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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Imaging Emotions in the Body

We all can remember times when our emotions affected our physical health – and vice versa. We were stressed out about something and came down with the viral thing we’d been successfully fighting off. We were laid up with a broken foot and became depressed. It turns out that every single emotion we have affects at least one system or function in the body – immune system, brain chemistry, blood sugar levels, hormonal balance and much more. Even across cultures, emotions are known to be associated with pain and symptoms in specific parts of the body. People are 21 times more likely to have a heart attack in the days after losing a loved one. (Mercola, 2014)  We rightly speak of this as ‘dying from a broken heart’.

Chronic depression is often accompanied by headaches, back pain, muscle aches, joint pain, chest pain, digestive problems, sleep difficulties, loss of appetite or weight gain, or dizziness. (WebMD, 2014)

 How Emotions Manifest in the Body Finnish researchers asked 700 male and female, Finnish, Swedish and Taiwanese volunteers of various ages to think about one of 14 emotions and then paint the areas of a blank silhouette that felt stimulated by that emotion. On a second blank silhouette, the volunteers were asked to paint in the areas that felt deactivated during that emotion. Short stories or videos were available to help the volunteers generate the appropriate emotion. (Nummenmaa, 2014) These were the results:

This interesting mapping experiment into the mind-body relationship produced images of the volunteers’ subjective perceptions about the impact of mental states on the body: an angry hot head and a literally blue depressed figure. You can see changes in the head area in all 14 emotions – suggesting smiling, frowning or skin temperature changes. Happiness was felt all over the body. Fear, disgust, anxiety, love and shame involved sensations in the digestive system. These bodily sensations were based solely on physical sensations subjects reported while experiencing each emotion – a combination of muscle, visceral and nervous system reactionsand not on anything that was measured objectively – such as blood flow or heat. The body maps produced by the 700 volunteers were generally the same, demonstrating that the ways emotions are experienced in the body are fairly consistent from person to person, regardless of age, sex and nationality. If you want to try this experiment for yourself, you can do so here. The test is available online in English, Russian, French and Italian. A Note on Dying from a Broken Heart – in Another Specie Our beloved 10 year old male Tonkinese cat, Hugo, died at the veterinary hospital after a short illness. His lovely littermate, Cameo, had missed him terribly while he was gone and was very excited to see me come in with their carrying case. When she realized it was empty, she stared at me and began keening loudly for a long while. Then she lay down and refused both food and water. After a few days of this, it was clear she didn’t wish to live without Hugo. So I arranged for a homeopathic vet to make a house call. He provided a Boiron remedy for grief for her and also showed me how to give subcutaneous fluids to keep her alive until she felt ready to go on on her own. I could tell the moment when the remedy took effect – she’d get up to take a bite of food and a sip of water. When it wore off, she’d sigh heavily and lie down again. Knowing I was going to lose her to her grief without a more intense intervention and figuring even a negative reaction might be helpful, I chose another companion for her from a shelter and brought home Parker, a calico tabby. When they encountered each other for the first time, Cameo hissed and huffily took herself elsewhere in the apartment. Parker continued to try to befriend her. After a day or two of this, I saw them on the bed together – first lying a few feet apart, then later with Parker cleaning Cameo’s right ear with her tongue. Dainty Cameo looked blissed out. I knew she had decided to go on living when I saw her daintily turn her left ear toward Parker. No more need for the grief remedy or sub Q fluids after that. Cameo lived another seven years. She and Parker were never as close as she’d been with Hugo but it was apparently a friendship worth sticking around for.

REFERENCES Mercola, R. (1/30/2014). Imaging Technology Finally Reveals How Emotions Manifest in Your Body. Nummenmaa, L. et al. (2014). Bodily maps of emotions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. WebMD. (2014 ). Depression: Recognizing the Physical Symptoms. © Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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