How Emotions Affect The Body

How Emotions Affect The Body

Mental and emotional stress are both stimulants for the sympathetic phase of the Autonomic Nervous System, and if we live our lives with a dominance of either, the ANS insists on the continued operation and excitation of the sympathetic phase.

In our modern world, those of us who do not achieve relief from worry, stress, repressed emotions or continued anger live with the results of high excitation of the sympathetic phase of the ANS. And the results of that can be seen sitting in every doctor’s office.

The Role of the Mind:

Medical history and research has been interested in the Autonomic Nervous System only insofar as its bio-mechanical functioning, what it does, what it connects with, what is affected by it, what shuts down when it’s in one phase and what cranks up when it’s in another. But there is very little in the texts that addresses WHY, and what role the “mind” plays in the balance or imbalance of the ANS.

The Autonomic Nervous System is that aspect of the overall nervous system that is responsible for the carrying of signals to other systems of the body in order to create fluctuation and regulation of the somatic manifestations of those systems. Some of the more important systems that are affected by the ANS are:

  • Respiratory (lungs)
  • Pulmonary (heart & blood vessels)
  • Tear and sweat glands
  • Digestive
  • Metabolic
  • Immune
  • Gastro-intestinal
  • Genito-urinary
  • Auto-phagocytic

Physical Effects of Feeling:

Affectologists are not fond of maintaining that feelings and emotions actually cause serious illness, even though there’s strong evidence that supports this. They don’t deny, however, that emotion (affect) has an influence – either subtle or profound – on the creation and/or maintenance of these conditions. Returning to the information on the ANS about the direct connectedness of amygdala and body (via the ANS), we can now have a very brief look at how emotional stressors may influence and underlie many medical conditions.

In spite of overwhelming evidence of the above, western medicine largely ignores the role of the emotions in the existence of the following few examples, opting for treatment only of the symptoms:-

  • Asthma – result of the excitation of pulmonary responses and constriction of lung passageways (affected by the ANS).
  • Eczema and psoriasis – result of degeneration of cells and associated feeder systems in the body’s largest organ – the skin (affected by the ANS).
  • Migraines – result of dilation of the blood vessels in and around the brain (affected by the ANS).
  • Stomach ulcers – result of reduction of maintenance systems in the alimentary tract during sympathetic phase (affected by the ANS).
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome – the result of disintegration (lit.) of maintenance messages to the bowel (affected by the ANS).

Bodily Reactions to Fear: The emotional state of fear produces an “adrenergic” reaction, as though the body had received a shot of adrenaline. Fear stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is primarily concerned with preparing the body to Fight or Flightdeal with the conditions of stress, such as in “flight or fight.” At such times the heart rate is greatly increased, pumping more blood into the muscles. The blood pressure rises because the blood vessels near the surface of the body are constricted and there is greater resistance to the circulation. The blood vessels in the heart, unlike those of the rest of the body, are actually dilated. Glycogen stored in the liver is changed into glucose, which is used in muscular work. The lungs take in more air than usual, providing extra oxygen. The pupils are dilated to let in extra light and enable the person to see the danger more clearly. The sympathetic nervous system also inhibits movement of the bowel by closing the sphincters and stopping digestion of food. Similarly, contraction of the bladder sphincter closes the bladder. Finally, under conditions of fear or worry, the blood supply to the sexual organs is diminished and sexual desire is lost.

Bodily Reactions to Anger: On the other side of this balanced autonomic nervous system, the emotional state of anger produces a biochemical reaction which partially stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system is generally antagonistic to the sympathetic and produces opposite actions Stimulation of this system constricts the pupils, slows the heart and respiration, and inhibits the sphincters of the intestines and bladders while stimulating the digestion and absorption of food. Normally, the sex organs are well supplied with blood under the influence of this system and therefore easily stimulated.

The emotional state of anger mimics in part these responses in the body. However, once the biochemical response to the emotional state has been triggered, it is not under voluntary control—you may be able to control the outward manifestations of your fear or anger, but the inner biochemical response is still doing its work. Unless catharsis occurs— unless the emotions find release—the resulting chemical imbalance may cause physical illness.

Normally, the two systems of the ANS respond in reciprocal harmony to maintain a positive mind‑body balance and to handle the requirements of any situation. When the complexity of the delicately balanced system is considered, however, it is easy to understand how anything that upsets this balance can lead to a large number of widely varied disorders.

Evolution of the Central Nervous System (CNS)

The central nervous system, or CNS, composed of the cortex, or outer layer of the brain, and the spinal cord, is primarily concerned with conscious evaluation, memory, emotion, and voluntary motor activity. Beneath the cortex lies the subcortex, which controls all the autonomic functions of life. The ANS is part of the subcortical apparatus. The interaction of the ANS and CNS can best be understood by looking at how they evolved.

Introducing the Man-Made Emotion of Guilt: The basic instinct of early man was survival. This instinct acted directly on the ANS by way of sympathetic and parasympathetic communication. The cortex (the outer layer of the brain, part of the central nervous system) was not sufficiently developed to interfere with the life‑saving functions of “fight or flight. ” This ANS response was healthy and important. With further development of the human brain came the development of the mind and the addition of emotion to instinct. With the development of civilisation and urbanisation man came under a third influence, the rules and regulations of groups of people living together—society. No longer was it appropriate to show emotions without regard to their consequences. Cultural and religious values added another, emotion, one that is strictly man‑made and not seen in animals—guilt. The once‑instinctive regulation of the body by the ANS became more sophisticated; individual and cultural values and assumptions broadened the range of emotional responses while denying them an immediate outlet.

Resources: Ian White – Affectology training modules & “Selective Awareness” document by Peter Mutke MD.

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