'Unhappy Child, Unhealthy Adult'
There‘s been a lot of media interest in mental health and emotional well-being in recent months - and hurrah for that. The BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Unhappy Child, Unhealthy Adult‘ was, for me, particularly interesting. In case you didn‘t catch it, it explored the link between emotional distress in childhood and physical ill health in adulthood. It seems that the evidence is piling up - our chances of developing serious conditions including diabetes and heart problems are significantly raised by trauma and unhappiness in our early years, and the medical profession are acknowledging it - another hurrah.
I‘ve long been an advocate of the idea that this connection exists and many practitioners use the idea of the physical-emotional connection in their practice. Our bodies tell us about what we‘re feeling emotionally all the time. We aren‘t encouraged to notice this often subtle information, though. We‘re all aware of tears signalling sadness or joy, of a churning stomach indicating anxiety and the association of stress with hunched shoulders and tensed neck muscles. What we often miss are the smaller signs of disquiet: the unconscious twiddling of our hair, the jogging of a leg while sitting. Or, more subtle still: changes in our breathing. Next time you feel under pressure, check out how you‘re breathing. Maybe your breath becomes more shallow; maybe you stop breathing altogether briefly. I know I do.
It‘s my experience that, if we process painful feelings, physical symptoms often diminish or even disappear. I‘m not, of course, suggesting that therapy promises a cure for serious illness. It doesn‘t. But, if we put less stress on the body by sorting out the emotional stuff, we‘re reducing the harmful chemicals produced by that stress - particularly adrenaline and cortisol, both of which are toxic in large and sustained amounts.
So, the conclusions seem clear: help stressed children by whatever means necessary to preserve their health into adulthood, listen to your body and do what you can to reduce any physical discomfort by relieving emotional discomfort.
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