The Mind-Body Connection: Physical Symptoms Can Be Clues to Hidden Feelings

Often, it’s hard to tune in to how you feel about someone or something. One of the very best ways to do it is to understand your mind-body connection and heed Shakira’s advice to “Read the signs of your body.”

Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms, like breaking out into a sweat, feeling your heart pound, or feeling a knot in your stomach, often accompany strong emotions like anxiety, anger, or depression. But sometimes they can be signs that you are having these emotions without being aware of them. Occasionally these symptoms can be a sign of disease, so be on the safe side and have your primary medical doctor rule out medical causes for any scary new sensations. Incidentally, body postures like slumping, or feeling your shoulders go up or your eyes narrow can also tell you what you may be feeling deep down.

Anxiety for Example

Let’s consider anxiety for example because it may be the most fundamental of the problematic feelings. Anxiety is like a burglar alarm. It’s a sign of potential danger that you may be able to prevent. Typically, it’s about possible harm, loss, or failure in the foreseeable future. Sometimes it’s about overwhelming/unacceptable desires or feelings emerging from even deeper inside you. Often when we know the cause of anxiety, we refer to it as worry or fear.

The CNS Is Like a Tree

The central nervous system (CNS) is like a tree with its trunk in the brain and many branches reaching out to the vital organs and limbs. Anxiety (like any powerful emotion) in the CNS can declare itself in the frontal lobes of your brain through awareness like “I feel anxious,” “nervous,” “uneasy,” “detached from myself,” or “like I’m losing control.” It can also show itself in many other physical ways, some physiologic; nerves going to skin, heart, and stomach can cause you to sweat, feel your heart race, or feel sick to your stomach. Some of these other ways are behavioral; nerves going to your muscles, amygdala, or spinal cord can make you inclined to fight, take flight, or freeze instead of responding thoughtfully.

Try to Be Your Own Doctor

So, try to be your own doctor–or perhaps detective. When you feel queasy or when your fingers start to tighten into a fist, see if you can tune in to an underlying anxiety or some other emotion. Observe whether you have symptoms like these after you have a meeting with your boss, Christmas with your in-laws, or any other significant event in your life. You can look for these clues even when you remember such an event–or anticipate it happening in the future. You can also work in the other direction by thinking about whatever makes you anxious (angry, elated, etc.) and keenly observing the impulses that come up and the way your body responds.

Reading the signs of your body can help you tune in to the things that you feel deep down but aren’t aware of and, hence, guide you to make more authentic, enthusiastic, and sustainable choices. If working the mind-body connection sounds too hard to do on your own, then professionals like me are happy to help you identify your feelings make the best of what sets your symptoms in motion.

 –Dr. Adam