Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/341

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327
MENTAL OVERWORK.

mon experience to meet with cases in which damage has been done to the bodily constitution by indulging too recklessly in athletic exercises and active physical exertion when the muscles have become flabby and feeble from disuse. A man accustomed to sedentary pursuits takes suddenly to boating or running, or the horizontal bar, and, if he escapes straining his heart, he is certain to make himself stiff and uncomfortable. Or he has been told that there is nothing like Switzerland for reviving the faded Londoner, so, without the slightest attempt at preparation, he devotes himself enthusiastically to climbing ice-peaks and traversing snow-passes; and, when his brief holiday is over, he comes back, worn and jaded, and astonished to find that the glacial air, which has proved so beneficial to many, has done nothing for him.

Now, the fault here lies in the want of proper preliminary training. Even as we do not prescribe quinine as a tonic until we have ascertained that the digestive functions of our patient are in good working order, so it is most improper for any one to attempt active muscular exertion without bracing up the previously-unused muscles by carefully-graduated exercise. And in mental operations the same analogy holds good. If the brain is not habituated to the constant gymnastic influence of steady work, it is liable to give way or suffer more or less injury from any sudden and spasmodic effort. If, on the other hand, however, its healthy nutrition is insured by the free supply of pure blood and the true balance between destruction and repair, we shall find ourselves in possession of an organ which will bear almost any amount of steady strain, so long as certain conditions are fulfilled. So long as a brain-worker is able to sleep well, to eat well, and to take a fair proportion of out-door exercise, it may safely be said that it is not necessary to impose any special limits on the actual number of hours which he devotes to his labors. But when what is generally known as worry steps in to complicate matters, when cares connected with family arrangements, or with those numerous personal details which we can seldom escape, intervene, or when the daily occupation of life is in itself a fertile source of anxiety, then we find one or other of these three safeguards broken down. Probably the man of business or the successful advocate cannot shake himself free from his business thoughts at night. Slumber becomes fitful and disturbed. The sympathetic system, unsettled by the mental strain, brings about various defects in nutrition; the appetite fails, and the vigor of the nervous tissues is no longer able to withstand the endless round; and then we meet with the sleeplessness, the dyspepsia, the irresolution, the irritability, and the depression, which are among the chief miseries of those who we are in the habit of saying are overworked.

Now, the Lancet has lately laid before its readers some interesting statements which would lead us to believe that damage is being done to many boys in preparatory schools by the strong competition