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Can emotions manifest into physical illnesses?

For centuries, healers have speculated the relation between emotional and physical well-being. There are a range of different emotions e.g. laughing, crying or screaming. However when those physical expressions are repressed a range of researchers believe that specific feelings may also express themselves as psychosomatic illnesses.

In recent years, study has started to realise the strong connections through which emotional and behavioural factors may directly affect health outcomes. Audry Van Houweling, holistic psychiatric nurse and founder of She Soars Psychiatry was featured in Healthy Living Magazine whereby she shared her views on the correlation between emotional and physical well-being. 

She stated that “The idea of the mind and body being separate still exists as mainstream medicine continues to be largely compartmentalised. Your emotional and physical well-being are one in the same and intimately connected in bi-directional process.” What she means by this is that whatever affects your emotional state also influences your physical body. She highlights that the root cause of most physical body ailments lies within emotional stress.

She believes that this is important to acknowledge this in order to reduce shame and also to dismantle the belief that emotional stress “is all in your head”. Houweling also wants people to know that emotional disturbances, attitudes, and even modes of thinking can often be pushed beyond our control by physiological forces, and therefore involve a certain degree of patience from from ourselves and others. Shame and discrimination tends to circulate around the mental wellbeing issues. Recognizing emotional discrepancies and signs are not characteristic of a “character flaw or weakness, but can be outside your cognitive control.”

She continues on to say that “Inflammation, hormonal imbalances, diet, detoxification, digestive system, and intestinal wellbeing all have effects on mental stability, which in the conventional medicine is still not explained in mainstream medicine.” I talk about gut health and its impact on our emotions in my other post, so I recommend reading that article if you would like to find out more information about this topic. Some holistic Eastern methods that are popular to restore overall balance and well-being might be therapies like hypnosis, visual imaging, reflection, yoga and biofeedback.

Tax lawyer Robert W. Wood (2018) wrote in Forbes about a case whereby a man sued his former company and he won the case as the tax court said, “intentional infliction of emotional distress can result in bodily harm.” This leaves me to wonder… If the court system acknowledges that emotional distress can impact our physical body, why can’t a lot of people wrap their head around this concept? Mr Wood highlights another case whereby the court acknowledges that emotional distress caused a man to have physical symptoms of distress such as headaches, insomnia. Wood also acknowledges that ulcers, shingles, aneurysms and stokes could also be possible as a result of emotional distress. 

Another example that comes to mind is grief. When I am grieving over the loss of a loved one I notice that physically I feel ill, fatigued, unable to focus, a loss of appetite, insomnia and I get muscle aches. Everybody is different though and I have observed other people around me express grief in different ways resulting in different physical body responses.

Houweling’s closing piece of advice for those suffering with emotional imbalances is to be patient, diligent and brave when tackling its roots. This is because it “could be rooted in habits, behaviours, and societal perceptions.” But above all, she encourages us to “extend compassion to ourselves and others as we negotiate the ups and downs of human life and create room without judgement to articulate our challenges.”

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