Heartache – why emotions cause physical pain

I read a fascinating article on the BBC news website recently, by a chap called Jon Kelly and entitled ‘How does grief cause physical pain?’1 He highlighted that alongside the overwhelming emotional symptoms associated with losing someone close, it’s common to experience physical symptoms too. The people he interviewed reported symptoms as diverse as a constant heavy pressure on their chest, trouble breathing, a weight in their stomach or heart palpitations or pains.

Scientists appreciate that grief can manifest physically as well as emotionally. The article states that scientists have discovered that the same part of our brains processes both physical and emotional pain. So we accept that grief can make us physically ill – but what we don’t have in the west is a clear explanation as to why. Step forward Chinese Medicine.

Chinese Medicine has always understood that what we feel has a huge impact on our bodies. Chinese medical theory holds that grief (as with all painful emotions) must be felt and transformed, or it will eventually manifest in symptoms and disorders. It prescribes that each of our positive and negative emotions are associated with an organ. If the organ is out of balance and the emotions overwhelming, specific symptoms can manifest.

In our modern, sanitised world, we actually suffer bereavement much less often than our ancestors. That’s not to say we are suffering less, however the type of grief we suffer has changed to some degree. Take heartache and loss. Historically, if you suffered a break up, say, you’d stop seeing them. Yes, it would be painful, but you’d go through that period of mourning for your lost relationship, process the loss and then get over the pain. Nowadays our exes are all over social media, flaunting their new girlfriend/ baby / lifestyle in our faces the whole time. So we switch our phones on and get on Facebook at 6.30 am and there they are, very much alive and the emotion hits you all over again and you go through the pain, all over again. Fail to complete that emotional process and they just linger around unresolved. Using distraction and comfort, you push the feelings deeper inside, where they eventually become latent (for a deeper explanation, have a look at our How ill are you? article).

If the emotions of grief and heartache have a physical impact on the body, what about those other emotions? The notion that our emotions are connected with our organs is not new to us. Across the world, the heart is equated with love. We talk about being ‘green with envy’, being ‘worried sick’, ‘frozen with fear’ or ‘choked up with grief’. 

So, the minute you realise that your emotions are attached to your organs you can start healing yourself, because you can nurture the relevant organs and transform the pain from negative to positive. Our emotions are the most fragile part of our bodies. The Chinese believe our emotions are every bit as important as our physical self – and if unchecked and misunderstood they tend to rule our life, often in a detrimental way (especially the more emotional amongst us).

Luckily, we have a period of grace before this emotional pain presents as physical pain. Get in there early and we can avoid the problem getting a foothold into the body and impacting that organ, and therefore sidestep a deterioration of health. The basic Hayo’u Method is a great catch-all to support the general function of the body. If you have specific symptoms, further rituals are available to support you, no matter your ailment. We can help you through this step by step – but if you have medical concerns please also seek expert advice.

Back to grief, nowadays often referred to as loss, or ‘feeling inadequate’ (hands up marketing companies!) If we subscribe to the Chinese explanation that grief makes us physically ill, what steps can we take to mitigate the effects?

Because grief is associated with the lungs, the most effective way to release it is through proper deep breathing. our Rescue Breath Ritual is the perfect place to start. This is a hugely simple exercise that you can do anytime, any-place, anywhere. Find out how to do it in the Rituals section of our site. By deep breathing, I mean by breathing into the diaphragm and filling the lungs to capacity. The movement of the diaphragm massages your key internal organs, calming and centering them. There’s a reason that mindful breathing is practised in meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and many of the internal arts! Even more powerful is breathing with visualization which helps to cleanse, detoxify and release grief from the body.

And don’t forget – we experience positive emotion too! Numerous studies in the past have shown a correlation between happy people and longevity. Definitely something to smile about! Have a great week….

Katie Brindle,
Founder, Hayo’u