromise too much and take only a part of the necessary program. Adopting the proper program and adhering to it is the surest means of overcoming the trouble in the shortest possible time.

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