Psychophysiological Disorders: What Emotions to Do Your Body

· December 28, 2017

When you’re anxious do you get stomachaches and headaches? Or maybe you get cramps? And what about when you’re angry? It’s easy to see that your emotions are closely related to your physical pain.

So you already understand a little about what psychophysiological disorders are: physical illnesses that have their origin in (or develop depending on) psychological factors. Learn about how important managing your emotions is for your body!

“Of ninety diseases, fifty are caused by guilt and forty by ignorance”

-Paolo Mantegazza-

Why do emotions affect psychophysiological disorders?

Emotions manifest themselves via a triple response system: cognitive, physiological and motor. The cognitive system refers to the thoughts we have when we experience different emotions.

For example, when anger builds up, our thoughts are of the type: “they’re trying to annoy me”, “I can’t believe they’re doing this to me”, etc. However, this internal discourse is completely different when we’re sad.

Second, the motor system is the set of behaviors that we engage in according to the emotions we feel. When we’re afraid, we try to protect ourselves or flee. Of course, the behavior is different if you’re happy.

psychophysiological disorders: a woman crying at the rainy window


Lastly, the physiological system consists of the sensations that occur in your body. Physiologically speaking, there are emotions that activate us to some degree, just as there are others that deactivate us to some degree.

Anxiety, for example, is an emotion that activates you physiologically to a greater degree, increasing your heart rate and making you breathe faster.

How do anxiety and anger affect psychophysiological disorders?

There are many psychophysiological disorders. They may be:

  • cardiovascular (hypertension)
  • respiratory (bronchial asthma)
  • endocrine (diabetes)
  • gastrointestinal (peptic ulcer)
  • dermatological (urticaria)
  • immunological
  • chronic pain (rheumatoid arthritis)

These are just a few examples. Your physiology and emotions are very closely linked. This is particularly true with anxiety and anger.

“In comparison with the illnesses caused by misery, by sadness, anguish and the social misfortune of peoples, microbes, as causes of disease, are the poor relatives”

-Ramón Carrillo-

Both anxiety and anger lead to a high level of physiological activation. Muscle tension, hyperventilation, and an increased heart rate are a few of their physiological symptoms.

Initially, our body does this to deal with the danger it assumes caused these emotions. Therefore, it is not an inherently “bad” activation.

The problem is when we feel these emotions very intensely, very often or for a prolonged period of time. In this case, our body remains in a state of tension regardless of how you respond to the “danger”, while it should disappear once we respond.

But since it doesn’t, our organs get overworked and they begin to work differently.

a woman sleeping on the couch

How do physical symptoms affect this process?

Everything we’ve talked about so far leads us to one conclusion: that managing our negative emotions depends on how we perceive and interpret different situations.

If we come up with adaptive (healthy) solutions, we will be able to keep our body from activating those symptoms and thus reduce our risk of psychophysiological disorders.

The same thing happens when there is a physical disease in itself. There are a few adaptive solutions: the patient can be convinced that it is not serious; know that it is serious but want to fight because they are convinced that there is hope; or know that it is serious but decide to live life as well as possible.

“The illness which occurs unexpectedly is more dangerous”

-Séneca-

If you choose one of these three options, you will be preventing anxiety and anger from triggering psychophysiological disorders. It may not be easy, but with the help of a good psychologist, it is possible.

Images courtesy of David Cohen, Benjamin Combs and Milada Vigerova.