Emotions and our Physical Health
When we don't allow ourselves to feel and experience our emotions in their entirety, our bodies are not at ease. It is critical to allow yourself to feel, as long as you know how to move through the emotion and observe it without judgment.
I have been going through a plethora of emotions lately, ranging from irritability all the way to sadness and possibly even grief. It wasn’t until two days ago, when i found myself feeling like I was coming down with a cold, that I realized I haven’t been dealing with my feelings. I’ve been so busy that I think I must have just been pushing the feelings down instead of actually feeling them.
I’ve been doing some soul searching, like I have mentioned before, but these feelings had nothing to do with that. My daughter graduated high school and is going off to an out of state college in the fall. This is a huge accomplishment in its own right, but she is also the first child in our family to go to a 4-year college straight out of high school. There has been so much activity in the past 4 weeks - from college application tasks, financial aid, senior night, prom, pictures…it’s just quite a bit going on.
When I jumped in the shower the other day, I was slammed with a wall of emotions. It seemed like it was out of nowhere as I stood there with the water dripping down my face, sobbing uncontrollably. It took me by surprise, and I realized right then and there that I needed it. I needed the big ugly cry. I couldn’t even remember the last time that I cried. I had been a little weepy lately, feeling a surge coming on at the tiniest thing, but I didn’t have “time” to let myself feel. I would shove it down and move on with what I was doing, likely as an unconscious distraction. Even though I got the good cry out, I am now sitting here with a sore throat and a stuffy nose.
Studies have shown that our emotions directly correspond to our physical health. Someone experiencing positive emotions is in a state of ease, while someone experiencing negative emotions, like stress, is in a state of dis-ease. Or simply put, disease. Many of us highly value our physical health, more so over our mental health. But in this day and age, a higher focus, thankfully, is being given to taking care of our mental health.
We all know how great positive emotions feel - we can have a great morning, which can improve our mood throughout the day and even make us feel more productive and boost our self-esteem. But even “negative” emotions can be good for us, as long as we can let the emotion move with fluidity through our experience. We can get teary at a touching movie, evoking a sense of wistful sadness, but we can also get incredibly angry at someone cutting us off on the freeway. For better or worse, emotions make up the experiential fabric of our lives.
We are wired to avoid illness and attempt to avoid pain and discomfort. Yet we tend to overlook the fact that our emotions are affecting our health. Emotions aren’t tangible so it is hard to see them as something that can have an affect on our short and long term health. There’s a physical sensation when we experience an emotion, so it should make sense that it is affecting our well-being. According to a study by the New England Journal of Science, experiencing periods of high stress during a short term period can expose us to the possibility of contracting a common cold more easily. In a sense, our immune response is lowered.
Happier people tend to live longer. That’s not to say that the people who are happy don’t experience “negative” emotions. No one experiences 100% positivity, that’s just reality. It is how we are equipped to handle the negativity, how we process the emotions. Take chronic stress, for example. Scientists know that negative emotions can cause numerous biological reactions that harm the body, like inflammation, which causes a host of health problems. So if we can take the flip side of that, it would make sense that happiness can have the opposite effect, and actually boost your body’s reactions in a positive way.
So how can we get happy? I think it is less about getting happy than it is about taking a proactive approach to our emotional experiences in life. If I look at my situation, and the fact that I haven’t had a good cry in ages, WHY? Why am I not allowing myself to feel the feels? Well, it’s uncomfortable. It’s dealing with an emotion that may bring up unprocessed issues from my past. Humans aren’t usually comfortable being uncomfortable, and I came to the glaring realization that I have not been practicing what I preach in workshops, or what I teach in a yoga studio. I had this idea in my head that I needed to show my daughter how strong I was in handling everything, and that I was basically super mom. But that’s not helping her. What will help her is to show her that it’s ok to feel it. It’s ok to get angry, it’s ok to feel sadness. It’s ok to ugly cry. ALLOW. Allow the feelings to surface. If we hold these things inside of us, they will come out one way or another. Whether it manifests itself in lashing out at someone whose definitely doesn’t deserve it, or in a cold that stops you in your tracks, or even worse, a heart attack from the immense amount of chronic stress you have placed on yourself - it will manifest.
Taking control of our emotions - not pushing them down - is what is going to benefit us the most and possibly let us live longer, happier lives. We are in charge of our emotions, not the other way around. If we can use mindfulness to observe the emotion, allow our body to release it when it is occurring, and then move on, we can avoid the costly effects of avoiding emotions. We aren’t adequately taught how to just be, how to just feel. Even when we are, in my case, it isn’t always that easy. It’s hard to experience change, and it can be incredibly difficult to even identify our emotions. For me, I believe I am feeling a sense of loss that my daughter is leaving, but also a sense of pride and amazement at her capability. And that fills me with a sense of accomplishment. I will continue to work on feeling my emotions in real time, instead of pushing them away for a more ‘convenient’ time. Because really, the only time we have is happening right now.
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A Mindful Moment is written and hosted by Teresa McKee and/or Melissa Sims. The Spanish version is translated and hosted by Paola Theil. Intro music, Retreat, by Jason Farnham. Outro music, Morning Stroll by Josh Kirsch, Media Right Productions. Thank you for tuning in! This podcast is produced by Work2Live Productions.