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Emotions and Optimal Health

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Some of you have looked at it like a cow looking at a new gate; some of you are active in emotional-health practices; and others (mostly men) wo.

Ever since declaring that emotional health is a key component of optimal health, we've received a truckload of feedback here at alive.

Some of you have looked at it like a cow looking at a new gate; some of you are active in emotional-health practices; and others (mostly men) won't touch the subject with a 10-foot pole.

We made the declaration last year after hosting a summit of 12 of North America's top health experts. They helped us to determine that optimal health could only be achieved if emotional health was given the same importance as nutrition and physical activity. It was like the missing third leg of a stool.

After deciding to incorporate emotional health into our vision of wholistic health, we commissioned a team of physiologists, coaches and mental-health professionals to research and write a new section of alive's authoritative Encyclopedia of Natural Healing (available at your local health food store or in bookstores). It offers one of the clearest descriptions ever of how sadness, anger and fear can affect the physical body if these emotions are left unprocessed for prolonged periods of time.

As the encyclopedia explains, stress and anxiety set off the nervous system's "flight-or-fight" response, a chain of physiological events in which the blood pressure rises and muscles contract. If you allow these feelings to take hold of you ignoring their root causes or bottling them up inside they will punish you physically. Among their milder physical manifestations are headaches, cramps and insomnia, while in chronic cases, they can lead to more serious ailments such as heart disease, colitis and gastrointestinal disorders. In fact, most experts now view stress as the number-one contributor to all illnesses in western society.

Often, the very people who are most in denial about the importance of emotional health will rely on the mind-body connection to get them through their day. They engage in certain behaviours to induce the release of neurotransmitters so they can have the sensation of an emotional experience without having to identify and process their feelings. We're all guilty of doing this at one time or another. It could be anything from eating chocolate when we're down to going for a run when we're feeling stressed out and don't want to deal with the problem at hand.

Say, for example, that you can sense a fight coming on between you and another family member. Rather than sit down and deal with the conflict, many of us prefer to park ourselves in front of a TV set or away in our rooms. In so doing, we trigger the release of serotonin, which calms us down.

Many of us do this without realizing just what we are doing or, for that matter, without considering the consequences to our overall health. And on the surface, this might seem like a good strategy for dealing with difficult situations. But such behaviours can quickly become addictive and serve as false substitutes for true emotional wellness.

I suggest that we take as a scientific fact the multitude of research that concludes emotional health plays a significant role in our physical health.

What do you think?

Often, the very people who are most in denial about the importance of emotional health will rely on the mind-body connection to get them through their day.

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