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Anxiety in the mind: nervous tension
ANXIETY IN THE MIND: NERVOUS TENSION
There is a difference between true apprehension and the more common nervous tension. They may occur either separately or in combination. Nervous tension is a less complicated sensation and lacks the feeling of impending disaster. We feel tense in the mind, the brain, or the whole self. Relaxation seems impossible. We feel wound-up like a spring and cannot let go. There is an absence of normal mental ease, and in its place there is the feeling of being overwrought.
This nervous tension of anxiety is often accompanied by physical muscle tension. When we are anxious, our muscles are tensed, ready for the call to action which in fact never comes. The tensed muscles may become sore and tender. If this is generalized we are said to suffer from nervous rheumatism, but more often the stiffness is confined to certain muscle groups, particularly those around the neck and shoulders.
Minor degrees of nervous tension show themselves in the way we function in our everyday life. There is a lack of ease about our reactions. Even in such a simple thing as walking, the natural ease of movement is lost, our arms do not swing in the accustomed fashion and our gait has the appearance of being strained and awkward. Sometimes these symptoms of anxiety very closely resemble those of organic illness.
A woman in her early fifties had been thoroughly investigated by a competent physician, and had had psychiatric treatment with drugs and discussion of various domestic problems. She complained to me that she was tired and lethargic. She was dizzy when she stood up and would become breathless when walking up a slight hill. She said that she was wobbly on her legs so that she had difficulty in standing to do the cooking.
I thought that an organic cause for her symptoms may have been overlooked, and I referred her back for further investigation, but nothing could be found. So I started her with relaxing mental exercises, and she has made a dramatic improvement, which shows that her symptoms were in fact due to anxiety. I later discovered that her unsteadiness on standing was due to the increased nervous tension in the muscles of her legs.
Nervous tension may be seen in our manner of speech. There is a tendency to talk abruptly and too quickly. The flow of words is interrupted and the observer is aware of a loss of natural ease of communication. In simple things such as writing, our tension makes us hold the pen too tightly. Our hand starts to shake, our writing becomes jerky, and the letters lose their normal rounded outline.
There is another aspect of nervous tension which further disturbs us. We do not like other people to know that we suffer in this way. It is considered socially desirable to be relaxed and at ease. To be tense and uncomfortable is to be socially inept, and as a result we do all we can to disguise our inner tension from those around us. We try to behave in a relaxed manner, and when we are seated we assume a posture of ease in the hope that others will not guess what is going on in our mind. In this attempt to keep from the others the truth as to how we feel, we concentrate on what we are saying and on the tone of voice as we say it. We try to present a facade to them so that they will not guess our true state of mind. To keep up this facade requires more and more effort. We have to concentrate on it so much that we can only give half our attention to the matter in hand. We become aware that we are not functioning to our full ability; we become more apprehensive, and our anxiety is still further increased.
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