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Body language

Your emotions can translate into physical ailments. Learn what's behind those rashes and headaches.

By JENNY STAMOS Special to the Times
Published December 5, 2006


Have you ever felt so sick about something - a friend's betrayal, a mistake at work or a horrible accident - that you actually got sick? Or, moments before a big date or work presentation, have you experienced those "butterflies" so strongly you had diarrhea or vomiting?

Your mind and body can't be separated. What affects one affects the other.

"The mind/body connection is the idea that emotions and thoughts have physical consequences in your body," says Dr. Mona Lisa Schulz, author of Awakening Intuition: Using Your Mind-Body Network for Insight and Healing.

The same chemicals that your brain uses to create emotions create specific bodily symptoms, she says. Thus, each outward sign - a headache, weight gain or being sick to your stomach - can indicate an inner difficulty, such as anger or anxiety.

Despite their not-so-pleasant health effects, negative emotions exist for a reason. "They warn us when something in our life has changed, and direct us to respond effectively to that change," Schulz says.

The problem comes when you don't respond to your feelings. When you experience anger, fear or sadness but don't talk about it or deal with it effectively, Schulz says, the negative emotions can affect your heart, your digestive tract, your hormones, your joints and even your fertility.

The close relationship between mind and body means that dealing with the issues that lurk behind your symptoms may be helpful in healing them. First you have to know what they are. And the longer your emotions have been buried, the harder it is to see the connection.

Though each body has its own unique language, according to Schulz, there are some common symptoms. Here is what Schulz suggests may be lurking beneath them. (If your symptoms are new, you should see a doctor to rule out any physical causes, Schulz says.)

. Physical symptom: Your immune system is so weak that just seeing some-one sneeze is enough to send you running for echinacea and vitamin C.

What lies beneath: Women with chronic immune system problems tend to have trouble feeling safe and secure, Schulz says. Maybe you've moved to a new city and don't feel like you belong. Or you don't feel supported in a group you belong to.

. Physical symptom: You've been feeling down for weeks - lying awake at night, feeling hopeless and overwhelmed.

What lies beneath: Feelings of depression may be caused by spending time with someone else who's depressed, Schulz says. Or, they can indicate that something in your life is turning out badly, or will turn out badly, in regards to an important relationship.

. Physical symptom: Pounding headaches have you wincing in pain at the slightest movement.

What lies beneath: Many symptoms make sense if you think of them as a metaphor. In the case of a headache, think, "What is making me feel like I'm banging my head against a wall?"

. Physical symptom: Your stomach is finicky; just a taste of the "wrong" food can have you running for the bathroom.

What lies beneath: Stomach problems are related to issues of self-esteem, responsibility, work and competition, Schulz says. They can signal a chronically competitive work environment, overwhelming responsibilities or a relationship that's ruining your sense of self-worth.

. Physical symptom: Your sore spot is your skin, which is always flaring up with acne, rosacea, eczema or general rashes and itchiness.

What lies beneath: Skin problems, like constant colds, indicate a weakened immune system, and they are a sign that you don't feel safe in your environment, Schulz says. Your brain may not be nervous, but your body is.

Jenny Stamos is a freelance writer who specializes in health issues.