We live in such a globally diverse society today, with 196 countries in the world, there are over 6,500 different languages spoken. There are so many different cultures and different methods to communicate, however shockingly, with all this diversity, researchers from Finland found that the way people experience emotions in their body is surprisingly consistent across cultures. Our minds seem to talk to our bodies in the same way, no matter where we are from. So take note of what your body is trying to say to you, as caring for your emotional health is equally as important as caring for your physical health…for every person – across our nations.
A group of Finnish researchers conducted and published a study, Bodily Map of Emotions, and more recently a similar study for adolescents in order to discern if there is a pattern in the way emotions are felt in the body for the mind to consciously identify each emotion or if the changes in the body are actually distinct for each emotion. They experimented on 700 volunteers from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan by asking them questions and having them draw the emotions felt on a body image. They then averaged the drawings, and found that emotions are fairly consistent on where it manifests in the body.
Ignoring your emotional health will affect your body in undeniable ways, it’s just a matter of linking the two. For example, an alternate study had already indicated that chronic stress can lead to increased blood pressure and cholesterol, lower our immune functions, affect hormones, and alter our brains chemistry. Another psychologist’s metaphoric speech around stress while holding a glass of water to demonstrate the heaviness that stress can bear with time has gone viral. In many recent studies, psychologists, and counselors everywhere are trying to tell everyone the same message: emotional health should be held in the same regard as physical health, and the two have a profound affect on each other.
Feelings of love and happiness are felt throughout the body, hence the saying ‘weak in the knees’; while feelings of sadness and depression have a languid affect on the chest, arms, legs, and head. According to Lauri Nummenmaa, the psychologist that led the study, from Aalto University “Our emotional system in the brain sends signals to the body so we can deal with our situation.” He goes on to say “The emotions prepare the body for the challenges that we see, so if we are afraid, it is an autonomic response for our body to prepare and go into flight mode.” When asked Nummenmaa if this study could indicate that the opposite could also be true; if people who have illness or problems with certain areas of their body could elicit a corresponding emotion, he responded to say “I definitely think there is a bi-directional link between the mind and body with respect to emotions. What happens in the body also greatly influences are emotions. So if you are experiencing a flu, for example, that will greatly bring your mood down. The same can be said for chronic illness.”
According to the study, feelings of fear, anxiety, shame, and disgust were centered around the gut. In recent years, the connection between our gut health and emotional health has become abundantly clear. Some scientists have even controversially begun to consider probiotics and fermented foods (gut healing bacteria) as an alternative to prescribed antidepressant medications.
So for all of those individuals suffering from chronic conditions such as IBS or other medical ailments, perhaps having a look at your emotional health, and how the medical condition may be affecting your emotions and vice versa may be worthwhile. The bottom line is that emotional health resonates in our bodies, and if we don’t deal with them, they will affect our body’s function and health.
So…. how does this study affect you? The hope is that these body maps will help you identify and label your emotions and foster a better sense of self. It can almost serve as a therapeutic guide in connecting with your emotional self. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to understand the link between the physical symptoms that manifest in the body were all stemming from the same source: the emotional turmoil.