Emotions in the body

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In my recent blogs I have discussed how our emotions and thoughts mutually affect each other, why it is important to become aware of them and how this can be achieved. Among other strategies, one of the ways for noticing our emotions is by paying attention to how they are reflected in our body (for example, we might get “butterflies in the stomach” when we are anxious). Today I want to explore the connection between our physical and emotional states in some more detail.

Probably every language has metaphors that describe emotional phenomena through a physical action or sensation. We are all familiar with such phrases as “to carry a burden on one’s shoulders,” “to hold one’s breath,” or “to suffer from a broken heart.” We use them all the time without pausing to ponder their meaning. But are they really only metaphors? As it turns out, many of these phrases quite literary reflect the response of the body to an emotional strain. Thus people who for a long time had to cope with a burden or grief, heavy responsibility or worry often have tense aching shoulders and stiff neck. A friend of mine who was nursing her husband dying of cancer while having to be strong and supportive to her young children has developed what is called a “frozen shoulder” that took over two years to heal.

When something frightens us, very often the automatic physical response is to hold our breath, which we let out when the danger (either perceived or real) has passed. However, as many of us may experience ongoing stress in our daily lives, we might not notice that we are not breathing properly. Our breath becomes shallow; we neither inhale nor exhale fully and thus it deprives our brain and our body of the oxygen they need to function optimally. A very simple way for releasing stress is to stop from time to time and take several deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth. A couple of minutes of deep breathing can also help ward off a panic attack, and in such cases it is recommended to move your eyes upwards on the inhale and downwards on the exhale.

Anger, anxiety and other strong or persistent emotions have a tendency to get “stored” in the body. Interestingly, different people experience different parts of the body as containers of suppressed emotion. For some it will be the stomach, for others the heart, chest, head, shoulders, skin or joints. There are also body parts that may be affected by a particular type of emotion. Thus both Chinese and Western medicine traditionally linked the liver and gallbladder with anger. This perception is still reflected in the phrase “it galls me.” Speaking about myself, I know that I respond to aggravated stress with migraines and an ache under my shoulder blades. Emotional energy gets “converted” into a physical energy. It affects in a complex way the balance of hormones and other chemicals, which, if not taken care of, may lead to a serious illness.

The physical and the emotional parts of our being are not the isolated systems. One affects the other, and vice versa. Therefore, for our wellbeing it is important to take care of both. Tapping is very effective for releasing stress and negative emotions. Meditation is good for relaxation. Having regular talking therapy is also an excellent way for restoring and maintaining emotional balance. But apart from any techniques, we can achieve a lot by simply taking time to get in touch with our feelings. By tuning in and listening to our body and emotions in a non-judgmental way and offering love and acceptance to those parts of us that are aching to be heard, acknowledged and forgiven.

Ludmila Gin

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5 thoughts on “Emotions in the body”

  1. DP

    This is very interesting, thank you Ludmila.

    Over the years I have become more and more aware of the terrible toll my body is paying because of my emotional stress. What I am observing these days is that after so many years my unhealthy responses to anxiety and worry have become almost automatic and I seem to be unable to put a stop to all this. Is it possible that someone has just simply spent so much time in a state of alienation from one’s own body and true self to make it virtually impossible to listen to our emotions as they reveal themselves in our bodies?

    In my case, for example, I have the feeling, sometimes,that the mind is still here and alive, but the body is almost dead, forgotten in a state of neglect and rejection. When I feel like that, I become very pessimistic about the possibility of being able to reopen the channel between the intellectual me and the deep emotions hidden in my body.


    1. Ludmila Post Author

      Hello! Thank you very much for your response and for sharing your experience. It does sound very poignant… It is indeed not easy to re-establish the connection with our body and emotions if we have been alienated from them for a long time. But — it is certainly possible! The first step is to become aware of what is happening. And you have already made this step as I can gather from what you wrote.

      The question then is HOW to reconnect.

      It is a bit like learning a foreign language. Or the language that we have once known, but have forgotten… But it does come back! If we simply pause for a few minutes once a day, sit quietly and allow ourselves to just be, the messages from that alienated world will slowly start getting through and become clearer.

      The problem is that very often we kind of do not feel that we deserve a break. There is always so much to be done and we punish ourselves for not being “good enough” by denying ourselves empathy and attention (the very things we would like to receive from others!). What helps me to reconnect with my inner needs is to imagine my hurting self as a small child who NEEDS ME, needs my love and care, needs to BE HEARD. And I almost have an inner dialogue with this child asking her what is it that is troubling her and what can I do for her to make her feel better.

      Just giving a little bit of love to yourself can make a big difference. If this resonates with you maybe you can try…

      Warmest wishes,

  2. Iva

    I would like to share my experience with EFT. Unfortunately I had a chance to try only one session with Ludmila when I was visiting Cambridge. I did not have one specific problem I needed to solve; it was more of my curiosity. The session turned out to be a really interesting journey through my recent emotional life. I work with people and have experience with various kinds of therapy, I think I am usually able to describe and understand my life experience and emotions. But I realised it is often without my emotions being really present, not to say anything about my body taking any part. The thing that was really unique in my session with Ludmila was seeing my mind, my emotions and my body being on this journey together. And I believe that is why it works. The whole person works together to make peace with oneself and the world around. I can see even now it helps me to face things in my life more as a whole person. Thank you!

    1. Ludmila Post Author

      Thank you for your comment Beth. I guess you are probably referring to the last sentence in my blog where I mention forgiveness. What I had in mind is self-forgiveness. And — yes — it does link up with judgment, in a sense that we tend to beat ourselves up for what we have done or haven’t done or even for experiencing certain feelings, such as anger, for example. Accepting that we are ok even if we are struggling, feeling vulnerable or angry helps to release these emotions.

      This is a very brief answer to your question, but it made me think that perhaps I should write a blog about forgiveness, which is a very important topic.

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