Can we hurt our bodies with our mindsets?

This is an interesting topic I think about very often, but I haven’t thought about writing a post about it so thank you Kalliope for giving me the idea!

Ok, let’s dig in. First of all, I want to mention that this isn’t about taking some particular actions to hurt ourselves. It’s not about auto-flagellating or stuff like that. It’s about how our bodies “cope” with the mental distress. There are physical consequences to our negative thinking and this phenomenon is called somatization.

“Somatization is a tendency to experience and communicate psychological distress in the form of somatic symptoms and to seek medical help for them. More commonly expressed, it is the generation of physical symptoms of a psychiatric condition such as anxiety.” – Wikipedia

Basically, we get beaten up by the stress. If we experience strong negative emotions very often and at high intensities, we end up having problems with different body parts. The explanation is simple: when we experience an intense emotion, our body gets into the fight or flight state. This state is activated when our body thinks we’re in danger so most of our inner resources are redirected to our “weapons”. Cortisol and adrenaline kick in, our blood gets redirected to our hands and feet, our attention is re-focused towards that stressful thing, our heart rate starts to raise so our muscles can get as much oxygenated blood as possible. This will raise our body temperature as well.

You might ask what’s wrong with this. Normally, nothing. But if we live this intense state very often, our inner organs don’t get as much resources as they should. For example, our food processing systems are not as important for our survival in those moments when the threat is imminent, hence, it won’t get as much resources as it needs. Because of this, it needs to process as much as before with little resources. Imagine this like a factory where there are 5 departments with 5 workers each. Now let’s say that two of those departments need extra workers due to a tight deadline (the fight or flight) and two workers are taken from each of the other three departments (the inner organs). Now we have two departments with 8 people each so the most urgent tasks get done and three departments have three workers each, but the amount of work in each department is as for 5 workers. Wouldn’t you agree that those poor bastards will get very tired very soon? Won’t they get overwhelmed and they might even push themselves over the limit so they can do as much as possible? And guess what happens when they push over their limits? The weaker ones “crack”.

The same thing applies to our organs as well and this is the theory somatization is based on. Having a negative thinking habit can lead to experiencing strong negative emotions very often which can lead to physical diseases like ulcer, heart attacks and so on. Stress always finds a way out and if we don’t make conscious efforts to create that way as we please, it will make it through our weaknesses.

Now the sensitive question is required: how often do you feel strong negative emotions?

45 thoughts on “Can we hurt our bodies with our mindsets?

  1. It’s really interesting……
    So the negative thinking is also bad for the physical health……..
    Sometimes, I get intense negative feelings and at that time, I fall asleep…..
    Clearly, It has a deep relation with our body also…….
    Informative post……👏

  2. I disconnected from my emotions at a young age and spent many years with no real feelings – the only way I knew that I was stressed or unhappy was because I would have extreme physical symptoms. I had doctors telling me they were sure I had cancer, kidney disease and heart problems because of the extreme symptoms they were seeing…but when they did the tests, they found nothing. I was perfectly healthy.

    As I’ve started to feel emotions again, the physical symptoms have all but gone. But I’ve always found it amazing…and always believed that physical symptoms can be our body’s way of getting our attention when we’re not listening to our emotions.

    1. I believe it’s related to both feeling and processing those emotions. If we ignore them, it might be hurtful in the long term. So if those emotions are triggered, we need to feel them. We can work with ourselves so those negative emotions don’t get triggered.

      1. Absolutely. Emotions can persist long after the original hurt has been forgotten, unless we take the time to process them.

  3. Thank you so much DM!!! I find this topic so fascinating and it’s really interesting (and difficult) to prove it beyond “nah. Self fulfilling prophecy” kind of crap. Which is super frustrating. But it makes me wonder why (if we want to go with the idea of fate or destiny or something) I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 30, when type 1 is usually diagnosed at childhood. Lol, the doctors were like i was too old for type 1, too young for type 2. But I can totally track my mood on my blood glucose levels! Which is weird! But scientific. 🙂

    1. The self fulfilling prophecy is very interesting too, but more in a situational level. It seems that some of our illnesses can be traced down to long intense emotional states.

  4. Our mindset can hurt our bodies. First, I must admit that I have a knee jerk reaction to your reference to weakness in multiple places throughout your post. I don’t consider somatization as a weakness. It’s more of a warning that you must rest your mind. I developed sinus tachycardia in law school. My heart rate cannot be controlled without a beta blocker. During my brief hospitalization, they even tried to give me anti anxiety meds. They didn’t work. Even throughout sleep, my heart rate ranged from 130-145. To this day, they have no medical reason for this. They said that my body is basically stuck in fight or flight. I feel confident that it’s a form of somatization. I was raising two teenage girls, dealing with a marriage that was breaking up, and going to law school. I couldn’t slow down. So, my mind found a way to force the issue. I don’t consider that a weakness, though. I think any human being would have needed to slow down under the circumstances. Yet, there was no right answer as to how. And, for the sake of wrapping up the story, I put a bandaid on the problem. I took my beta blockers to get through law school. Then, I left my marriage. By then, one of my daughters was off to college as well. So, all is well know. I do continue to take the beta blockers for hypertension, though.

