Why Looking After Your Feelings is Looking After Your Health.
Posted Dec 30 2012 11:03am
A character in a Woody Allan movie once said that he doesn’t
get angry, he just grows tumours!
Instinctively we all know that there is an intimate link between our
emotional wellbeing and our physical health … but is there any evidence to link
the two realms?
In fact the evidence that connects the health of the mind
with the health of the body is overwhelming.
If you have a bought of stress, for example, you are more likely to
experience a cough or a cold. If you
suffer from chronic (long term) stress, you are more likely to develop cancer, rheumatoid
arthritis, motor neurone disease … and in fact a whole range of other
diseases. In other words, if you don’t
find a way of dealing with your emotional problems, your body will find a way
of expressing them for you.
The science that explores the mind body link is called
psychoneuroimmunology. I know it’s a mouthful. It basically looks at how the emotional
system, immunune system, nervous system and endocrine system work as a unified
whole. The basic finding is that
psychological stress suppresses the immune system. If the immune system is suppressed, disease cannot
be controlled by the body, and is therefore expressed as symptoms.
The implications of this research is that if you want to
live a healthy life, or you want to have the best chance of curing a physical illness,
you need to consider ways of processing your emotional pain. Denial and suppression, quite simply, is lethal.
In one study, a cohort of cancer patients was randomly divided
into two groups. One received treatment
as usual; the other was given six sessions of group support and
psychotherapy. The death rate of the
group offered a chance to emotionally heal was one third of the death rate of
those who received treatment as usual.
If such a simple intervention can save lives, why is
emotional healing given such a low priority in conventional medicine?
Well one reason is the very idea of the mind body split itself. It is a peculiarly western phenomenon, which
other systems of healing, such as Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine, refuse
to follow. Yet it is anti-scientific. You cannot, from a scientific point of view,
hold that the mind and the body are separate entities. The physician Dr Gabor Mate, in his book “When
the Body says No: Understanding the
Stress-Disease Connection” suggested that mind-body research in medicine disappears
into a ‘Bermuda Triangle’. That is to
say, it is consistently produced, but rarely taken up by the medical profession
This, of course, is unsurprising. The myth of medicine is that there are discreet
disease entities with physical causes that can be reliably diagnosed and
treated with discreet surgical or pharmacological interventions. The model makes available a vast medical
industrial complex for financial exploitation by business. The subtle, time consuming and messy business
of emotional processing of childhood trauma and working through the
implications for acceptance and autonomy in adult life is less easily
commercially standardised and exploitable.
Yet it’s what we need to do if we don’t want our emotions to
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers: