By brianna wiest
Most people are familiar with the basic ways emotional stress manifests physically. “It makes me sick to my stomach,” or “He’s a pain in the neck,” are phrases common enough to know we at least acknowledge that our illnesses are not always random or unprompted. According to the research that has built the field of somatic psychology, the word “disease” (which is to literally be dis-eased) may tell us more about sickness than we realized.
Basically, studies show that the more anxious and stressed people are, the more tense and constricted their muscles will be, which causes fatigue, inefficiency, and a whole host of other medical issues. But more importantly, psychosomatic symptoms arise due to unresolved emotional issues. These are, of course, far from being new discoveries. This body/mind interrelationship has been taught and practiced for millennia. We just now have the science to explain it.
What we know now is that experiencing a traumatic event can impact the way you perceive pain. It’s not a surprise that 15-30% of patients who have chronic pain also have PTSD. Trauma expert Peter Levine explains that when we lose confidence in our ability to respond to a perceived threat, we go into psychological turmoil.
While we’re engaging in numbing, hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance, nightmares, flashbacks, helplessness, and avoidance behavior, our (sympathetic) nervous systems are going into sheer survival mode, and will have great difficulty reverting back to a normal, relaxed state without a lot of psychological work. This is dangerous because a nervous system that stays in survival mode is constantly producing stress hormones.
“Physical pain functions to warn a person that there is still emotional work to be done, and it can also be a sign of unresolved trauma in the nervous system. – Susanne Babel”
So if our bodies can speak to us through our pain – and colloquialisms hint at what they are trying to communicate – what are the most important things we need to know? Here 12 pretty common ailments and what emotional issues they are traditionally said to represent:
Head pain indicates day-to-day stress, and most commonly points to the idea that you are not “seeing” your life with the best mindset. Your schedule may be too restrictive or your priorities gone askew. Either way, you have to “open your mind” and see other possibilities, or learn to think differently.
Pain in your neck indicates a sense of being “unsupportive” or unwilling to change your life (though you’re long past due for said change). Neck pain crops up when you stop valuing your needs and start acting on behalf of other people’s interests instead. It can also mean that you’re having trouble with forgiveness, or that you need to turn your attention to something you’re avoiding in your life.
Pain in your shoulders is no joke – it’s the epicenter of stress and anxiety. To have constant pain in your shoulders means you are carrying an emotional burden that you cannot bear for much longer. You need to focus on proactivity, problem solving or alternative solutions. You likely cannot “shoulder” it much longer.
4. Upper back.
Pain in the upper back indicates you feel a lack of emotional support. You feel unloved, unwanted or may even be holding love back from someone else (it’s the opposite side of the heart).
5. Lower back.
Lower back pain is more of a core, survivalist issue: you’re worried about money, about marriage, about feeling supported in the sense that you’ll be able to carry on with your life comfortably as usual.
Elbow pain indicates resistance to change in life. If your arms feel stiff, it’s because you aren’t being flexible enough in your own life, or you aren’t “opening yourself up” to what’s in front of you. You need to learn to go with the flow and embrace the changes that are happening – they’re for the best.
Pain in the hands means you’re struggling to reach out to others, and you feel disconnected. Try reaching out to some old friends, or making plans for a lunch date with someone you haven’t seen in a while. Hand pain indicates a need for connection.
Hip pain indicates a fear of moving, particularly in moving forward. It could mean that you’re resistant to change or the unknown, or it can indicate indecisiveness or a fear of real commitment.
Knee pain can be a few different things, but often it’s a sign of a big ego. Your self-image may be just a tad too inflated, so take some time to ground yourself and get humble – volunteer, remind yourself of your imperfections and mortality – anything to remember that you’re only human.
Calf pain indicates a need to let go of something big. It means emotional stress, resistance and tension. Jealousy is usually involved, or if not jealousy, then the feeling that someone has “taken” something from you (or that you are somehow inferior).
Ankle pain indicates a deprivation of pleasure. Whether you’re afraid to let yourself feel good or just simply haven’t made enough time to spice up your life in a fun and exciting way, it means you need to let yourself feel more love and enjoyment.
Foot pain indicates a buildup of stress or depression. It means you need to “lighten up,” or stop unnecessarily making catastrophes out of your day-to-day life. You might want to engage in a new hobby or get a new pet. Either way, a lot of emotional release usually accompanies foot issues – you need to acknowledge your deepest, darkest issues so they can finally be seen and resolved.