The longer I work with my clients, the more I feel that lifestyle, behaviour, emotions and past traumatic experiences play a crucial role in our health. Many times in my practice emotions have proven to play an even more critical role than more commonly recognised factors like diet, exercise, and sleep.
Diet, exercise and sleep, of course, play a significant role in health and will usually receive initial attention because they are more visible and in some ways easier to change.
Emotions can require in-depth investigation, and they are not the kind of changes that we can quickly make overnight.
In this article, you are going to learn how emotions and health are an ancient concept, how emotions cause disease, how we store feelings in the body, and the myths surrounding the mind-body connection.
An ancient theory backed by modern research
The idea that emotions play a role in health and disease is old. In traditional Chinese medicine, for example, each of the organ systems is associated with a particular feeling.
- The kidneys link with fear
- The liver links with anger
- The lungs link with anxiety
- The spleen links with pensiveness or over thinking
The thinking is that too much of any of these emotions damages the respective organ system. For example, somebody with unresolved anxiety may develop asthma.
Regardless of your views on the traditional Chinese viewpoint, modern science has also uncovered a link between emotions and disease. We primarily express this concept in the scientific literature regarding stress.
How do emotions contribute to disease?
This question is fascinating, and to answer it; we need to define what is an emotion.
If you look in a dictionary, we define emotion as a natural instinct of the mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood, or relationships with others.
This definition of emotion is very technical..
We can also associate emotions with sensations in our body.
For example, if I see a spider, I feel fear, and then I experience a whole load of body sensations that are related to that fear—my heartbeat increases and muscle tension.
The fundamental point here is that my emotions are producing physiological changes.
If emotion is old, it will have long-term physiological effects on the body, and it’s not difficult to understand how that could contribute to disease.
Can we store emotions and can they cause illness in later life?
This concept falls outside of our current understanding of the body, but that doesn’t mean we can rule it out.
Based on what we have talked about so far, it is at least plausible that strong emotions could produce a lasting response in the body, and there is some support for this in the scientific literature.
For example, we know that traumatic events that happen during pregnancy or in early childhood can permanently downregulate your adrenal glands and affect the production of hormones like cortisol for the rest of that child’s life.
The language that modern science uses to explain what happens does not involve using terms like storing emotion or trauma in the body, but you could certainly look at it that way.
I am guessing that some may use the term stored emotions because when people work to resolve traumas, they often re-experience the associated sensations or feelings.
I think there may very well be other cases where somebody experiences a severe trauma early on, and that trauma affects the body in different ways that modern science doesn’t currently understand.
For example, maybe one person develops cancer or another an autoimmune disease.
Does this mean that all early life trauma will cause disease?
Now, I should say at this point; I’m a little bit wary of any explanation that tries to oversimplify things.
In the examples that I just used where people had an emotionally traumatic event that then manifested as a disease or a condition later in life.
For every person that did have something like that, there could be people that had a traumatic event and didn’t manifest a disease later in life.
Humans are very, very complicated beings.
Multiple factors affect our susceptibility to disease, including genetics, epigenetic expression, environmental factors like diet, physical activity, sleep, stress, and of course, emotions.
Whether we develop a disease is in my experience due to a combination of factors.
The mind-body connection
We base our current medical model on the philosophical underpinning of Cartesian dualism.
Cartesian dualism is a mechanistic view that the body is a sum of its parts.
However, modern science through quantum physics has taught us that the parts that we perceived to be separate are in fact part of an interconnected whole.
The chief point here is that a medical model that is based not on Cartesian dualism but on a more current understanding of quantum physics would likely see no separation between thoughts, emotions, and the physical body because they are all made of the same stuff.
We have this phrase that you see all the time, the “mind-body connection.”
To a certain extent, I appreciate why this term has become fashionable as it increases awareness of an important concept.
However, even to use the term “mind-body connection” is misleading because it creates the idea that there’s a separate mind and a separate body that are then connected.
Even though we may not understand the mechanisms behind how emotion could contribute to disease. There is already quite a lot of research that supports that connection.
As our understanding of both the nature of reality and human nature evolves, I think medicine is going to look very different in a hundred years than it does today.
Personally and professionally I have no doubts that emotions have an impact on our health.
As a health practitioner, I have seen significant transformations in patients when working with emotions using many different modalities especially energy based medicine including energy healing and Bodytalk.
This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
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