The impact of emotions and trauma on our physical body
I don’t know about you but there’s nothing more powerful than experiencing something in order to fully understand it, integrate it or learn from it. I have had a couple of powerful experiences that enabled me to see the impact emotions were having on my body.
The first one was a few years ago when my 18-year-old son, who was a swimmer not a runner, ran the London marathon. We had friends dotted around different parts of the route and part way through I knew he was struggling which as his mother was not easy to hear. However, he dug deep, finished the course and we were all overjoyed at his achievement and he raised thousands of pounds for a charity close to our hearts. I then completely forgot about the emotions I experienced during the race.
Two weeks later I was having an acupuncture session and on feeling my pulses, the practitioner asked me about the emotional upset I’d had recently (if you’ve never had acupuncture or seen a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, all you need to know is that they can feel through subtle energies of the pulse what is going on with the organs). I was perplexed as I couldn’t think of anything specific, it was only later in the session when we were talking generally that I mentioned about the marathon and said, “I was like a wrung-out rag”. “Ah” she replied, “that explains your pulses.” I was stunned that two weeks after the marathon my body had not let go of the emotions I experienced during those few hours even though on a conscious level I had.
Fast forward to 2019, I had severe lower back pain at the start of the year which turned out to be a major muscle spasm which resolved after a few weeks with chiropractic treatment. Like many people, I knew I carried stress in my shoulder muscles and the chiropractor would release the muscles whenever I saw her. I knew that all the muscles interacted, so I made a few changes to my working environment, my posture and moved on; giving my back no more thought except to have regular chiropractic treatments to keep everything in check. Later in 2019 after a minor issue with my back I sought out a local practitioner who specialised in Anatomy in Motion, the work of Gary Ward, plus Neuro Kinetic Therapy as I had decided finally to get to the root cause of my periodic back problem.
In early January 2020, whilst picking up my dog who was recovering from an emergency operation my back went again. I was seeing the AIM/NKT practitioner regularly and doing the exercises that she recommended, my back started improving quickly. Within a few days three events happened: twice I had a minor shock, the phone rang whilst I was doing a self-healing and I walked into my kitchen expecting it to be empty to discover my daughter there. Both hardly worthy of mention except each time this happened my lower back would twinge. I made the connection about how tight I must be as I had no space in my body to absorb even a minor surprise/shock.
A couple of days later whilst out walking with my daughter, I could feel my back twinging as I listened to her talk about something that she was finding challenging. This time I realised that my muscles were tightening as result of the conversation as I was not able to separate from her emotional distress. After having these experiences in quick succession, I understood that my muscles weren’t just tight because of poor posture, although that may have played a part, but because I was carrying my emotions in them. This was another lightbulb moment as I recognised that I needed to change my self-care routine to incorporate regular emotional release, not just every few weeks when I had a healing. And in fact, as I am writing this, I have made another connection, my back had spasmed not because I picked up my dog awkwardly but because of the emotional trauma I was holding of our beloved pet having been through a potentially life-threatening operation.
What is the take-away message from these stories? I knew from years of seeing clients the impact that long-term stress or major emotional events could have on people’s health. What I had under-estimated was the impact that even minor stressful events and emotional upsets can have on our physical well-being, if we hold onto them. It has taken a year of periodic back issues, plus starting to write this blog, which is part of my own healing, for me to have a more complete picture of the number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways our emotional and mental states impact our physiology. For me my back was the messenger, for you it may be your digestive system, symptoms such as IBS and constipation, skin, e.g. eczema, hormone imbalance such as PMS and menopause and the list goes on…..
I shall leave you with a few suggestions for releasing emotions and stress that you may be holding onto. Physical movement is great – dogs shake to reset their energy system, birds flap their wings after an altercation with another bird, we can do the same, shake our arms, legs and body with an intent to let go of emotions that no longer serve us. Dancing is another option, put on your favourite tune and let it all go (I love the TV series Grey’s Anatomy and Meredith used to ‘dance it out’ whenever life got too much!). The reason physical movement is effective is that our primal stress response is fight or flight, so when we experience something as emotionally challenging or stressful, our body is primed for action anyway.
Visualisation is a technique that can be effective for emotional release which doesn’t require movement. We can visualise emotions/stress leaving through our skin whilst in the bath or shower and allow them to be carried away by the water. This is a great practise to do regularly and it is easy to incorporate into your daily routine, assuming you wash!
Alternatively, you could visualise emotions leaving through your feet and passing into the Earth for transmutation, it’s important to say at this point that emotions are energy and energy is neither positive nor negative, it just IS. If you scan your body, you may get a sense of tightness or a denser feeling in a certain part – if you do you can focus on releasing the energy from that area. If you don’t feel anything don’t worry, just set an intention to release and trust that it is happening, some people find it helpful to turn on a tap to start the process.
After we have let go of the emotions/stress it’s a good idea to fill the space where the emotions were held with a lighter, nurturing energy – you can visualise white or gold light flowing into your body through the top of your head or you can focus on your breath for a short period and breathe in the light. If you’ve never done anything like this before I would like to reassure you that there’s no right or wrong method with these techniques, no minimum time period they must take, the most important factor is that you have chosen to let go, another word for this is intention. One of my major aims when I work with clients one-to-one is to increase people’s connection with their body, their mental and emotional state and their intuition – our bodies are constantly trying to get our attention but sometimes we are too busy or too distracted to listen!
Photo by Tengyart on Unsplash