How emotional health affects physical health
Why is Emotional Health so important to our physical health?
The most common pain from a lack of emotional health is what people call a “stress headache”, but I see much wider variety in patients, from abdominal pain, foot pain, and even low back pain.
The body’s response to stress isn’t what’s wrong though, the body is doing exactly what it needs to in order to cope with the stimulus. The problem is how you are interpreting the stress.
Let me give you an example; two people are in a room full of kids at a birthday party, laughing and playing, running around and having a great time. One person is extremely stressed about the situation, focusing on the mess the kids are making, the loud noise, and screaming, making it hard to even have a conversation. The other person walks into the scene, feeling full of joy and happiness as the kids cheerful noises remind this person of her childhood.
Another example: Two people walking around a very busy city. People and cars are everywhere. One person feels mad and frustrated that he can’t get to where he wants to go as efficiently as he wants and slightly fearful of all the strange people. The other person’s experience is completely different. They love the energy of the city, the lights, interesting people, and exploring all the city has to offer. Being in the city makes this person feel happy and energized.
Yes, these experiences are more based off preferences, but what about other things, like loss of a job, financial hardship, driving in traffic? These things can all be triggers for a stress response, but the beauty of it all is that we have the final say on how much it affects us. We can choose to be anxious and worried or we can choose to have peace. Although it may be hard to think logically in the moment, it is a choice you get to make.
To put it scientifically, the left prefrontal cortex can inhibit the stress response by releasing GABA at the amygdala. This occurs when we consciously choose to react positively as a result decreasing stress levels.
We can also create a stress response just by thinking about past stresses or anxieties about the future.
The body responds to stress by sending messages to the sympathetic nervous system (our fight or flight response). When this part of your nervous system is activated, it triggers a system-wide response that increases catabolic activities (heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar) and decreases anabolic activities (digestion, sex glands, sex drive, growth hormone production, and immune cells).
The brain responds by increasing emotional/anxious memories and decreases logical thinking, factual learning, short term memory, and focus. All of this requires the use of more minerals than normal and if not replaced with your diet, can lead to more symptoms. Stress will also cause you to crave things like sugar and fat.
All of these things are great if you have an emergency situation, like running away from a bear. Then after the danger or stress passes, your parasympathetic nervous system ramps up and then everything can settle back down. But when there is a chronic stressful state, all kinds of problems arise.
If these symptoms become chronic, it can lead to things like heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and alzheimers.
All the stress hormones in your body do not allow you to ever truly rest, you lay awake at night, your mind racing. Random aches and pains arise, your heart is pounding, blood pressure is up, you may feel anxious or worried, you can’t focus or think clearly, you have little or no sex drive, and you tend to get sick more often.
If any of this sounds familiar I urge you to start getting your emotional health under control, so you can be physically healthy too.
Just imagine what your life would be like if you didn’t have to worry all the time, didn’t feel angry and anxious, but you were able to look at the world and see it as God sees it. To be truly content, joyful, and at peace no matter the situation.
God knows this about our bodies, which is probably one reason why he told us not to worry, but to pray and to think about good things.
It doesn’t have to make sense. God doesn’t always have to make sense. You could be going through the most terrible situation, but still have peace. But it is our choice, to choose to focus on the good. It is not the social norm, nor is it most peoples’ tendency. This is something we have to fight for every day. Will you choose peace and health? Or will you choose worry and fear and have the health implications that come with it?
1. Write out what you are worried/anxious about. Pray about it. Give it to God.
2. Write down 10 good things about your life. Thank God for them.
- Chestnut, James L. Innate Physical Fitness & Spinal Hygiene. Victoria, B.C.: Wellness Practice–Global Self Health, 2005.