A quick guide: Emotions and the Body

October 28th, 2013



“…feelings can’t be ignored, no matter how unjust or ungrateful they seem.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl



Most of us intuitively know there is a physical connection with how we feel emotionally. We can observe how children develop a stomach ache when they are worried about something; a friend will explain away their headache as ‘just stress’; how we may mysteriously develop a strong cold after a separation; that we have a cultural relationship between the liver, gall bladder and anger where we ‘spit bile’ to describe it.


We even have sayings like ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back – but may not observe how this can sometimes be literally true in its relation the exhaustion of fear-related stress and the low back. We instinctively link emotions to the heart area and say we need to ‘get something off our chest’ when we feel the need to express them.



The Psychosomatics of emotion


Medicine calls the link between emotions and health psychosomatic but what does that actually mean? The first part of that word we can probably guess: Psych refers to the workings of our mind. Soma refers to the cellular or body level. Emotions are one of the bridges between the mind and the body. How we express, transform, or repress them has a profound effect on our physcial well-being.


Courtesy of http://themarmeladegypsy.blogspot.se

Courtesy of http://themarmeladegypsy.blogspot.se


The following is a short primer on some of the main emotions we are likely to experience and their relationship to our body and health.



Worry, anxiety and the digestive organs


In traditional Chinese medicine the Earth element is said to relate to the digestive organs of the stomach and pancreas – and, indirectly, the intestines. They help us break down the products of the earth (that’s food to you and me) so we can transform it into usable energy.


Thoughts and ideas are our mental food. Problems and worries represent those ideas which are difficult to digest and resolve in our favor. ‘Chewing things over’ without resolution only stagnates the energy in this element as nothing is transformed. Unresolved stress from mounting problems often express themselves physically in digestive disorders. Witness the amount of products for gastric reflux that flood the market.


Children, lacking the ‘sophistication’ to hide their emotions very well, often develop a stomach ache when worried about something. Maybe they have concerns about going to school (bullying, exams, conflicts) that they cannot express. Their stomach expresses this worry for them. The trouble for us adults is that we are not that sophisticated either. We are just better at denying the connection to our own emotions.



Separation and the Lungs


The lungs and its partner the colon are associated with the release of waste. When we have difficulty letting go emotionally it can affect these organs.


Developing a cold or even more serious lung diseases after a separation, abandonment or death of a loved one is quite common. So too are problems with the colon: chronic constipation/diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn’s disease can have their root in the inability to release emotions functionally. The attempt to repress and control them just stagnates that energy more in their related organs.



Fear, exhaustion and the low back


Courtesy of http://www.gutenberg.org/

Courtesy of http://www.gutenberg.org/


This area is under the control of the kidney/adrenal gland system. The adrenal glands produce many of our stress and sex hormones. In traditional Chineses medicine this system is also the barometer of our energy reserves. Think of it as our battery pack.


The emotion associated with this is fear/excitement. These powerful emotions may help us in emergencies or even when we are ‘burning the candle at both ends’ by working and playing too hard at the same time. Our ability to recover and recharge is compromised. Something has got to give.


That something is often the low back area. Part of us just gives up under the endless barrage of stress draining our energy. Lifting something incorrectly may appear to be the cause but it is usually only the trigger. Our strength and support reserves here have already been leaking for some time.



Anger and internal tension


The liver and gall bladder organs are associated with this emotion. At the energy/qi level they control such varied processes as blood pressure, muscle tension and of course the production of bile.


Anger often stems from a sense of powerless and frustration. Anger is both an expression of this and a clumsy attempt to regain lost power.




Repression of anger blocks some very powerful forces in the body and creates tension and pressure. Famously described as ‘bottled up mad’ by an unamed Irish washer woman, repressed anger and powerlessness is linked to muscle tension, headaches, blood pressure, gall stones and even more serious conditions like migraine, fibromyalgia and epilepsy where powerlessness and frustion are the triggers.



Emotional swings and the heart-mind


Chinese medicine attributes the emotion of joy to the organ of the heart. The heart itself is also considered to be the center of all emotion. Therefore the buck stops here when we become emotionally overwrought. This can interfere with the control of the heart rhythm.


Over excitement can cause adrenaline to rapidly increase the heartbeat and acutely raise blood pressure; stress can cause cortisol to strain and prematurely age the heart muscle; repression and denial of strong emotion can cause energy to stagnate at the heart center and lead to panic attacks, pain in the chest and shortness of breath. These are all possible outcomes when we do not respect the force and connection of our emotional life to the body.


Interestingly, a study of five heart attacks occurring in a crowd of ninety thousand fans at a Brazilian football game showed all of them occurred in fans of the winning team. Extremes of anything then can upset the heart’s delicate balancing act.


‘Heartbreak’ due to the joy-killing emotions of sadness and depression can, for some, only be resolved in damage to the heart organ itself. Repression of emotion through over-eating, drugs and alcohol can also lead to the blocking of the heart: the physical blockage of the coronary arteries reflecting the blockage or our emotional connection…


soft center


Emotions and Health: What are we trying to tell ourselves?


I am so glad you asked. Here is the short answer: Emotions serve as triggers from our unconscious mind. In other words, they are trying to show us something about which we are not yet, or at least not totally aware.


This does not mean that we need to be a victim of our emotions. It is not necessarily a choice between repression or indulgence. Some may find this hard to believe but we have a choice in how we react emotionally to any situation. That of course requires conscious awareness of our Self. Without that it is our unconscious self that is running the show.


But hey, there are always our emotions to help educate us.



Till we are free to to choose what we feel about another Monday,





© Jeremy Halpin all rights reserved. All images are the author’s own unless otherwise indicated or if the original source is unknown at the time of writing. You can subscribe to this blog by clicking the button in the bottom right hand corner of the page – or share it on the social media of your choice. If you have any wishes or questions regarding subjects to be discussed on this blog use the contact information below. Jeremy is also available for seminars, lectures and personal consultation: info@jeremyhalpin.com


Related Posts

Comments are closed.