Monday, September 21, 2009

Are Your Emotions Making You Sick?

By Amy Phillips-Gary

...It's just emotions taking me over...” sang the popular 1970s pop group the Bee Gees.

I bet that just about every one of us has experienced a wave of emotions that seemed to literally take over.

It might have been fear or panic so intense that nothing else going on could be perceived. Or it could have been a surge of pleasure or happiness.

Our feelings can be pervasive. They can also make us sick or, conversely, support and promote health and well-being.

There is a connection between emotions and physical health that is being documented in scientific studies.

Medical scientists at UCLA found that the stress hormone, cortisol, suppresses the body's ability to produce an enzyme that is essential for cell health and the effective functioning of the immune system.

As you probably already know, it is the immune system that can fight off nasty things like flu, colds, diseases and even cancer.

And, studies aside, we've all probably experienced this mind-body connection up close and personal in our own lives.

Late last week I came down with some nasty symptoms-- throbbing head, achy all over, low energy, chills and even vomiting.

At first glance, it was obvious that I had a flu. But when I take a careful look back at the days leading up to this illness, there's another way of understanding it.

It is quite probable that I literally made myself sick.

Days before these symptoms temporarily knocked me out, I had been feeling bad about myself. I was feeling sad, ugly, inadequate and generally very low. And the next day, BOOM, I get sick.

Could there be a connection?

I think so.

Letting emotions off the hook for a moment...

Let me back up for a minute. I am not proposing that emotions are to blame for physical health problems.

Instituting a good/bad dichotomy whereby certain emotions will keep you healthy and others will make you sick is not going to benefit any of us. This presumption could lead to an attempt to ignore or push down those feelings that are not deemed positive.

It is nearly impossible to truly ignore away those unpleasant emotions. Efforts to suppress them are not going to promote health either.

Emotions are just energy. Defined as “affective states of consciousness,” our emotions are tied in with our thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.

If you can start to see emotions are merely powerful energy and leave behind the good/bad labels, you can begin to make peace with them-- and I mean all of them.

Making peace with where you are is a great way to allow your emotions to process and then release. It is the tendency to hold onto or become stuck in difficult emotions that can add to stress which then can manifest as illness and disease.

Practice emotional self-checks...

When you stay tuned in to how you are feeling and what you are thinking and believing, you can know when a potential tidal wave of angst is building within you.

Too many of us simply aren't present with our own selves much of the time. It's in this state of auto-pilot that we often get caught unaware by challenging feelings that we then feel helpless to do anything about.

Try this emotional self-check instead:
Before you get out of bed in the morning, simply listen to your thoughts and notice how are feeling. Repeat this during a mid-day break in your daily routine and then again before dropping off to sleep at night.

When you discover feelings, thoughts or sensations that disturb or trouble you, pause and look more deeply at what's going on. Be inquisitive and resist the urge to judge yourself or become fearful.

It can be quite a powerful act to interrupt your usual habit of pushing ahead with your life and, instead, acknowledge that you feel sad, irritable, angry or afraid.

Your next step could be to ask yourself what you need to soothe yourself about this. The answer might be a very specific action, or it could be more questions.

You may discover that particular beliefs about yourself, others or your situation are fueling your intense emotions. If so, it can be helpful to ask yourself if you absolutely know that these beliefs are true.

Often, the reminder that a belief or thought might not be accurate is enough to create space for new perceptions of a situation.

As you listen to yourself and follow through by meeting your emotional needs as best you can, you will probably feel improvement and some sense of relief.

You might not jump from depressed to joyful, but be sure to recognize those positive movements and continue to build on them.

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