The ABC’s of Health: “F” is for Feelings | Ron Elkayam

Various studies have shown that emotions affect health. Certainly, in Chinese Medicine (I am an acupuncturist by training), the ancient Chinese doctors believed that illness can be caused by “external factors” (like extreme cold or heat) and by “internal factors” (i.e., emotions).

And you probably know from experience that when you are stressed or frustrated you might be more prone to get a cold, or your back hurts more.

Just imagine how a person’s health is affected when they have to deal with prolonged stress or negative emotions, like anger or grief.

It certainly would make life easier if we could have all kinds of feelings, even extreme ones, that don’t affect our health. But, unfortunately, as I tell patients. that is not how we were made. We are not robots.

Apparently, when you “own” a human body, you need to get a handle on feelings if you want to be in good health.

This realization comes not only from my own life, but also from seeing thousands of patient in my clinic over the years.

The Manager who Wanted to Sleep Better

It’s interesting but not so unexpected, that when many people turn to an alternative medicine practitioner for help, they do the same thing as they do when they approach their medical doctor.

Instead of asking for pills, though, they ask for herbs to take away their difficult symptoms, some of which are clearly related to their emotions.

A manager in her thirties who broke up with a man she thought she might marry was experiencing insomnia. She thought acupuncture and herbs would “rid” her of her problem.

Unfortunately, understanding that emotions are a normal part of life doesn’t seem to be a part of the mainstream educational system. After “growing up”, and learning about the importance of dealing with feelings, I wondered, why does learning, say, trigonometry, take precedence over emotional education? It doesn’t make sense.

I explained to this patient that is was perfectly normal to experience sleep issues after a loss. Explaining this truth to her, along with giving her herbs and acupuncture, helped her heal from the loss. And she grew and learned from the experience. There was a lesson there, and perhaps she might not have learned it she just took a pill to knock her out.

Over and over, I have seen patients come in with health issues that they don’t realize are related to emotions. These are people who would never go to a counselor or a psychologist, but they were open to seeing an acupuncturist.

So, whether you like it or not, it seems that it’s important to have some “emotional intelligence” in life.

Here are some guidelines for you to deal with your feelings:

  1. Exercise. Getting regular exercise helps ensure we are in a more positive mood more often, and react in more balanced way to stressors.
  1. Talk and Share. It’s helpful to have a friend to talk to about feelings. In general, being a part of community, in which you realize that you are not the only dealing with stress and difficult emotions, can be very helpful. Ask yourself what community you would like to be a part of and then take steps to connect.
  1. Work with Your Thoughts. Thoughts and assumptions create feelings. Believe it or not, you can actually change them! For example, if you look at a situation, believing someone “hurt” you, or that something “shouldn’t have happened”, you will not be a happy camper. See if you can reframe what happened. Maybe the other person was doing the best they could and you made a mistake by trusting them to do something they couldn’t. Maybe something that you think “shouldn’t” have happened, turned out to be a gift. The guy who missed his bus and later found out that it was in a big accident would agree.

The Importance of Working with Your Thoughts and Assumptions

By far, the most important point to remember is number 3 above. Especially in American culture, which puts an emphasis on long-term psychotherapy as a way of healing emotional pain, this is important to remember.

This is not to say that all psychotherapy is bad, but if the emphasis is on “emoting” (i.e., getting your feelings out) instead of working on your perception of life (this is called focusing on the “cognitive”), it may not be getting to the root of the issue.

In fact, therapy (like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT) that focuses on cognition (our thoughts) has been proven to have a very high success rate in treating anxiety and depression.

A “Hard to Digest” Interaction with her Husband

Beth had tried everything to treat her digestive difficulties. She had gone on special diets and even tried a prescription drug. Nothing helped.

Acupuncture, because it calms people’s nervous systems down, helped a lot. It was after she was feeling more calm that I suggested that her digestive issues might be due to emotional stress. She didn’t want to believe that, but after a few months, she came into my clinic with a big realization.

She told me that she had had a big fight with her husband and was excited. “Excited? Why are you excited about that?” I asked.

Because, she said, after the fight, she noticed her digestive symptoms were much worse, and that she finally realized that there was a connection between her emotions and her symptoms.

There’s really a book to write about all this, and many have already been written, but the most important thing to remember is this: Feelings cannot be separated from your health, and the fact is that in many cases, stress (caused by unresolved emotions), is a factor in your health issue.

Something that the ancient Chinese doctors mentioned in their manuscripts on health over 2000 years ago, and that more and more people are waking up to today.

To delve deeper into this topic, here are some books that I found most helpful and recommend to patients:

Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Basics and Beyond, Judith S. Beck & Aaron T. Beck. This is a great book to help you learn about the mistakes you make in your thinking which result in unnecessary worry, depression, and anxiety.

Loving What Is, Byron Katie. This is a book for those that have been exposed to cognitive therapy and are ready for the next level. It helps you realize that the judgments you are having about others are about yourself, and that if you’d like to do yourself a big favor, let them go.

Without basic emotional intelligence, people can get stuck in a vicious cycle of blame and victimhood, resulting not only in additional family and work stress, but also addiction and mental health issues. And yes, other health issues.

Believe it or not, just realizing that your physical well-being depends on your emotional health is probably the most important step you can take to improving your health.

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1 COMMENT

  1. What’s the clinical term for high blood pressure? Hypertension, hence the tension is hyper; out of whack. How does your doctor treat it? blood pressure pills of course.. There’s a smarter way, Not such a bad idea to see a therapist and cure it from the core… If only our society would tune into the emotions and not run to pop pills (which may also be necessary.. in addition.)

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