We all know people who seem “stuck” in a certain emotional state. Some people seem angry all the time. Others seem sad. Still others seem fearful and some “too” happy. All of us know someone who worries all the time.
Positive and happy emotions affect our body in ways that provide us with health and healing. When we are happy, our heart rate slows, our breath is relaxed and deep and our blood pressure goes down. On the contrary, what we label as negative and painful emotions, affect our body in the exact opposite way. Our blood pressure soars; our breathing becomes rapid and shallow as we gear up for the fight.
We realize that living a life without emotions would be a non-human life indeed. We all need to feel the richness and fullness that all of our experiences bring. We have no problem feeling the love toward a helpless infant when we hold one in our arms. We love the feeling of inspirational music and a serene mountain scene or a sunrise. No one has issues with feeling deeply what we label as ‘positive’ feelings and emotions.
Traditional Chinese Medicine subscribes to the philosophy that there are seven basic emotions related to our organ function. These are anger, joy, worry, pensiveness, sadness, fear, and shock or fright. Although the mind/body connection has been acknowledged only relatively recently in Western medicine, Eastern medicine has recognized the association between our emotions and the physical function of our organs for thousands of years.
To explain, each organ has a corresponding emotion. When an imbalance occurs in an organ’s function, such as the liver accumulating too many toxins, a person will often experience excessive anger or irritability. Similarly pent up or prolonged unresolved anger, can lead to an imbalance in the liver’s physical function, so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. For this reason it is important to naturallt heal the whole person, not just the physical body when seeking to obtain a state of total well being & optimal health.
Worry and Pensiveness /Spleen
If you can think of a someone who you would typically describe as ‘carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders’, in other words they are always worrying, chances are they are suffering from weak or depleted spleen energy. Excess worry is fast becoming a normal part of our life as we live in a stress filled society. The spleen organ is overlooked by conventional medicine, as being a vital organ, but it in fact plays an important role in the movement of blood around the body. Weak or disturbed spleen energy can also cause digestive disturbances, such as poor digestion of food and in some cases even lead to chronic fatigue.
Too much thinking or obsessing about a topic can also deplete the spleen, causing a stagnation of its energy. A person with this condition may exhibit such symptoms as poor appetite, forgetting to eat, and bloating after eating. In time, the person may develop a pale complexion from a deficiency of spleen energy. This can eventually affect the heart, causing the person to dream about the same subjects at night.
Sadness or grief affects the function of the lungs. Physically, a person experiencing prolonged episodes of sadness may commonly feel tired, suffer from shortness of breath or tightness in the chest, regular colds and flu, asthma or skin problems and will easily and or frequently cry or even experience depression.
The emotion of fear is related to the kidneys. Although experiencing infrequent and brief periods of fear is a normal, it has a more dramatic effect on our health when it becomes chronic and the underlying source of the fear fails to be addressed. In times of extreme fear people involuntary urination may even be experienced. Bet wetting in young children, can also stem from underlying fear and anxiety. Long-term anxiety due to worrying about the future can deplete the kidney energy, eventually leading to chronic weakness and fatigue.
Shock/Heart & Kidneys
Shock or Fright is not just related to one organ but because of its sudden nature, making it especially debilitating to the kidneys and heart. Fright is an emotion of shock and panic due to something sudden and unexpected. Fright affects the heart in the short run and when it becomes chronic can affect the kidneys. in time of shock the body will go into an acute state of “fight or flight” resulting in the release of excessive levels of the stress hormone, adrenaline from the adrenal glands. In times of acute shock a person will experience heart palpitations, anxiety, and insomnia. Chronic or prolonged stress resulting from shock can have a more debilitating impact on the entire body, leading to the development of many other symptoms, including post-traumatic stress disorder.
For many years I have attracted patients into my clinic who suffer chronic and complex conditions and have struggled to find a resolution to their particular ailment, whether they have previously adopted a pharmaceutical or natural medicine approach. Before we embark on their journey to healing their body, I tell each of them the same thing….that failing to address the underlying emotional connection to their condition, will most likely result in the failure to completely heal their body and obtain a state of total well-being and balance. Or as I often like to see it, obtain freedom with their health and consequently their ability to live their life in the way they ultimately desire.
It is also important to understand that as emotional beings, it is normal to experience the full range of emotions, but when a particular emotion is experienced over a prolonged period or with particular intensity, it often becomes a source of imbalance within the physical body.
By combining nutrition from whole, (unprocessed), organic foods, deep sleep a healthy lifestyle, whilst tuning in & exploring any underlying emotions that may be regularly presenting themselves, will help you to achieve balance between your mind and body and optimal wellbeing. In other words, don’t forget the head when searching for answers to your physical ailments as the answers may also lay with any unresolved emotions.
Tips on how to improve your emotional health
First, try to recognize your emotions and understand why you are having them. Sorting out the causes of sadness, stress and anxiety in your life can help you manage your emotional health. The following are some other helpful tips.
Express your feelings in appropriate ways. If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside can make you feel worse. It’s OK to let your loved ones know when something is bothering you. However, keep in mind that your family and friends may not be able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately. At these times, ask someone outside the situation–such as a naturopathic doctor, a counselor or a religious advisor–for advice and support to help you improve your emotional health.
Live a balanced life. Try not to obsess about the problems at work, school or home that lead to negative feelings. This doesn’t mean you have to pretend to be happy when you feel stressed, anxious or upset. It’s important to deal with these negative feelings, but try to focus on the positive things in your life too. You may want to use a journal to keep track of things that make you feel happy or peaceful. Some research has shown that having a positive outlook can improve your quality of life and give your health a boost. You may also need to find ways to let go of some things in your life that make you feel stressed and overwhelmed. Make time for things you enjoy.
Develop resilience. People with resilience are able to cope with stress in a healthy way. Resilience can be learned and strengthened with different strategies. These include having social support, keeping a positive view of yourself, accepting change and keeping things in perspective.
Calm your mind and body. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. Meditation is a form of guided thought. It can take many forms. For example, you may do it by exercising, stretching or breathing deeply. Ask your family doctor for advice about relaxation methods.
Take care of yourself. To have good emotional health, it’s important to take care of your body by having a regular routine for eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep and exercising to relieve pent-up tension. Avoid overeating and don’t abuse drugs or alcohol. Using drugs or alcohol just causes other problems.
Akilah M. El, N.D. is a Naturopathic Doctor and certified Master Herbalist with a private practice in Atlanta Georgia and Berlin Germany. Join Dr Akilah El on Facebook and Twitter