The connection between the emotions and disease has been known for thousands of years in cultures all around the world. In the Bible, Proverbs 17:22-23 says: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) acknowledges the “7 Emotions” that are thought to have a direct correspondence to disease states. And in Yogic traditions, the term samskara means the “subtle impressions of our past actions” and it is thought that these impressions can form into patterns that can affect health.
And now modern science is discovering in astonishing detail how certain emotions can have a direct effect on disease − and healing − in the body.
What Science Says about the Emotions
The profound effect that emotions have on health and lifespan can be evidenced by a groundbreaking series of 10-year-long studies published in the British journal Psychology and Psychotherapy in 1988. The study, which is just as relevant today, concluded that “emotional stress was more predictive of death from cancer or cardiovascular disease than from smoking.” It also found that individuals who were the most affected by stress had an overall death rate that was 40% higher than non-stressed participants.
So just how do emotions have such an effect on our bodies?
The term psychosomatic is normally associated with “imaginary illnesses.” In fact, the term simply relates to the physiological connections between mind and body. In modern scientific terms, this connection happens through tiny molecular structures called neuropeptides.
Peptides, a form of ligand, are tiny bits of protein that are produced throughout the body. They are found in hormones such as endorphins, serotonin, and insulin, for example, and are key elements for life. Neuropeptides pave the way between the brain (i.e. our emotions) and the body.
When a thought triggers an emotion, neuropeptides transmit those feelings through neuropathways and extracellular fluid. Eventually these peptides will connect with cellular receptors throughout the body where they will have an impact on the functioning of body systems at all levels.
The late Candace Pert, author of Molecules of Emotion and one of the pioneers of psychoneuroimmunology, states:
“…the chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion.”
How Your Emotions Affect Your Body
Here are just a few ways in which specific emotions affect specific bodily functions:
- A University of Arizona study found that expressing affectionate feelings towards your loved ones can lower cholesterol;
- A study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology discovered that when subjects simply recalled the situation that had been the initial cause of stress, their blood pressure rates raised significantly. Another study at the University of Maryland Medical Center found that just the anticipation of laughter began to reduce the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
- A study at Loma Linda University in California found that when individuals laughed at a funny movie, the levels of beta-endorphins, responsible for mood elevation, rose as well. In addition, Human Growth Hormone, which aids in sleep and contributes to cellular repair, rose by 87%.
Emotional Clearing for Better Health
Clearing emotions and managing stress go hand in hand. Before you can truly clear emotions, you must learn how to manage stress in order get cortisol levels down. Remember, there is a direct and proven correlation between chronically high cortisol levels (i.e. chronic stress) and cancer.
When you are in a relatively calm internal space memories and feelings associated with stressful situations can rise to the surface in order to be dealt with and cleared. Here are four basic things you can do NOW to manage stress, lower cortisol levels, and clear stressful emotions so that true healing can occur:
- Reflect on what keeps you stressed in your life and DECIDE to make a change. Divorce, the death of a loved one, finances, even happy occasions like getting married can add to the stress factor. A major source of on-going stress for many Americans is work-related. An Oxford Health Plans study found that 1 in 5 Americans will go to work even if they are ill, injured, or seeing a doctor that day. Reflect on what is causing you stress right now. On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate this stress? Decide if you want this number to go down. Then make a commitment to yourself and your health by determining to make a positive change towards lower stress overall.
- Consider tried and true modalities to manage stress. Once you have decided to lower stress and clear emotions for health, decide on some modalities that will help you get there! Consider EFT Tapping, reflexology, tai chi, massage, chiropractic care, meditation, prayer, journaling, exercise, and eating healthier. These are all things you can do STARTING NOW to lower stress responses and add a little more self-care to your life. Remember that self-care equals emotional care! And you don’t have to do them all. Simply choose one or two modalities, then give it a try. Even taking 10 minutes on your lunch break for a leisurely stroll can sometimes do the trick.
- Don’t go it alone. Study after study has shown that those who have the support of a caring group of loved ones have a better chance of coming out of a cancer diagnosis than those who “go it alone.” And according to Lissa Rankin, MD, “Individuals who attend religious services regularly live 7.5 years longer than those who never or rarely attend religious gathering.” So whether it is a church group, a cancer support group, or a group of loving friends, make a list of who you want on your “Healing A-Team” and the get the help and support that you need!
- Don’t be afraid to “sit” with your emotions. As we begin to take a break from the “24/7 stress fest” and begin to make room for reflection and healing, it is natural for deeper issues, memories or events to rise to the surface. Emotions may come out of nowhere, and this is very normal. Practice sitting with emotions as they rise to the surface and always remember that no matter how bad you may feel, these emotions are coming up to be released. They won’t last forever. In fact, there is a good chance that you will feel better after the tears come and go! Studies have found that emotional tears contain high numbers of stress hormones and neurotransmitters, leading researchers to conclude that crying is one way that the body removes stress chemicals.
In a way, modern science is discovering what the ancients knew long ago: emotional clearing is part of living a healthy, vibrant life and a part of the healing process. The reward for doing the work of emotional clearing is good health all around.