“I think; therefore I am” – we’ve all heard this powerful quote by Descartes. But how many of us stop to think about what it actually means?  Is it possible not only that our thoughts are who we “are” inside our minds, but can actually influence who we “are” in our bodies as well?  And if so, should we be paying closer attention to what our minds, and bodies, are trying to tell us?  This month’s article focuses on how the body and mind are connected, and, some might say, inseparable.


Just today a client came in describing an unpleasant odor she came across while on the bus (N.B.: I had her permission to share this anecdote).  The more she thought about feeling nauseous, the more nauseous she felt. She was surprised at how easily she became nauseous just by thinking about it.  And while relating this story to me, she made the powerful insight that if it was so easy for something as physical as nausea to be evoked by her mind, imagine what else she might be experiencing needlessly by over-focusing on it.  This is a great example of the mind-body connection.

A more extreme version of this is somatization, or the expression of emotional/psychological issues through the body. Psychosomatic conditions present real, measurable physical symptoms, yet they are not entirely the result of a physical problem. Although the symptoms and experiences are caused by the “mind,” the symptoms are in fact quite real, not “imagined.”

Typical psychosomatic symptoms include:

* Getting (and staying) sick while under high levels of stress

* Stomach aches before giving a presentation

* Rashes that break out in response to emotional abandonment

* Aches and pains when feeling tense or anxious

* Bladder infections when angry

* Gastro-intestinal problems that act up when upset

Often pre-existing medical conditions are worsened during times of high stress or anxiety. If left untreated, unaddressed and unexamined, these physical responses can become chronic and have a damaging impact on your health, even leading to life-threatening illnesses like diabetes, heart disease or cancer.

What’s Your Body Trying to Say?

Somatization is a problem and source of frustration for both physicians and patients alike,
as the cause is often not readily apparent nor easily treatable.  However, I see psychosomatic symptoms in a much more positive light: once a physical cause is ruled out, there is a wonderful opportunity to listen to what the body is trying to say.

These conditions are being caused by emotional problems that aren’t getting addressed. In turn, the body creates an “alarm signal” to get you to pay attention.  What that signal is, and what it signifies, is up to you to figure out. However, in my experience, there is often a symbolic link between the symptom and the emotional issue; for example, a “burning” infection can often be the body’s way of expressing angry feelings that have no verbal outlet.

Emotional Eating

We’ve all heard the expression “You are what you eat.”
On a physical level, our food intake contributes to the health of our heart, our cellular structure, and our overall energy level.  However, on an emotional level, what we choose to eat and why can translate into poor health, excess weight and using food for comfort and to numb pain.

In my work, I always explore what the meaning of food and excess weight is to my clients.  This struggle can be an expression of:

* Feelings of inadequacy

* Unresolved issues from the past

* Depression

* Loss

* A protective barrier against sexuality

* Family of origin issues

Emotional eating is not hard to identify – but it is hard to admit. If you have resolved that you are comfort eating, diets generally will not help. What WILL work is to heal the underlying issues that are causing the excessive eating and thus the excessive pounds.  It’s important to remember that the total well-being of a person requires that attention be paid to the physical and emotional side of things – the two are not separable.