A new body map helps us see the link between our emotional and physical selves. When strolling through the park to meet with our sweetheart we walk lightly with our heart pounding with excitement. Anxiety tightens our muscles and makes our hands sweat and tremble before an important job interview. A new body map tells us exactly where we feel different emotions – an important step in understanding our health.
Often we link our emotions and our bodily states by the way we speak. For example we say; a young bride getting married next week may suddenly have “cold feet,” disappointed lovers may be “heartbroken,” and our favorite song may send “a shiver down our spine.” Our emotions prepare us to meet challenges in our surrounding environment by adjusting the cardiovascular, skeletomuscular, neuroendocrine, and autonomic nervous systems.
Our feelings are triggered by our perception of our bodily states. Our conscious feelings help us to voluntarily fine-tune our behavior to better match the challenges of our environment. In essence, feelings help us survive.
Despite our personal experiences, there has been little scientific study on the bodily changes associated with different emotions. The specific topographical distribution of feelings such as anger, fear, or happiness and their emotion-related bodily sensations has remained unknown. However a new study from Finland has just made that link.
The study of 700 multi-cultural participants showed that different emotions were consistently associated with specific bodily sensation maps. Discernible sensation patterns were associated with each emotion. Most emotions showed elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions because of the felt changes in the mind triggered by the emotional events.
Sensations especially in the upper limbs were most prominent in ‘positive’ emotions, happiness, love and pride. Only happiness was associated with enhanced sensations all over the body.
Sensations of decreased limb activity were a defining feature of fear and sadness and their clinical extremes of anxiety and depression. Sensations seem to be drained from the body.
These maps help us understand the body-emotion connection that we experience. It is no longer a mystery. Our emotions affect our body functions. Therefore it is an easy extension to believe that our mental and emotional health directly affects our body health. A healthy regime would therefore be one that embodies the whole person in a physical-emotional-mental-spiritual way.
From the maps shown in the study, it would seem to me that happiness, love and pride are the states which promote the best ‘healthy’ body state. So strive to be happy and be healthy.