Have you ever felt so angry that your stomach hurt and your head pounds? Well, I have. In a recent event, I felt disrespected and taken advantage of. My blood boiled, my anger arose, and disappointment set it. Sounds familiar?
I realised the physical sensations that I was experiencing were a reflection of the internal emotional turmoil I was going through. And because of that understanding, I was not worried that I was physically ill. I could focus my attention on my emotional wellbeing.
From my personal experience working with individuals across the lifespan, many do not fully understand the connections between our physical and emotional wellbeing. Most are likely aware to a certain degree that when we experience a high level of stress for an extended period of time, our immune system becomes compromised. However, not many have truly made the meaningful connections between our physical sensations and our feelings.
Paying attention to how our body feels will give us an indication of how we are feeling emotionally. For example, how many of you have felt the need to urinate before a performance/ presentation/ exam/ interview/ date? That is your body responding to your anxiety and nervousness.
Our anxiety/nervousness activates our stress response which then activates specific physiological changes to improve our body’s ability to manage a threat. One theory of this is, back in the olden days when humans relied on hunting to survive, our body would go into a fight or flight mode when in danger (e.g. facing a carnivore that views us as their next meal). When in flight or fight mode, our body increases our heart rate and makes us breath faster to ensure we are ready to either challenge our threat or run for safety. I was also taught that perhaps our body would then also try and get rid of any unwanted baggage and hence will signal you to get rid of anything unnecessary (in this case, urine and potentially faeces).
Our bodies sometimes pick up changes in our emotional wellbeing way before we are even aware of it. Hence, I make it a point to do a ‘body scan’ when I lie in bed at the end of each day. ‘Scanning’ my body from head to toe for any tension/tight sensations or anything that feels unnatural. I have learned over the years by doing the body scan that my jaw becomes shut tight and I bite on my teeth really hard sometime without realising it. But once I do pay attention to my body, I now have the chance to reflect on my day and understand how and why I was feeling a certain way. By becoming aware of the tightness in my jaw, I would then also have the opportunity to intentionally try and relax my body. When I release the tension in my jaw, I often feel an instant change in my levels of stress. My stress is still there but it is not as intense.
If you are reading this, I encourage you to spend some time paying attention to your body on a daily basis. You will be surprised at how much you will learn from understanding the connections between your physical sensations and your emotional state.
Lastly, I encourage you to not be afraid of intense and uncomfortable feelings such as anger, anxiety, fear, disappointment and sadness. Sit with it. Feel it. Allow your body to go through what it needs to go through to calm itself down.
You may find the following articles useful to begin your journey in learning how to sit with unpleasant feeling:
This blog was written by Dr Aiyuen (Shannon) Choong, Psychologist at Your Mind Matters. Aiyuen is fluent in English and Mandarin, and is passionate about working with children from preschool years through to adolescence.
To learn more about Aiyuen, click here.