Our Body and Emotions
Have you ever had a ‘gut’ feeling about something? You know; that thought or feeling that just seems to be there but not something you conjured up. Well, you were probably right! Most people look at the human body as being separate from the human mind when actually there is a unique connection they share that might help explain some of your feelings. It’s called the enteric nervous system and it’s a division of the central nervous system.
Typically, we think of the central nervous system as being comprised of only the sympathetic nervous system (which is our fight or flight side of things) and the parasympathetic nervous system (which is the rest and digest side) The enteric nervous system however is also a part of the central nervous system but can actually function on its own within the GI tract (from the throat to the anus). And it definitely communicates with the central nervous system as well. This enteric nervous system uses about 30 different neurotransmitters which are the same ones found in the central nervous system. Approximately 90% of the body’s serotonin can be found in our gut where it is used primarily for intestinal movement. In the central nervous system, however, serotonin is used for mood, appetite, sleep, memory, learning and some cognitive functions. I think this helps to explain some of those ‘gut-feelings’ we get. As well, approximately 50% of the body’s dopamine can be found in the gut. Here the dopamine serves to protect the mucus membrane of the GI tract and reduces intestinal mobility, plus offers support to the pancreas, kidneys and serves as a vasodilator to the blood vessels. In the central nervous system, however, dopamine has an impact on our mood, our motivation and helps us deal with stress. Basically, what’s happening here is that your thoughts or emotions (from your mind) are triggering a stimulus (in your body) that gets reflected in a specific area or organ of the body. In my mind all of this serves to prove that we come by those ‘gut-feelings’ honestly. And to take this a step further, many more of our thoughts and emotions can be connected to other organs in the body.
A quick check on the internet can provide you with a multitude of different interpretations from Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic medicine (which is more than 3,000 years old and comes to us from East Indian culture) or Greek Medicine (who drew most of their knowledge from the Egyptians). Below I have condensed some information for you to consider on how your thoughts, feelings and beliefs may be impacting your health:
Heart- The heart shares some of the emotions affecting the spleen as well but it’s generally thought that the heart is connected to love, joy and the emotional will to live. Illnesses in this area can be a result of a lack of love, joy or even the will to live. Actually people really can die from a broken heart due to the emotional stress from losing a loved one and then losing their will to live. Strategies to support the heart include opening up to love of yourself and others, be less critical of yourself and others, and practice foregiveness.
Lungs-according to kentsmithrmt.com anxiety and sorrow can restrict your breathing by narrowing the bronchial tubes and can actually bring on asthma attacks. Another common thought is that breathing represents independence or individuality. When someone has trouble expressing their own individuality or feels dependent on someone else (spouse, parent or other individual) then this can activate problems in the respiratory system. Grief, shame and despair are other emotions that can have an effect on the lungs as well. Exploring repressed feelings or emotions may be an avenue to improving problems in the lungs.
Throat-according to greekmedicine.net the throat is the centre of communication. If someone is stifled from expressing their feelings or emotions they can actually end up feeling like they have a lump in their throat all the time. This is a psychosomatic problem which is really a mind or emotional issue that expresses itself as a physical symptom. In cases like this it’s necessary to find ways to release your negative feelings or emotions to alleviate the perceived physical issue.
Liver/Gallbladder-bile is made in the liver but stored in the gallbladder, so it makes sense that negative emotions that impact the liver will impact the gallbladder as well. The liver has long been known as the site of anger but along with that come irritability, resentment, jealousy and envy. All or any of these unresolved emotions that are held in the liver/gallbladder can cause physical dysfunction in one of the most import organs in the body (the liver). Dysfunction here can cascade into migraines, muscular tension in the neck and shoulders, bloodshot eyes, digestive issues, gallstones and much more. Resolving your issues here can go a long way toward improving your physical health.
Stomach-the stomach is impacted by a multitude of negative emotions; hate, anger, rage, frustration, stress, anxiety and worry. Harboring these negative emotions can cause the stomach to malfunction and result in physical discomforts such as nausea, indigestion, gas, stomach ache, gastritis and ulcers. Clearing your negative emotion from here is essential because if your digestion is not working properly you will be affecting every other system in the body.
