We all can remember times when our emotions affected our physical health – and vice versa. We were stressed out about something and came down with the viral thing we’d been successfully fighting off. We were laid up with a broken foot and became depressed.
It turns out that every single emotion we have affects at least one system or function in the body – immune system, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, hormonal balance and much more.
Even across cultures, emotions are known to be associated with pain and symptoms in specific parts of the body. People are 21 times more likely to have a heart attack in the days after losing a loved one. (Mercola, 2014) We rightly speak of this as ‘dying from a broken heart’.
Chronic depression is often accompanied by headaches, back pain, muscle aches, joint pain, chest pain, digestive problems, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite or weight gain, or dizziness. (WebMD, 2014)
How Emotions Manifest in the Body
Finnish researchers asked 700 male and female, Finnish, Swedish and Taiwanese volunteers of various ages to think about one of 14 emotions and then paint the areas of a blank silhouette that felt stimulated by that emotion. On a second blank silhouette, the volunteers were asked to paint in the areas that felt deactivated during that emotion. Short stories or videos were available to help the volunteers generate the appropriate emotion. (Nummenmaa, 2014)
These were the results:
This interesting mapping experiment into the mind-body relationship produced images of the volunteers’ subjective perceptions about the impact of mental states on the body: an angry hot head and a literally blue depressed figure.
You can see changes in the head area in all 14 emotions – suggesting smiling, frowning or skin temperature changes. Happiness was felt all over the body. Fear, disgust, anxiety, love and shame involved sensations in the digestive system.
These bodily sensations were based solely on physical sensations subjects reported while experiencing each emotion – a combination of muscle, visceral and nervous system reactions – and not on anything that was measured objectively – such as blood flow or heat.
The body maps produced by the 700 volunteers were generally the same, demonstrating that the ways emotions are experienced in the body are fairly consistent from person to person, regardless of age, sex and nationality.
If you want to try this experiment for yourself, you can do so here. The test is available online in English, Russian, French and Italian.