How emotions cause physical pain

What do you do when your heart hurts? In our hyper-connected, super-efficient world, we don’t seem to have a coherent healing system for emotions, preferring to combat our depression with wine, chocolate or any number of distractions.

Equally, we’re expected to somehow carry on, no matter how much pain we are in until it gets so bad we have to get (expensive) therapy or anti-depressants.

But what if you want to help yourself, either when things are that bad or before it gets to that point? What do you do when you ache for someone you can’t be with? Or when you can’t even leave the house because you are so anxious? Or you wish you could just stop breathing because you can’t bear the incessant pain any longer?

Chinese Medicine can help. The Chinese place huge importance on emotions and their physical effects on the body, so much so that the emotions are considered to be one of the primary causes of disease.

This approach is backed up by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence:

“Helping people better manage their upsetting feelings – anger, anxiety, depression, pessimism and loneliness – is a form of disease prevention…. data shows that the toxicity of these emotions, when chronic, is on a par with smoking cigarettes.’’

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence. (1)

Five things Chinese Medicine can tell you about your emotions and their effect on your body.

  • According to Chinese Medicine, emotional pain is created by the organs and manifests as Qi and blood. This means that we can work to resolve emotional pain via the physical body, by literally drawing it out of the tissues and circulatory system and unblocking the congested areas.
  • Chinese Medicine believes that healthy emotions have a natural direction, and that one of the main causes of disease is inhibiting an emotion, or not taking responsibility for it.
  • Accepting that you’re allowed to feel pain and then aiming to learn from it is something that is culturally alien in the UK, where the stiff upper lip mentality is very much alive and well. Chinese Medicine encourages you to feel your pain and use it to evolve. Remember what Winston Churchill said of his depression: “When you are in hell, keep walking.”
  • Chinese wisdom understands that emotional pain gets held in spaces within the body, usually the lungs, which is why we cry or hyperventilate when sadness overwhelm us. It’s the body’s mechanism to stop it settling long term and causing problems down the line. Extensive study has shown that the chronically anxious, or those who endured long periods of sadness and pessimism, were found to have double the risk of disease. All these negative emotions create stress in the body – and we know that stress is directly responsible for many of our illnesses. (2)
  • Finally, as we well know, emotional pain literally hurts physically; we therefore need to work physically to engage with it in order to transform it into positive Qi. As ever, we need to purge and nourish – or more gently with tender emotions, cleanse and nourish. I’ve been there. It’s honestly not as hard as you think, and there’s truth in the saying ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.

When I realised that emotions are connected to our organs in Chinese Medicine – and that we can practise techniques to manage them – it changed my life forever. From my heart, I promise you that this helped me in my darkest moments and it will bring comfort to you too. It’s important to stress here that if you feel overwhelmed you should absolutely seek medical help in addition to my advice.

If you are going through emotional turmoil right now, start with the one-minute rituals. Breathing and drumming in particular will make a huge difference. When in pain, we tend to take shallow breaths to avoid disturbing it. So proper breathing will open up the chest and engage with your pain so that you start dealing with it. See how to do our Rescue Breath Ritual.

Consistency is key here, so practise our rituals every day and I promise you will start to feel the difference quickly.