Spleen-the spleen seems to be affected by pensiveness (excessive or chronic worrying), anxiety, depression, melancholy, suspicion and just simply feeling sorry for yourself. Emotions like these can result in higher blood pressure, lowered immunity and digestive issues like gas and bloating. Replacing the negative feelings with more positive feelings like acceptance, faith and honesty can help bring the spleen to a healthier state.
Colon- according to greekmedicine.net the colon is quite susceptible to the melancholic type of emotions such as worry, anxiety, emotional stress, insecurity and tensions; especially if they are deeply held. As a result of these negative emotions or feelings the body may express itself with symptoms like constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and colitis. Unresolved, these problems can lead to more serious health concerns. Finding coping mechanisms or help to resolve these issues will lead to a healthier you; both physically and emotionally.
Kidneys- the kidneys are known as the seat of fear. As a matter of fact it is not uncommon for some people to spontaneously urinate when confronted with a frightful situation. Probably just as challenging would be a constant state of feeling fearful whether your fear is rational or irrational. This type of fear can end up putting stress on the kidneys and possibly resulting in symptoms like poor appetite, lower back pain and incontinence. Other negative emotions could be feeling insecure or isolated or even the lack of willpower. Replacing your irrational fears or other negative emotions with clear perceptions and self-understanding can help alleviate some of your uncomfortable symptoms.
Adrenal glands- these walnut sized glands sit on top of the kidneys and are impacted by stress whether it is physical, emotional or psychological. According to greekmedicine.net when we keep our emotions in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ or fly off the handle with those outbursts of anger we continually tax the adrenal glands which in turn can lead to weakened urinary function, lowered libido, fatigue, insomnia, irritability, weight gain and more. Methods to help alleviate some of these symptoms can include stress management techniques, meditation, moderate exercise, counselling, wholesome diet choices and supplementation.
The University of Michigan has put together a great list of ten points that we can do to improve our mental health which, I think are really quite valuable. Most of us have a pretty good idea of how to take care of our physical body, but I’m not sure we treat our emotional health with the type of care it really deserves. I encourage you to review the following list and look for points you can embrace that might help improve your emotional health.
- Value yourself:
Treat yourself with kindness and respect, and avoid self-criticism. Make time for your hobbies and favorite projects, or broaden your horizons. Try a daily cross word puzzle, plant a garden, take dance lessons, learn to play an instrument or become fluent in another language.
- Take care of your body:
Taking care of yourself physically can improve your mental health. Be sure to:
- Eat nutritious meals
- Avoid cigarettes
- Drink plenty of water
- Exercise, which helps decrease depression and anxiety and improve moods
- Get enough sleep. Researchers believe that lack of sleep contributes to a high rate of depression in college students.
- Surround yourself with good people:
People with strong family or social connections are generally healthier than those who lack a support network. Make plans with supportive family members and friends, or seek out activities where you can meet new people, such as a club, class or support group.
- Give yourself:
Volunteer your time and energy to help someone else. You’ll feel good about doing something tangible to help someone in need — and it’s a great way to meet new people.
- Learn how to deal with stress:
Like it or not, stress is a part of life. Practice good coping skills: do Tai Chi, exercise, take a nature walk, play with your pet or try journal writing as a stress reducer. Also, remember to smile and see the humor in life. Research shows that laughter can boost your immune system, ease pain, relax your body and reduce stress.
- Quiet your mind:
Try meditation or prayer. Relaxation exercises and prayer can improve your state of mind and outlook on life. In fact, research shows that meditation may help you feel calm and enhance the effects of therapy.
- Set realistic goals:
Decide what you want to achieve academically, professionally and personally, and write down the steps you need to realize your goals. Aim high, but be realistic and don’t over-schedule. You’ll enjoy a tremendous sense of accomplishment and self-worth as you progress toward your goal.
- Break up the monotony:
Although our routines make us more efficient and enhance our feelings of security and safety, a little change of pace can perk up a tedious schedule. Alter your jogging route, plan a road-trip, take a walk in a different park, hang some new pictures or try a new restaurant.
- Avoid alcohol and other drugs:
Keep alcohol use to a minimum and avoid other drugs. Sometimes people use alcohol and other drugs to “self-medicate” but in reality, alcohol and other drugs only aggravate problems.
- Get help when you need it:
Seeking help is a sign of strength — not a weakness. And it is important to remember that treatment is effective. People who get appropriate care can recover from mental illness and addiction and lead full, rewarding lives.
*Adapted from the National Mental Health Association/National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare