A couple of days ago I was chatting with a patient who was experiencing a sore throat. This brought to mind some of my first clinical experiences at The Way to Optimal Health, the office in the Chicago suburbs where I began in practice 12 years ago. I was taught that it was important to consider the role of a person’s emotional states when considering the origin of certain symptoms. Does that mean symptoms are “all in your head?” No, but your emotional state does have an impact.
It has been recognized, perhaps most famously by Austrian physician Hans Selye in the 1950’s, that stress is the cause of all illnesses. Stress can be roughly categorized into three types; mechanical, chemical and emotional. These were also defined in 1910 by founder of chiropractic DD Palmer as the three T’s; trauma, toxins and thoughts.
And, emotional stress is a biggie for many of us, right?
So, coming back to the woman with the sore throat. She was describing her symptoms and I asked her “What are you not saying?” That question was one that my mentors in Chicago would sometimes ask people experiencing sore throats and it comes from the concept of Chakras. Briefly, chakras are the energy centers of the body as described by ancient Indian Ayurvedic and yogic tradition. Typically seven chakras described. The fifth is the throat chakra and it is associated with communication, the connection between the heart and the mind and expressing yourself. So, when there are symptoms in the throat we might think about what we are not expressing. Could “swallowing” negative emotions be contributing to how we feel?
Another common area of symptoms is the lower back. The mechanical causes of lower back pain are numerous, although in many cases the cause of injury is not known. A research paper published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed a link between job dissatisfaction and the development of chronic pain. So, being happy at work, a component of happiness in general, can reduce your risk of chronic low back pain and disability. At our office in Chicago, the key emotional association with lower back pain was feeling unsupported. For many, dissatisfaction is related a perception of or an actual lack of support. Next time you feel a twinge in your lower back for no clear reason ask yourself, how supported do you feel by your family, spouse, friends and colleagues? Have you been acting like an invulnerable super-hero who does not need help from anyone? How can you better communicate so that your needs are known?
But, how does it happen that emotional states create physical symptoms? That doesn’t seem very scientific, does it? Actually, every thought or feeling is accompanied by the release of thousands of different neuro peptides, each triggering a physiological, physical response. Thus, it is theorized, prolonged, negative emotional states can cause an imbalance in your physical body.
You do not need to analyze yourself psychologically regarding every ache and pain. Symptoms need to be taken seriously in a physical context. However, a balance in focus between the physical and the emotional can enhance your healing . Next time you have an twinge or a crick in your neck consider giving some non-judgmental attention to your emotional state. You may be surprised to find a hidden cause.