Hysteria is commonly envisaged as ‘that screaming woman’ in a Hitchcock movie. Whilst this is an extreme example of sensory hysteria, it is important to understand that one can also have motor hysteria. Sensory hysteria is an inability to control an emotion, most usually fear. Usually associated with stress, hysteria can present as a continuous babbling in association with a loss of awareness of what is being said around them. Motor hysteria refers to a loss of function of the body, the most dramatic of which is hysterical paralysis.
Whatever the type of hysteria, the effect is caused by an overload of adrenaline and cata-cholamine chemicals into the nervous system. The brain loses its normal neurotransmitter control and nervous system failure ensues.
Hysteria is usually short lived, resulting in a self-limiting event such as a faint, or it can take some time to pass, as is often the case in hysterical paralysis. In very rare events hysteria can persist and lead to a deep psychotic event or persisting paralysis.
Acute nervousness or anxiety is generally brought on by events that are real or imaginary. Public speaking, pre-exam nerves or pre-event anxiety are all common and will be faced by most of us.
Symptoms include a rapid heart beat (tachycardia), ‘butterflies’ in the abdomen, a desire to defecate – even as diarrhoea, a desire to urinate, trembling and muscular tension that can lead to headaches. Nausea and vomiting may also be present. These are all acceptable symptoms provided that they are controlled and pass once the event has started or concluded.
If in attendance of a hysterical individual, use a calming voice and any necessary commonsense advice to placate the panic.
A slap on the face is potentially injurious and a safer technique is to apply pressure to the tissue at the base of the thumb and first finger. Try it now and you will appreciate how painful that point can be.
Hyperventilation often associates with hysteria and is often the cause of worsening panic (a respiratory alkalosis affecting the brain – see Hyperventilation; and paralysis (due to alkalosis preventing muscular action). The homeopathic remedy Aconite, potency 6 or higher, can be given every 5min until the situation is completely under control. One dose is often enough to placate the individual.
A recurrent hysteria needs to be treated by a counsellor with knowledge in specific relaxation and breathing techniques.