At some point in your life, I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “You are what you eat.”
I’m going to take that a step further and say, “You are what you think and feel.”
Recent scientific research supports the idea that our emotions and feelings create a major impact on our physical health and vice-versa. Martin Seligman, a Ph.D. and expert in the field of positive psychology, says that “The data has grown year after year, and it’s become a scientific certainty.”
In its simplest form, this would explain why people tend to feel gloomy when coming down with a cold. If the body is sick, emotions and thoughts tend to reflect the body’s weakened state as it attempts to recover from the illness.
It is a well-known fact that the human body is comprised of interconnected organs and living systems that work together to help you eat, digest, sleep, move, think, feel, react, protect and recover.
Based on this foundational premise, we can surmise that there are strong connections between these systems. For example, if you feel like you’ve just come down with the flu, you often stay in bed and rest, not necessarily because that’s what you want to do, it’s all you feel like you can do. Your systems are working in unison to recover and fight the sickness until you’re back to a state of manageable health. Because this large-scale effort takes a lot of energy, it is also the motivation behind your doctors’ advice to “go home, rest, and take it easy for a few days.” You need to save your energy (which includes reducing emotional, mental, and physical stressors) so that you will be on your way to a speedy recovery.
Think back to the last time you were sick. Did you feel like going to the gym or for a long run? Probably not.
Now, try to remember how you were feeling emotionally. Did you find yourself laughing a lot or feeling jovial and ready to hang out with friends? Or were you feeling “down in the dumps?” In most cases, I would wager that you weren’t feeling like it was time to host a dinner party.
Like the connection between your environment and emotions, there is an even stronger connection between your physical health and emotions. In a study titled “How Positive Emotions Build Physical Health,” scientists collected data from measuring the vagal tone of participants in two groups: 1. A control group on a waiting list and 2. A group that received instructions to raise their emotions to a positive nature by meditating on love and kindness. Over the course of the experiment, they discovered a strong connection between an increase in vagal tone and the influx of positive and uplifting emotions.
Using the vagal tone to measure the impact of emotions eliminated the need for asking subjective and less scientific questions about participant’s emotions. In general, feelings and emotions have such a broad range that it’s nearly impossible to quantify them verbally. In other words, happiness is different for everyone. The same goes for anger, sadness, depression and so on. Therefore, they can be difficult to accurately measure in a scientific study.
The vagal tone is used because it is a measurable biological process that signifies the activity of the tenth cranial nerve, which is situated in the medulla oblongata of the brainstem. This nerve is known as the vagus nerve. Basically, the vagus nerve is an extremely essential portion of your brain that helps regulate many of your internal body organs and functions that operate on a subconscious level. It’s the part of your brain that is telling your body to do things like breathe, digest and pump blood, among many other things. You aren’t actively telling your body to do these things, but they are still happening.
The vagus nerve also controls things like your adrenal glands and digestive tract. As you can imagine, from the previously mentioned study, a positive environment can create an increase in vagal tone, therefore, it can have a positive effect on the vast functions of the body controlled by the vagal nerve. In the end, the researchers concluded the data indicates that:
Emotions positive in nature, affirmative social interactions, and the health of the body interact and affect one another in a self-generating upward spiral.
Of course, this would also mean that the opposite is true.
A downward spiral in emotions, a traumatic life event, or even something as simple as dwelling on your feelings of depression for eight minutes can cause a significant delay in the recovery of emotional health and physical health.
This may be why some people can recover faster from severe or chronic illnesses than others. If they involve positive emotions, outlook, and thoughts into their inner speech and focus, it is likely to speed up the healing process. There are many examples of this type of healing throughout history, especially, in ancient Chinese medicine. What the practitioners of Oriental medicine have been doing for thousands of years, we are just starting to prove with modern science. Your body does not operate in a vacuum of separate systems, it is a very complex and interconnected being that often requires a more diverse approach to treatment than simply taking some medication.
The next time you are starting to feel sick, are experiencing some type of chronic pain or facing a serious illness, try taking a look at your body from a macroscopic view. What thoughts are dominating your brain? Are they positive or negative? Are you sitting around thinking about how much pain you are in or are you actively seeking redirection or positive distractions?
Try using the healing power of visualization or find a healer that will leave no stone unturned when assisting you in discovering negative influences and transmuting them into helpful, healing, and supportive energies. Understand that there are innumerable systems at work in your body. Examining your feelings could lead you to uncover previously overlooked internal connections, false belief system, or fears you didn’t know were there. It may also explain why local, symptomatic treatments can be ineffective or their healing powers short lived.
Be open to the idea that information about the function and health of your body flows from and to your brain. Therefore, it is essential to maintain or seek to develop a positive outlook, reduce stress, and have balanced emotions in order to fully heal and treat many illnesses.