Emotions and Health
Updated: Dec 7, 2019
We are all aware of the array of emotions present in our daily lives. Some of them manifest themselves occasionally, while others are more frequent and have become aspects of our personality. Certain emotions are so close to us that they feel like part of our skin - we don’t even notice their presence and effects in our relationship with people and in our surrounding environment. In the following pages, I am going to demonstrate how emotions affect our body. What exactly happens inside us when we experience emotions? How do our internal organs deal with the variety of them?
Before showing the energetic side of the picture, it is important to acknowledge that modern science has acquired considerable knowledge of human physiology, pathology and psychology in the last decades. The concept of Psychosomatic Disorders, where emotional states are believed to generate or bring about certain physical problems is considered to be a big leap towards understanding mind-body relationship.
It is understood now, for instance, that a long-standing depression can cause cardiovascular and immune system disorders. We now know, for example, that in our brain - a wonderful machine that spends about 20% of all the energy used by the body - there are more connections amongst the brain cells than stars in the Milky Way! Also, scientists have discovered that when we face emotionally stressful situations, our brain releases substances that help us cope with the challenge by defusing the “energetic upsurge”, promoting a restful night’s sleep, relieving pain and producing pleasure. They are neurotransmitters called Serotonin, Noradrenalin and Dopamine/Endorphin, respectively. People prone “Anger goes up, Fear goes down - to emotional disorders such as anxiety and phobias, and who are predisposed to overstress are believed to have low rates of those chemicals.
It is well known that human beings have never experienced such a high degree of emotional “turbulence” as seen nowadays. We leave the twentieth century with the idea that never in humankind’s history has so much been accomplished in such a relatively short period of time. On the other hand, with all our basic material needs satisfied, the emotional issues have never been so strongly present in people’s daily lives. Having said that, how does mainstream medicine deal with emotion-related disorders? Well, despite all the astonishing modern knowledge acquired in the schools, hospitals and clinics, when it comes to mind-emotion related problems, the treatments aim primarily at “controlling” the disorders, not curing them. The therapy of choice is the administration of potent drugs that can produce fast results by mimicking the body’s own chemical system, but how about the side effects? Is it expected that the individual will spend the rest of his/her life taking drugs? Unfortunately, it seems that the brilliance of our Western medical achievements does not always translate into happiness.
One of the most important and fascinating aspects of Chinese medicine is the holistic approach to the human being. According to the ancient Taoist philosophy, we are more than a physical and tangible body; we are also emotion and spirit. Behind the body’s mechanisms there is a blueprint of energy, a concept that Western science finds difficult to accept. From a Chinese medicine practitioner’s point of view, an emotion has the same power to generate disease as a virus. A particular emotional state can “stagnate” our vital energy, “reverse” it’s flow, “dissipate” it and “knot” it; strange but accurate terminology that will be explained ahead.
According to Zhuang Zi, one of the greatest Taoist philosophers from the 4th century BC, “We need emotions and feelings because how could we exist as individuals without them?”
It is important to say that, under normal circumstances, emotions are not causes of disease. Like rivers, emotions are forms of energy that need to flow, to circulate and to express themselves. They are intrinsic parts of us; they are our identity and the manifestation of our humanness. The typical serene image of Buddhist monks totally exempt of emotions does not correspond to reality. They do experience emotions; they are vibrant and jovial, like Soggyal Rimpoche, a famous Tibetan Lama, and also called “The Laughing Tibetan”.
Serenity does not mean lack of emotions, but the control of them. When someone is serene, he is not disturbed by emotion, or if he is disturbed he is easily able to find his balance again.
It is normal to experience a variety of emotions during the day: anger while driving to work; fear in the dentist’s waiting room; worry about a school test; sadness at the news that someone in the family has died; joy at the birth of the first child, etc. It is basically impossible to live and to be part of this world without experiencing emotions, which provided that they are transitory, have little significance to a Chinese medicine therapist. However, whenever there is a predominance of one or more emotions, they could become pathogenic factors and deserve close attention.
In Chinese medicine, emotions when considered disease-causing agents can disturb the flow of Chi (vital energy) and blood circulation, and damage the internal organs. On the other hand, the condition of the organs can directly affect our emotional state. For instance, fear can damage the Kidneys and unhealthy Kidneys can manifest externally through fear, thus creating a vicious circle.
According to ancient Chinese texts: “Anger injures the Liver; Joy (excessive) injures the Heart; Grief and Sadness injure the Lungs; Worry injures the Spleen; and Fear injures the Kidneys.” This statement is based on the theory of the Five Elements. However, the Chinese also consider pensiveness, shock, hatred and guilt as disease- causing agents as well. As we shall see later on, a certain emotion can affect more than one organ, such as sadness affecting the Lungs and the Heart. As a matter of fact, all the emotions manifest themselves indirectly through the Heart, which is the “Seat of the Mind”, according to Chinese medicine. Interestingly, in Chinese, the character representing “Heart” is present in basically all characters related to emotions.
In the following chapter, we will be discussing each individual emotion and the effect it can cause in one or more organs. The “hidden link” is Chi, the energy connecting the organ to the emotion and the emotion to the organ. It is not tangible and cannot be measured or analyzed under a microscope, but it is powerful and once harmonized, capable of healing any disease.