How Emotions Influence Physical Health, And How To Improve Both by Martha Laraba

Someone recently shared about getting cramps in their stomach whenever they experienced
‘heartbreak’ and they then went on to express how they hated fact that their emotions seemed to
always have a physical manifestation.

Photo by Luxcama Sylvain

What if our emotions always manifested physically and we just aren’t paying enough attention to
our bodies to notice them?

It is now a fact that our mental and emotional health affects our overall wellbeing and this is true for every single one of us, whether or not we notice the effects.

In 2013, a study by researchers in Finland set out to map the areas in human bodies that were affected by various mental and emotional states. Their work confirmed that our emotions affected our bodies in consistent ways, particularly, it showed how the human body responded to various emotions in some really interesting visuals.

Based on the findings of the research in Finland, and the fact that our brains are the engines that run our bodies and minds, it was not much of a surprise that different areas of the brain were seen to light up as subjects experienced different emotions. More interesting, however, is seeing how other areas of the body lit up.

For instance, the scientists found that the body of a happy person lit up brightly entirely from their fingers all the way to their toes. Meanwhile, the body of depressed person showed only a blue light which, according to the scientists, meant that the individuals experiencing depression had only a little sensation. Additionally, feelings of disgust and anger were seen to light up the torso, specifically, the stomach region for disgust, and the chest and hands for anger.

Psychologists have also corroborated that our physical wellbeing is linked to our emotions and our emotions often influence how our bodies function. For instance, the emotional state we know as anxiety can trigger the activation of several muscles in our bodies which often presents through various physical symptoms such as tension headache, hyperventilation, muscle pain, tingling hands and feet, choking sensation, cramps, etc.

Depression, a fairly common mental and emotional illness, also affects our physical bodies. Scientists have linked depression to aches and pains in the body stating that up to 45 percent of patients with depression suffer from various forms of body aches and pains.

Strong emotions like anger can also have quite an effect on our bodies, especially if we harbor them for too long. Anger specifically affects our hearts and muscles leading to increased blood pressure, increased heart rates, and muscle tensions. The emotion is linked to the liver in Traditional Chinese Medicine and its effects, resulting from overstimulation, can include headaches or dizziness.

What does this all mean for our health and wellbeing?

The important thing to note is that everything is connected; our thoughts and feelings play an important role in how our bodies function and so we cannot continue living as if our internal processes do not affect our bodies and thus the quality of our lives. This is particularly important to remember because we live in a world that glorifies being overworked to the detriment of our wellbeing.

Fortunately, the last few years have seen an upsurge in the knowledge of self-care and spiritual practices both of which can improve our emotions if done consistently. And to help you get started on your personal journey to connecting with your emotions and your body, we have highlighted some simple but useful practices below.

Photo by Jimmy Jimmy

i. Meditation: Meditation is a very popular spiritual practice which is accessible to everyone, everywhere. One does not necessarily require any tools to get started; you only need yourself, your mind, and a willingness to go inwards for a few minutes. Essentially, meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on a particular object, thought or activity to develop awareness and achieve mental and emotional clarity. There are many types of meditation and in the age of information, you bet that there are also many apps that can help you get started with your meditation practice. If you are more old school and do not like to depend on your gadgets for everything, the simple guide here can get you started. The benefits of meditation include decreased heart rate; low anxiety, a boost in the functioning of the brain and the immune system .

ii. Prayer: Prayer is also a useful spiritual practice which can help us connect deeply not only to ourselves but also to whatever deity we profess belief in. Unfortunately, when people talk about prayer a lot of the time they are talking about inundating their deity with their problems and supplications. While this is not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself, we cannot practice prayer simply to dump our needs at the feet of God. Prayer as a spiritual practice ought to involve listening as much as it involves speaking, praising, and worshipping. There is no resource to help you pray better because the way we pray might be determined by our belief system. However, you are encouraged to deeply meditate on whether your mode of prayer opens you up to hear from God, if not, then perhaps you need to reassess how you have been praying.

iii. Gratitude: If you are a Christian then you’ve probably heard the song about counting your blessings and naming them one by one. However, the message of gratitude alluded to in the song is something that not many people seem to take literally. Still, the practice of actually making a list of things you are grateful for and allowing the feeling of appreciation wash over you is, in fact, a powerful spiritual practice. And all you need for this is a pen and a paper, and if you want to make it a long-term practice, a gratitude journal. This practice entails finding a quiet spot and writing the things in your life you are thankful for; from the seemingly little things to the big ones. You can start by writing “I am thankful for…” and fill in the blanks as desired. Like meditation, the act of gratitude allows you to focus only on specific things, often, the things that bring you joy. This is useful for your wellbeing because it takes your attention away from things that would otherwise stress you and cause you anxiety.

Photo by Aidil Bahaman

Other practices that can help improve your emotional-physiological connection and wellbeing include, and are not limited to, exercise, spending time in nature, charity, and volunteering, incorporating healthy foods into your diet, disconnecting from social media, etc.

Photo by Jean M. Samedi

What most of these practices have in common is that they allow you to spend time with yourself and therefore develop an understanding of your inner processes. Ultimately, the more you practice, the deeper the connection you have with yourself, and the better your quality of life.

Martha Laraba is a freelance writer and researcher based in Abuja, Nigeria. A trained economist and former development worker, Martha enjoys reading and researching topics in development, religion, spirituality, culture, and sexuality, etc. She is an astrology nerd who enjoys hot beverages, and naps.

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