Is physical illness a sign of mental strain?
Is there a link between physical illness and psychological stress? Meaningful Minds Clinical Psychologist Melissa Cilliers, looks at how our bodies may manifest psychological traumas and stresses.
How long have you been carrying around that bag of heavy stones? A metaphorical question I like to ask many of my clients when they enter into therapy. I gained this idea from a story someone once shared with me about how a teacher asked her students to bring to school, a sack of potatoes that resembled the many traumas and emotional scars they had experienced. On the potatoes they had to engrave the name of the person who had caused this pain and they had to carry this bag with them everywhere they went for the next month. This included lunch time breaks, every class they had moved to and even on the weekends, they had to go to social events carrying with them the bag of potatoes. The hassle of carrying around this bag of potatoes became representative of the emotional weight they were carrying around with them. It became even more clear to them that the people’s names who were engraved on the potatoes were unaffected by this, in fact the only person who was, were the students lugging around this baggage.
Seems like a high price to pay to carry or hold onto people, places and traumas that added no value to their lives, in fact perhaps it created more discomfort than anything else. Slowly the students began to let go of certain potatoes and learnt the value of forgiveness and how important letting go of certain painful memories are.
This blog, however, is not about forgiveness and grief, instead this story sparked an interest in me to find out if psychological or emotional pain was linked to physical ailments. I came across thousands of scholarly articles on the subject and realised that a lot of research has gone into this specific topic.
One specific researcher however, really caught my eye. Her name is Louse Hay. She is a well known American motivational author who wrote a series of books entitled: Heal Your Body A-Z: The Mental Causes for Physical Illness and the Way to Overcome Them. This title had created so much more interest in me. As I explored more about this woman and her theory behind emotional baggage I found myself thinking about my own emotional baggage and how I have allowed it to impact on my physical health.
A brief explanation of her theory in lay mans terms is as follows: Hays suggests that all our physical ailments (ranging from eczema to a sore throat) are linked to psychological or mental causes. Does this mean that our mental or psychological issues manifest physically? Perhaps we are unaware of certain issues and perhaps our bodies are communicating this in a manner in which we are alerted to unconscious psychological pain? She states "If we are willing to do the mental work, almost anything can be healed." An interesting concept, I thought and quickly looked up any physical ailments that I may be suffering and explored what mental issues I am battling.
She goes one step further by reporting that she herself went through a journey of self discovery and healing and as a result, was cured of cancer. A bold statement to make, I thought, when first reading this. However, the more thought I put into this, the more I could recognise it in myself and in some of my clients. Essentially, many people carry with them a heavy sack of metaphorical stones or potatoes that only really have an effect on their own physical and mental health. Many researchers have suggested that certain mental disorders manifest in physical ailments such as skin diseases or aches and pains, migraines or even just the common flu. Perhaps this is why we link psychological burnout to stress the common cold?
Ask yourself the question, is your body trying to tell you something whenever you are ill or have a sore throat? My suggestion is that you approach this with an open mind and go explore within yourself. We know that our thoughts and emotions are linked to our behaviour. Perhaps we need to start focusing on how our thoughts and emotions impact on our physical health. Perhaps a healthy body is a health mind and vice versa. We are often reminded that self care is important for mental stability and stress management. Self care often involves treating your body to exercises or relaxation; does this suggest a link as well perhaps?
I would like to believe that our mind and body is linked in some or other way, however I had never really ventured into thinking that something as simple as a sore throat could suggest something unconscious or something psychological, out of my awareness. What this theory does solidify for me is the understanding that holding onto past traumas and carrying around unprocessed emotions can have negative effects on an individual. Perhaps this is the healing power of therapy, both mentally and physically. Consider this the next time you are feeling off your game or under the weather. Perhaps there are some unresolved issues and perhaps your body is trying to tell you something.