    1. I’m sorry, I guess I wasn’t specific enough. I don’t think somatization is a weakness. Our organs get weaker and the weakest ones gives up first. Somatization is just a consequence of what we’re going through and some body parts get weak because of it. Each fire has its smoke which is normal.

  5. Very true. We are body, soul, and spirit. When one hurts, all hurt. Trauma can produce physical illness if we harbor hate and bitterness.

    1. A traumatic event is tougher to deal with so we might not find a way to get over it by ourselves. But with our daily events it’s a different story. With practice, we can train ourselves to see the situations differently so we don’t get those intense negative feelings so much anymore.

  6. The mind is very powerful and mostly understood by science and society… I don’t have negative thoughts as I am not a negative creature… “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” Ralph Waldo Emerson.. I find that being myself and living with a open mind helps me to be a positive person… “I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than one closed by belief” Gerry Spence… and therefore do not harbor negative thoughts and become depressed and bitter… 🙂

    “Holding on to bitterness is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die”…

  7. 1. I think people are too hung up on calling things negative. Things are only good or bad when we assign meaning to them.

    2. What is called a negative emotion only becomes harmful when we resist it as resistance makes anything stronger. Thus, we need to allow ourselves time to feel the emotion. However, dwelling on it can be harmful. So, after acknowledging the emotion and allowing ourselves to feel it, then it is necessary to decide what we want to do about it. For instance, anxiety is actually a desire to escape the present moment. So, ask yourself, “What is going on in my life right now that I don’t like?” Once the answer is ascertained, think about what steps you can take to change it. Break it into small manageable steps. Address one step at a time. Let go of expectations that you can change it all over night. As you work through each step, things will get better.

    3. As Dr Wayne Dyer said, “Change your thoughts, change your life” and “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

    4. Bruce Lipton developed the theory of neuroplasticity. You can change your physical condition by changing your environment. In addition to your physical environment your thoughts and emotions are part of your physiological environment.

    I have been working on all of this of late. Being someone with BPD; which, is an emotion dysregulation disorder,

    1. Oops, I hit the button before I was done. To continue:

      I have been working on all of this of late. Being someone with BPD (an emotion dysregulation disorder) I am having to learn how to regulate my emotions with DBT. DBT is the necessary treatment for those with BPD to be able to recover. However, it has universal applications; which means, anyone can benefit from learning the skills.

      BPD is usually caused by childhood trauma before the age of 3. I am now experiencing a kind of somatic response as I start to process this early trauma. I have been experiencing seizure activity for the last year. I had a 3-day EEG. The results came back normal. The other possibility for this seizure activity is PNES (Psychological Non Epileptic Seizures). I will be working with my Neurologist and my mental health therapist to address the psychological cause of these seizures. There have been studies of animals that have been put under tremendous stress. Many times, as a result of this stress, the animal will go into a seizure.

    2. Awesome comment! I usually label as positive the things that are helpful in long term and as negative the things that are harmful in long term. And yes, environment has a huge influence over ourselves so if we cannot change the story we have in our head, we need to change our environment.

  8. I had a mystery illness for 6-8 months. I went to different doctors, worried more, did more blood work…it was an insane time. I saw a doctor who told me there was nothing wrong with me it was all stress.

  9. I haven’t read any other comments so I hope I’m not repeating something hat has already been mentioned.
    There is a strong link between anxiety disorders and all sorts of autoimmune conditions. Particularly between trauma and autoimmune conditions. MS can be triggered by trauma, for instance.
    The distress on the internal organs, which mental distress can cause, (when long term and chronic), seems to contribute to autoimmune diseases, in my opinion and observation.
    I was feeling strong negative emotions constantly. I was also doctoring for more and more health issues.
    I felt like we were only treating and managing symptoms of something else wrong that nobody was digging into.
    Then finally my Dr diagnosed anxiety disorder and I realized that that was the root of the health issues I was having. Later, after starting therapy, I realized that childhood trauma was the real root.
    Now that I’ve been addressing the trauma my body is healing (slow-llllllyyyyy) and I am better able to handle and feel true emotions.
    I don’t know how much damage to my body has been done though or if it can all be reversed. But I have hope and God is good

    1. Thank you for this awesome insight! Unfortunately we’re often too busy trying to heal the symptoms of everything instead of trying to find the root cause and when it’s about the human psyche, the things are very complicated because we’re not machines so what’s affecting me might not affect you or at least, not in the same way.

      1. Totally agree. Wanted to share for that reason. I think most of us can better know what’s going on with ourselves when we hear others sharing their own journey.
        Dr Gabor Mate talks a lot about the somatic and emotional connection with disease. His book ‘when the body says no’ was really eye opening for me

  10. The only reason we allow our bodies to reach this level of pain is because we aren’t kind to ourselves or considerate of ourselves. If we loved ourselves a lot more, we wouldn’t feel those emotions as often as we do.

    Great post!

  11. Great post. It is very interesting how the mind has such strong connections to our physical bodies and how the things we think about can manifest themselves as physical symptoms. I have found that the gastrointestinal system and the skin are the systems that are usually affected first by stress and negative thinking.

  12. The way we think so effects our whole being. I struggled with anxiety over 20 years. However, if I dwell on what’s going wrong in life…my mindset can cause rather depressive symptoms. I have to decide.. I have to make up my mind and make conscious choices to choose joy and think on good things

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