Let me begin by saying that many of the physical illnesses are the outcome of emotional imbalances. Your emotional health has a lot of influence on your physical health. In this chapter, we will explore how your emotional state can affect your physical health and how you can use your emotional intelligence to remain more healthy and joyful. And it’s not as difficult as you may have imagined or practicing psychologists would have destined for you. This chapter is for normal persons, having a normal life pattern, facing normal psychological or physical problems and wanting ‘normal or simple’ solutions to solve day to day emotional obstacles. In other words you can be your own psychologist or psychotherapist and ensure yourself a happy and healthy life and work environment. And once you have realized the importance of using your emotions to your advantage probably you can in turn extend a helping hand to your family, peers, friends, colleagues and of course, to yourself. Be your therapist and enjoy.
You may know that there is a general belief that most of the physical illnesses have psychological base. Psychologists term such diseases as psychosomatic disorders. Simply interpreted, psychosomatic disorder means illnesses originating from psyche (mind) and soma (body). More simply speaking, psychosomatic disorder is a disease which involves both mind and body. Most physical disorders are thought to be particularly prone to mental factors. Your current mental state affects your body demonstrating how bad physical disorder is at any given point of time. You may have noticed that many physical disorders originate from stress of everyday living. People’s mental and emotional state influence their well-being since the time of Hippocrates. The discoveries of psychologists have shed some new light on how the mind and body interact to produce health or illness. The great psychologist Sigmund Freud introduced the idea that it is our ”unconscious mind” which converts psychological disturbances into physical symptoms. A formal study of psychosomatic illness in Europe measured such responses as blood pressure, heart rate and skin temperature and concluded that psychological causes result in the physiological changes in our body.
Globally, it has been estimated that 90% of the workload of medical doctors is a result of psychological factors. However, large number of these disorders go unrecognized and patients are subjected to unwanted and costly investigations. There can be no health without mental health and thus the physical health and mental health should be understood together and not separately. Thus, whenever we talk about physical health, it cannot go without mental health. Generally, mental health has been defined as the absence of psychological disorders. Psychologists reveal that there exists evidence for a two dimensional bipolar specification of mental health such as psychological well-being and physical well being. The psychological well-being includes feelings of happiness, interest, relaxation, contentment and hopefulness. Physical well being includes absence of distress, anxiety, depression, tension, nervousness, restlessness, worry and stress. According to WHO, the absence of psychological disorders can be taken as positive mental health.
Can profound physical problems really be related to the way we feel our emotions? Most of us have experienced the physical effects that depression, mental strain or stress can have on our bodies, or the euphoria of a really good day that makes every ache or pain go away. We know that sleep can have an impact on our minds and emotions as well as our physical energy levels. In fact, our emotions are fundamentally connected with all aspects of health. The link between emotional and physical health has been gaining credibility over the years. Our health, illness, and even the shapes of our bodies have been linked to emotional patterns that create implications in our physical reality over time. Neither our bodies, minds, heart, or spirit exist in a vacuum: each is fundamentally dependent on the others in order for us to be healthy and whole. Our bodies manifest illness to show our thoughts and feelings. They can truly be our greatest teachers about what is going on inside our hearts and minds and how to heal ourselves. Not surprisingly, your body responds to the way you think, feel and act. This is often called the “mind-body connection.” When you are stressed, anxious or upset, your body tries to tell you that something isn’t right.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has documented various medical disorders which occur due to various mental conditions or vice-versa. These include adjustment disorders, anxiety disorders, delirium, dementia, amnesia, and other related disorders, disorders diagnosed in infancy, childhood, or adolescent, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, factitious disorders, impulse control disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders sexual disorders, substance related disorders and other mental disorders which occur due to general medical conditions. For example a very common condition we experience is the mood disorder characterized by irritable mood or markedly diminished interest in all or almost all the activities of daily life. These symptoms result in physical symptoms of depression. Further, depression is highly prevalent in a number of chronic medical illnesses, including diabetes (10-20%), heart disease (20- 30%), chronic pain (40-60%), cancer (10-20%), and neurological disorders (10-20%). Psychosomatic disorders are physical disorders produced by psychological factors such as stress, mental states or personality characteristics. Psychosomatic disorders can affect any of the systems of the body. For example, high blood pressure or a stomach ulcer might develop after a particularly stressful event, such as the death of a loved one. The physical signs that your emotional health is out of balance may be: back pain, change in appetite, chest pain , constipation or diarrhea, dry mouth, extreme tiredness, general aches and pains , headaches , high blood pressure, insomnia (trouble sleeping), palpitations (the feeling that your heart is racing) , sexual problems , shortness of breath, stiff neck , sweating, upset stomach and weight gain or loss. Poor emotional health can weaken your body’s immune system, making you more likely to get infections during emotionally difficult times. Also, when you are feeling stressed, anxious or upset, you may not take care of your health as well as you should. You may not feel like exercising, eating nutritious foods or taking medicine that your doctor prescribes. Recent initiation or increase of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs may also be a sign of poor emotional health.
