Ever heard of old sayings like 'vent your spleen' or 'have the gall to do something' and wondered what they mean? 'To vent your spleen' is an idiom to describe someone who is angry and to 'have the gall to do something' means to have courage. So what do body parts have to do with emotions?
Have you ever wondered why people lose control of their bladder when they have a sudden fright? Do people who experience a broken heart end up getting heart disease? Western medicine struggles to explain some of these phenomena but complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can offer some viable answers.
Health and wellness are not just about a lack of physical disease. They are a multidimensional state of being connecting physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual dimensions among others1,2. If all dimensions are in order, then health and wellness can exist. If one is out of order, then it can cause disharmony among the others.
I remember years ago not feeling well and heading off to my general practitioner (GP). There were no extreme physical symptoms, just a general feeling of being out of sync. My GP asked the normal questions, took my temperature and blood pressure and sent me off for blood tests. Everything came back 'normal'. A lack of physical evidence in her world equated to nothing being wrong. This outcome made me feel like a hypochondriac.
On the recommendation of a friend, I headed off for my first appointment with a naturopath. He completely surprised me by asking about my emotions as well as my physical symptoms. Thankfully he came up with a number of reasons for the way I was feeling. The same thing happened when I saw an acupuncturist a few years later. He asked me about my emotions. I believe it was around this time that I bought my first book on Chinese Medicine.
One of the oldest medical systems in the world, Traditional Chinese Medicine recognises that emotions play a part in the health and wellbeing of the human body. The seven emotions - joy, fear, sadness, pensiveness, anger, grief and fright - are part of healthy human function but if one is in excess or lacking, present over a long period of time or comes on suddenly with force, it can cause imbalance and illness. Each emotion links to a corresponding organ in the body: pensiveness with the spleen; anger with the liver; fear and fright with the kidneys; joy with the heart; and sadness and grief with the lungs. This link between emotion and organ works both ways. For example, excessive anger can cause dysfunction in the liver and a sluggish liver can cause irritability, frustration or temper outbursts3.
Examples of CAM modalities that are effective in reducing emotional states such as anxiety and stress include yoga4 and meditation5. A trial by Monash University is studying the effects of a mindful-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), a form of meditation, to address depression6. When emotions are too painful to express, people can sometimes suppress them, storing them in the body as pain and tension. While massage is a modality that people tend to associate with reducing anxiety and stress, it can also help to facilitate emotional release of these emotions7.
CAM modalities look at the body as a whole and see the link between the physical and emotional states. Although the prevention of disease is a goal of both mainstream medicine and CAM, CAM modalities address the causes of disease rather than the symptoms8. So next time you notice your emotions getting the better of you, try a yoga or tai chi class, some meditation, a massage or visit your local Chinese doctor rather than thinking that you just have to live with them.
- Corbin C, Pangrazi R, 2001, Toward a uniform definition of wellness: a commentary, Research Digest 3(15):1–8. Washington, DC, President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, http://www.presidentschallenge.org/misc/news_research/research_digests/dec2001digest.pdf.
- McMurray, A, 2007, Community health and wellness: a socio-ecological approach, 3rd ed, Mosby Elsevier, Sydney.
- Kaptchuk TJ, 1983, The web that has no weaver, Congdon & Weed Inc, Illinois.
- Smith C, Hancock H, Blake-Mortimer J, Eckert K, 2007, A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety, Complementary Therapies in Medicine, 15(2):77-83, Elsevier.
- Kostanski M, Hassed C, 2008, Mindfulness as a concept and a process, Australian Psychologist, 43(1):15 – 21.
- Theage.com.au, 2008, http://www.theage.com.au/national/raisin-consciousness-pits-meditation-againstdepressive-spiral-20081102-5gao.html.
- Mazzeo C, 2008, Nurturing the mind/body connection: A phenomenological analysis of emotional release in massage therapy, The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, 2008, 96 pages; 3287172 http://gradworks.umi.com/32/87/3287172.html.
- Micozzi M, 2011, Fundamentals of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4th ed, Saunders Elsevier, St Louis.