We all have emotions, and though we may see them as related to mental health, few people relate them to physical health. Yet they play an important role in health both physical and mental. Read on to see how managing your emotions can create health.
A 2009 study showed that the association between emotion and physical health was more powerful than the connection between health and basic human physical requirements, like adequate nourishment.
Emotions are the driving force, the power, and the motor of your life. Without them your life would be flat and boring. You know that when you feel happy and upbeat your life is much more pleasant than when you are dissatisfied and unhappy. You not only feel different, you act differently. It is emotion that gives you the impetus to act, and your actions create meaning in your life.
Children feel their emotions strongly and act immediately on what they feeling. Consequently they do not become stuck in sadness or anger. They can be crying in one moment and laughing in the next. The recognize that their emotions are telling them when a need is, or is not, being met. By expressing what they feel in the moment they are honouring their feelings, and so can let them go. They also make it more likely that others will help them meet their needs.
As children mature however they are generally taught that certain ways of expressing emotion are not acceptable. Adults will accept temper tantrums in an angry two-year-old but not in a ten-year old. Unfortunately, the child may be taught that it is not only certain ways of expressing emotion that are bad, but that any expression is bad, or the emotion itself is unacceptable.
The upshot of not being allowed to express emotion may be that the child internalizes the emotion and loses touch with what they are feeling. Others may externalize it and act out, becoming chronically angry for example, in an attempt to express the emotion they were forced to repress. Children then carry these responses into adulthood.
Emotions are cognitive, physical and energetic events. The cognitive and energy aspects of emotions will be covered in a later posts.
Physically, emotions cause glands in the body to secrete chemicals that are carried in the blood to various parts of the body and may cause them to change their normal mode of operation, creating ill-health.
The muscles, nervous system, immune system, digestive system, circulatory system, reproductive system and growth functions, may all be affected. Normally the effects are short-lived, but if the emotion is suppressed rather than being expressed in the moment, the operation of these areas may not return to normal, and the result is often illness.
For example. chronic contraction of the large muscles may lead to chronic pain, or arthritis, while contraction of small muscles may result in asthma, chronic lung problems, migraine or tension headaches, or a disordered digestive or circulatory system . Changes to the immune system can cause it to become under-active, resulting in cancer, frequent colds or infections . Or it may become over-active and attack the normal cells leading to a number of diseases including type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Graves disease.
In the long-term, suppressed emotions like sadness, fear or anger may create ill-health. The good news is that with attention and some effort dominant emotions can be changed from sadness, fear and anger to happiness and joy. These emotions will flood your body with serotonin, which will regulate your cells to enhance health and well-being.
Managing your emotions to create health does not mean ignoring or suppressing the uncomfortable emotions. In fact feeling your emotions is the most important thing to do. That may not initially feel good in the moment, but actually feeling what you are feeling rather than resisting it, has two important outcomes. First, it allows you to explore the message the emotion is sending – what need is not being met or what boundary is someone breaching. Secondly, it lets you know what you need to do to honour it. Often all that is needed is to respectfully tell the other person how you feel.
Learning the skill of managing your emotions will help you to create the health you desire.