How emotions can affect our physical health? We can understand it by imagining that we experience both positive and negative emotions. All emotions do have a purpose. Emotions can stir us into productive as well as non-productive action. All is well till such time emotions elicit productive response. However, the problem arises when emotions are non-productive and can lead us to physical symptoms reflecting physical illness. You will agree that an important component of healthy living is not to allow our emotions to rule our life. Unfortunately, negative emotions can exert powerful influence both on behaviour and consequently affect our physical health. An individual’s negative outlook can cause problems as negative mental states result in physical changes in the body. For example, stress is thought to be at the centre stage of many diseases, causing degenerative effect on the entire body. Moreover, suppressing negative feelings can also cause negative consequences.
We will begin by looking at a real case study documented by a qualified clinical psychologist:
The Marital Discord
Mr. and Mrs. Chatterjee aged 47 and 40 years respectively were married for 15 years and had one 11 years old son. Over a period of time emotional disturbances were observed affecting their personal and professional lives. Mr. Chatterjee was a qualified M.Tech from Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur along with a doctorate from France, and working with a large multinational engineering company in Delhi having operation in India and abroad. He was academically high scorer in school and college and had participated and won prizes in English debates and musical competitions. He was a soft, adjusting and quiet sort of person. This reflected his versatile and pleasant personality. Mrs. Chatterjee was a qualified Chartered Accountant also employed with a multinational company in the same city.
The problem started when just after three years of their marriage Mr. Chatterjee lost his well-paid job and was forced by the circumstances to relocate himself from Delhi to Dehradun. He managed to get a job in a private engineering college and has since been reluctantly working there. Mrs. Chatterjee also quit her remunerative job and started working from home on small assignments at the new place. With the passage of time their relationship turned sour and they were on the verge of seeking divorce at the earliest. A peep into the family history of couple revealed utter distrust between them. The wife alleged that the husband constantly used foul language, was aggressive, very short tempered and took no interest in the household matters and in her. At time, she also wondered whether he has illicit relations with some one else. It was further revealed by the wife that she was neither serving her husband food, nor looking after her husband in any socially acceptable ways. The husband in turn felt that that his wife was constantly bickering and insulting him for his less paid job. He further alleged that she was taking the decision of household matters without his consent, to the extent of starting the construction/renovation of their house without his prior knowledge. He felt that he was being thoroughly and purposely neglected and had an intense feeling that his wife was conspiring against him. Needless to say that the prevailing circumstances started affecting the work performance of Mr. and Mrs Chatterjee. Significantly enough, the couple, showed abnormal psychological behaviour along with physical symptoms. Mr. Chatterjee reported chronic irritable bowel syndrome, increased anxiety, feelings of constant irritation and trembling in the legs, lack of enthusiasm, lethargic movements, and increased pulse rate. EEG testing also found Intense Beta Activity. Mrs. Chatterjee reported complaint of persistent abdominal pain which was so severe that she would cry non-stop for hours together, creating a panic.
Interestingly, during medical examinations, no pathological or physiological abnormality was found for physical symptoms. Investigations conducted ranged from blood tests to C.T and M.R.I scans at reputed hospitals. All the tests and reports were normal. Mr. and Mrs. Chatterjee were subjected to insight of emotional intelligence. The clinical psychologist undertook to impart knowledge of the flow of negative emotions and ways to overcome them. The couple was enlightened to find, fight and finish sources of negative thoughts by controlling the associated negative emotions. They were suggested to spend more time on activities of personal interest and make attempts to engage themselves in constructive household activities rather than just lying or sleeping the whole day. The treatment by clinical psychologist included developing self-awareness and they were subjected to mutual trust building sessions so as to embrace a change and work towards confidence building for positive outcome.
A review after a few sessions with the clinical psychologist, treatment revealed remarkable difference with both of them clearly stating the difference felt by each in understanding, analysing and controlling the flow of negative emotions. The knowledge of emotional intelligence itself gave them a lot of encouragement and strength that any worst situation in life can be handled positively. A medical examination after six weeks reported disappearance of symptoms of physical illnesses.