As anyone with a bit of life experience can tell you, there’s a strong connection between our emotions and our physical state of well-being. The effects go both ways; just as we might feel emotionally down when our body is afflicted by an injury or illness, when we’re depressed, stressed, angry, happy, etc., our body reflects this in a variety of ways. This emotion-body relationship is an important subject of psychological study.
There are natural, normal, and healthy manifestations of emotion, such as laughing, crying, or shouting. However, when those natural expressions are repressed, certain feelings can also express themselves as psychosomatic illnesses: physical symptoms usually associated with other causes (an infection, an injury, an autoimmune disorder) but which can also be the result of not dealing properly with negative feelings.
The 3 basic “negative” emotions and their natural expressions
There are three basic “negative” emotions we experience. “Negative” is in quotes here, because as such, these feelings aren’t bad; they’re actually good, healthy reactions to bad situations, designed to help us react appropriately. However, they’re unpleasant, so we tend to think of them as negative.
Sadness is the reaction to a loss of any kind. We might have lost a person, a relationship, an opportunity, an object, the hope of achieving a goal. Sadness is one of the principal emotions of mourning. The most obvious natural expression of sadness is, of course, crying. The more profound and vocal our weeping, the more it frees us.
Fear is a reaction to a threat, either real or imaginary. It’s a response that warns us that we’re in danger, and it mobilizes the necessary energy so we can deal with the threat by fighting, fleeing, or freezing.
Anger is a reaction to aggression. When we feel physically or psychologically attacked, we feel anger towards the aggressor. The natural expression of anger is to react with verbal or physical force to defend ourselves against the aggressor.
Dealing with our feelings
Our body has a natural way of expressing emotions, whether or not we talk about them. The physical sensations that accompany the emotions we feel are telling us that we need to act to restore balance. Sometimes, because we feel inhibited by our environment or by the way we were raised or educated, we don’t pay attention to them and we don’t resolve the situation.
Consequently, our negative emotions tend to accumulate, and can manifest themselves through other physical symptoms. That’s when we start to get headaches, stomach aches, sore muscles in our neck and upper or lower back, angina, a sore throat, chronic fatigue, dizziness, bruxism (grinding our teeth), eczema, psoriasis, asthma, or allergies.
Some people are more prone to psychosomatic illnesses than others. Many studies have shown the connection between personality and physical illnesses, discovering, for example, that people who tend to isolate themselves and/or not express their feelings are more likely to suffer this kind of problem. We need to become aware of our body’s reactions and learn to pay attention to them, and deal with them, instead of repressing them.
One important means of working through our feelings and giving them a healthy outlet is to share them with others. It’s also a way of showing our trust and confidence in the support our family and friends offer us. Relationships based on authentic love and friendship, in which we are honest and open about who we are and what we feel, are an effective means of protecting our emotional, and therefore physical, health.
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