A TIRED BRAIN.
ROBT. H. PERKS, M.D., F.R.C.S.
The condition popularly known as "brain fag," "brain exhaustion," or "tired brain," is one fairly common today, and is used to designate a state of ill-health, of which the prominent symptoms are inability for prolonged or concentrated mental work, sleeplessness, and often apprehension of impending disaster; and in which there is also usually a feeling of general weakness and lassitude, together with digestive troubles and constipation.
It is true that the exciting cause is often excessive mental strain, anxiety, and "worry," which, the last two especially, by their depressing action and undue call upon the stock of nervous energy, seriously interfere with the organic functions of digestion, excretion and nutrition, this action being often assisted by too sedentary habits and a complete neglect of personal hygienic measure. It is to these secondary causes that the condition described is due. In fact, it may be truly said there can be no brain fag if the digestive organs perform their functions properly. The appetite becomes impaired, there is often a craving for stimulating foods and drinks, and such food as is taken is slowly and imperfectly digested, yielding but a tithe of its nutritious elements to the organism, and the rest during its retention undergoes fermentation and decomposition, producing poisons which are absorbed into the blood, and which are the immediate cause of the morbid symptoms. The individual is, in fact, self-poisoned, or in medical language is suffering from auto-intoxication.
Although the disease has acquired its popular name from the prominence of particular and easily discernible symptoms, and is usually considered as a more or less local brain trouble, I have never seen a case in which the secondary causes were absent, or were not the most powerful in maintaining the condition. In fact, with the exciting causes they form a vicious circle, from which, when well established, it is difficult to escape.
In old persons and in some organic diseases we often have another factor added. i.e., rigidity of the arterial system preventing a due supply of blood to the brain; this condition with a feeble heart will alone often give rise to similar cerebral symptoms, but these are usually found to be aggravated by the existence of digestive difficulties also.
As it is generally recognized that drugs are of quite secondary importance in relieving such sufferers, the advice usually given may be summarized in the words "rest" and "change." But many persons owing to their circumstances are quite unable to avail themselves of either (and if taken alone these are usually non-effective); it is for these more especially that I propose to indicate means, available by all, by which health can be regained and maintained. I will deal with these under separate headings for convenience sake.
Rest. The hours of mental work, if excessive, must be shortened to a reasonable period. Mental "rest" should be sought in "variety" of objects, rather than in complete inaction. A mind tired in one particular set of faculties finds relief in an occupation involving the use of another set. Hence the well-known recuperative effects of "hobbies," gardening, etc., on a mind tired with professional or commercial details. Try to cultivate some interests as different as possible from the usual ones.
Baths. A rapid plunge or sponge bath in water, cold or with the chill off, should be taken on rising, followed by vigorous rubbing; not only does the shock act as a nerve tonic, but the skin is rendered healthy and its recuperative functions increased. If for any reason a bath is not available, a vigorous kneading and rubbing of the muscles with the bare hand on the bare body (always in a direction from the extremities towards the heart) for five minutes, may be used as a substitute.
Few people are aware of the vivifying influence of a "sun bath," are such an easily available and powerful therapeutic agent would become largely used. It can be most readily enjoyed, by reclining nude, on a couch placed before a convenient window; if unpleasantly hot, the heat rays can be partially intercepted by a screen or covering of blue gauze or veiling. The duration of the bath should be quarter of an hour to begin with, and may be increased gradually up to an hour. The head, however, should be always shaded.
Food. Oxygen is a true "food" of the highest importance, and to get a due supply deep breathing must be practiced. Most people breaths with only a small portion of their available lung capacity, and suffer from inadequate supply of oxygen in consequence. A full supply is especially necessary in the conditions of which we are treating. Whilst in the reclining, or erect sitting, or standing positions, a deep, steady inspiration should be taken slowly through the nostrils, fully expanding the whole of the chest and pressing the abdominal walls downwards and outwards, followed immediately by an equally slow, steady expiration, these should be continued until a sense of fatigue is experienced in the muscles of the chest walls, which will be felt in one unused to such complete breathing, after about 8 or 10 inspirations – but a little practice will enable it to be extended to 30, 40 or 50 such inspirations. Slight dizziness may be produced at first, and some tingling sensations of the extremities, but these soon pass off.
Such deep breathing should be practiced in bed immediately on retiring and on awakening in the morning, and at least once during the day; in fact, it is desirable to practice it frequently till it becomes a habit. A delightful sense of lightness and well-being will be found to result from this practice when properly executed and persevered in. I need hardly say it should be done in the purest air available, and to that end free ventilation should be secured, without draught, and the windows of the sleeping apartment should be always open. As much exercise as possible in the open air should be taken.
Food should consist mainly of –
Whole Meal Bread or biscuits. The former may with advantage be toasted.
Nuts. Walnut, almond, pine kernels and Barcelona nuts, which should be shredded in an Ida nut mill; and chestnuts, which may be steamed.
Olive Oil. Freely with salads, bread, etc. (see that it is "Olive," not Cottonseed Oil). Cream or butter may be taken, but good Olive Oil is preferable.
Fresh and Dried Fruits. The former for preference, but they must be ripe. Take of these freely.
Salads. Watercress, beetroot, lettuce, onion, etc., with abundance of oil and a little vinegar.
Tea, coffee, alcoholic liquors and flesh food should be absolutely avoided – or the former taken only much diluted and in small quantity. This diet furnishes everything that is required for the nourishment of all the tissues, and especially of the nervous tissues, and will be found to restore and promote the regular action of the bowels.
Before commencing this regime a 6 or 12 hour fast is desirable, giving the stomach time to empty itself and recuperate, and to establish a healthy appetite.
Do not eat unless hungry, and when eating see that each mouthful is thoroughly masticated and reduced to a fluid pulp before it is swallowed.
Nuts, usually considered (in error) to be difficult of digestion, will give no trouble when this is observed.
Not more than three meals daily should be taken, and of these one should be very light. They should have an interval of 5 hours between each, and the last should be taken not less than 3 hours before retiring. Fluid (water) to be taken 2 hours after a meal.
For sleeplessness, a very cold or very hot (the former preferable) foot bath immediately before retiring, and the deep breathing exercise as soon as in bed, will usually be followed by sleep. A glass of hot water or hot lemonade the last thing (in bed) will often be a valuable aid to the same end.
The adoption of, and careful perseverance in, the course sketched out above, simple as it seems, will be found to be of striking benefit in all cases of brain fag.
I may add that this paper is written to answer the question of one of the correspondents of The Herald, so that others beside the lady who wrote may have the opportunity of benefitting thereby.
I shall be glad to welcome further enquiries suitable for dealing with in the same way.
As a last word, I would, say above all "Don't worry;" worry is the most fatal destroyer of vital energy that we know, use every effort of the will to attain and maintain a placid and hopeful mental attitude. I know this is very easy to advice and very difficult to perform; in truth it can only be completely realized when we have become "as little children" with complete trust and confidence in the love and wisdom of the Divine Father.
OF THE GOLDEN AGE.