When back pain, tendinitis, chronic muscle tightness, migraine headaches, bowel problems, digestive issues, aching joints, insomnia, fatigue, or other random ailments befall us, we usually look for a physical cause of our suffering.
We analyze and review any physical action that was taken during the past couple of days before the onset of our condition. What we ate, what we did in the gym, what we lifted in the garage, what mattress we slept on, how much time we spent in the car—no stone is left unturned in our mission to discover why we are in discomfort.
Usually, if there is a physical cause, it is pretty easy to diagnose and address properly. But often times, there is no clearly defined link between your actions and your newly compromised state. In fact, your recent past may have been totally uneventful. Your life may have been “business as usual”. This can be confusing and, worse, downright frustrating.
If your pain or symptoms don’t go away quickly, a wild goose chase can ensue. You might start running from doctor to doctor, desperately trying to get an answer. But the battery of tests, MRI’s, scans, blood work, etc., all come back inconclusive. Your “answer” is never found.
What does this mean? Well there is always a small chance that the tests have missed something. I think it’s safe to say that no diagnostic is 100% accurate.
But more often than not, when there is not a simple and direct link between cause and effect, the real culprit may be something that most of us don’t want to hear about or look at honestly—our own emotional state.
After working with people for 20 years, I can say with certainty that people’s emotional state manifests itself in the physical body. Although your current emotional state can certainly be caused by a recent life event, it is more often an accumulation of negative feelings over the course of a lifetime. Any unresolved anger, fear, insecurity, or anxiety can eventually manifest itself in the physical body.
You may be wondering, “How can my stress and unresolved emotions cause physical symptoms?” Let me explain.
Our emotional state is directly linked to our nervous system. When a negative emotion is experienced, our nervous system is quickly called upon to process it and take any action deemed necessary.
Since most negative emotions stem from fear, our nervous system immediately shifts us into “fight or flight” mode. This involves increased heart rate, muscle tightness, decreased immune function, elevation of cortisol levels, changes in circulation, hormonal shifts, and slowing of digestion.
This mechanism is designed for survival. It works wonders during a short-term experience and definitely increases your chance of surviving a particularly dangerous or stressful incident. The problem arises when our bodies stay in this fight or flight mode chronically. See, unresolved negative emotions can stay stuck in our unconscious mind for years—even decades. Thus, some of us are literally stuck in fight or flight mode constantly.
Taxing your nervous system in this manner for long periods of time can have a multitude of negative physical effects. Disease-causing chemicals can be released into the body. Overall health can significantly deteriorate. And there are a host of other negative consequences as well. Needless to say, it’s worth your effort to resolve whatever deeper emotional issues are preventing you from obtaining optimal health.
I know from experience that the mere suggestion that one’s physical ailments may be connected to his or her emotional state usually triggers a quick and defensive denial. But before you allow yourself to go there, try to keep an open mind just for a few minutes. Answer the following questions, and see if you may be suffering from a negative emotional state that is causing you harm:
1) Do you have random joint pain? If your back hurts, then a few weeks later your knees hurt, then a few weeks later your (fill in any joints you’d like) hurt, etc., it’s safe to say that you may be a candidate.
2) Do you have any bowel issues? Bouts of constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, and/or food allergy symptoms are all common symptoms. Often, these issues are misdiagnosed as food sensitivities or IBS.
3) Are you fatigued? Feeling exceptionally fatigued is a major symptom. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to keep pushing negative emotions back down. And you may have been doing it for so many years that you are not even away of the constant battle going on in your head.
4) Do you get restful sleep? When you go to sleep, your defenses are down. Your mind slows. Your breathing rate drops. It becomes harder to use your usual avoidance techniques to run away from your own thoughts and feelings. Thus, going to bed can actually trigger anxiety for some people. This anxiety can disturb normal sleep patterns, leaving you feeling tired and drained the next day, even if you technically “got enough sleep”.
5) Are you addicted to staying busy? Do you get anxious if you don’t have a lot to do? Busyness can be a great distraction from your emotions. But it also creates stress, which over time can create many undesirable side effects.
If you’re thinking, “OMG, that sounds just like me!” to one or more of these questions, it’s worth considering the notion that you may have some emotional work to do.
Here’s your game plan:
a) Respect your ailments. Just because their origin may be from your emotional state doesn’t mean they aren’t real. You should not ignore them. If a certain activity hurts, don’t do it. If a food makes you feel crappy, don’t eat it. Use your intuition and your common sense until your physical issues are resolved.
b) De-stress. Meditating, reading positive material, breathing exercises, and working on “not sweating the small stuff” will be a big help in this regard.
c) Eat healthy. Since negative emotions trigger inflammation throughout the body, it is worth your effort to eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Emphasize fresh fruits and vegetables, a blend of healthy fats and some lean proteins. Avoid flour, sugar products and any processed foods.
d) Exercise regularly. Unresolved negative emotions can cause a tremendous amount of muscle tightness and thus joint pain. A well-balanced training routine that includes mobility work will help prevent this tightness from getting out of control.
e) Start paying attention to your judgments and reactions. Whenever you feel judgments or reactions that are disproportionate to the situation you are in, it means that you’re not reacting to the situation at hand. Rather, the situation is simply triggering negative emotions that are already inside of you.
Ask yourself, “What am I reacting to? What am I harshly judging?” Meditate on these questions and answers will come—but remember: you have to actually want these answers! Your desire and intention to learn the truth about yourself is huge here. Awareness is the first step towards healing and this exercise is great for increasing yours.
f) Go see a skilled therapist. Just like trainers, most therapists are not all that effective. But there are some out there who are truly talented and can help you access your unconscious, negative feelings and bring them to resolution. Don’t skip over this one—for many it’s the most powerful.
Some of these suggestions will help you heal. Others will help you manage until you do. If you are indeed suffering from the consequences of negative emotions, I hope you find the courage to hear this message. It can be the key to achieving peace and balance in your mind and body. Now go change your life, both in and out of the gym!
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