Psychosomatic Illness: Emotions and the Body
Stress and anxiety are both mental factors that can influence the appearance of physical ailments in the body. This is why we need to learn to manage them appropriately to avoid health problems.
The link between the mind and body is so close and influential that we really should pay closer attention to our emotional world that’s often ignored in our day-to-day lives.
Whether we want to believe it or not, the stuff that we hold onto inside can make us sick.
Psychosomatic (the link between psychology and medicine) illness has been researched for years. Interesting insights are often regularly published in journals like the Journal of Psychosomatic Research.
Also, organizations like the American Psychosomatic Society regularly report the latest discoveries on the link between our biology and emotions.
We’d like to invite you to discover some of the basic elements of this discipline that we should keep in mind as we go about our day.
Negative emotions, like stress and anxiety, that we often bottle up throughout our lives can have serious side effects.
Bottling things inside causes emotional blockages and damage to the body
Not long ago, there was an interesting and popular TED (technology, entertainment and design) talk where the psychologist surprised the audience with a glass of water she held in her hand.
The audience immediately thought that she was going to talk about the classic concept of whether the glass is half full or half empty. However, she went another direction.
She addressed the audience and asked the, “How much do you think this glass of water weighs?”
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The audience gave many different responses, and many of them were close. However, the expert in emotional psychology gave an explanation that went much deeper.
- How heavy the water feels will depend on how long you have to hold it.
- Holding a glass of water for 5 minutes is nothing. But if you had to hold it for 2 hours, your arm would get tired and you’d eventually have to give up.
- The same thing happens with stress. The effect of this emotion doesn’t cause side effects over a short period of time. But over a period of weeks and months, it can make you sick.
What are psychosomatic illnesses?
- Let’s imagine that you have a coworker that is always talking about you behind your back. This isn’t a singular instance, but has been happening over an extended period of time to the point of becoming a habit and creating a really negative work environment.
- If you keep that inside for months, those repressed emotions will have negative consequences for your health (it’s like holding the glass with your arm raised for months).
A psychosomatic illness is when the mind (psyche) causes changes in the body (soma).
This is so common that it is even believed that some physical illnesses can be aggravated by mental factors like stress and anxiety.
- For example, it’s believed that disorders like psoriasis, eczema, stomach ulcers, high blood pressure and many types of heart disease are seriously affected by psychosomatic problems like stress and anxiety.
- We should also keep in mind that this will vary among individuals. Everyone handles stress differently.
The physical effects of holding things inside
When something is bothering us and we can’t deal with it appropriately, our brain transforms it into a negative emotion that has organic consequences: it increases the nerve impulse activity in order to release certain neurotransmitters like adrenaline.
This neurotransmitter, along with cortisol whose levels also increase in the bloodstream, can cause the following:
- Emotional blockages, the stress and anxiety affect the activity of certain cells in the immune system, making the body more vulnerable to illness.
- Increased heart rate
- Dizziness (nausea)
- Dry mouth
- Chest pain
- Stomach aches
How are psychosomatic illnesses treated?
Because most of us have never received any training in emotional management (which really should be taught in schools), we need to be aware of the following:
- Exercise your assertiveness: say what is bothering you at the time, not after the moment has passed.
- Keeping things bottled inside can make you sick. This is something we all need to realize. Negative emotions are dangerous for your health and need to be properly managed.
- Practice emotional sincerity everyday with respect and assertiveness. Remember that setting boundaries on what you will tolerate is a fundamental right and no one is ever being selfish by saying they’ve had enough.
- Dedicate one or two hours a day for time for yourself. Make yourself a priority, take a walk, enjoy your favorite hobbies or simply take advantage of this time alone to be with your thoughts.
Remember to always seek medical advice for any discomfort, like upset digestion, tachycardia or dizziness to get these symptoms under control.