I think my mind-body connection is out of whack
November 25, 2010 3:32 PM   Subscribe

I get extreme physical reactions to my emotions. Is this normal, and if not, how do I better learn to manage my emotions so that it doesn't affect my health and my life so much?

There's the usual fatigue, little appetite, listlessness in response to stress. But I've also noticed the following about myself over the years, in response to acute situations:

-- I lost most of my friends, including a nasty breakup with my best friend, when I went through a bad patch in my life. For about 2-3 years afterwards, anytime someone said something nice to me or tried to get close emotionally, I literally flinched, because there was a physical hurt involved. The closest comparison I can come to is someone touching the skin of a burn victim. That was my reaction exactly. Needless to say, I did a fair amount of avoidance/pretending/was generally not a very nice person during those years. Even now, I still "hurt", and so being around people still doesn't come easily to me.
-- I wound up spending a night (by accident) with someone I had only known for a few days, but whom I had a strong attraction to. Nothing happened at all. But my period stopped for three months afterwards with no explanation, which really freaked me out.
-- I grew up in a house where my parents always argued and paid little attention to my likes/interests. I spent almost all my childhood years suffering migraine-like headaches (at least, they were strong enough so that many times I wanted to throw up--but never actually doing so-- because of the pain) very frequently. The doctor couldn't find anything wrong with me, and actually I remember most people thinking that I was making it up when I kept complaining of my headaches.

I'm pretty sensitive to my surroundings; I remember getting very stressed once just waiting with the other students outside a final exam room. I walked away and sat by myself somewhere, and immediately felt much better. But, my reactions are just so extreme in comparison to the situation, and I don't know how to manage them. Are most sensitive people like this? I guess I want to be reassured that there are others like me out there, and see how others have coped.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I experience this too, particularly when it comes to thinking about things I carry a great deal of shame and sadness over. Mindpower is an incredibly strong force in this world. It can be used for good in countless ways, and its capacity for destruction is likewise astonishing. It is amazing how a deeply traumatizing situation, like extreme loss, abuse, neglect, can cause our minds to manifest mental and psychological pain into something physical.

I mean, shoot, my physical reactions to memories of my first sexual experiences were so strong that my therapist actually became very frightened during one of our sessions because I became so rigid and so taught with anxiety that I started to hyperventilate and convulse. Sometimes I actually have to hide so that I can allow my body to flinch and twitch without having to explain why to the people I'm with. I lost 20lbs directly after I experienced my first traumatic situation. It's a form of post-traumatic stress, and it is debilitating, it really is. I am so sorry that you are going through something similar, and if it weren't for the fact that you experience such extreme discomfort upon being touched, I'd really rather like to give you a hug 'cause this all sounds really overwhelming and awful.

For me, working through the trauma that is pervading my ability to be a normal person has really lessened the physical reactions that I have when prompted by these mental-and-or-physical stimuli. I have discovered that I can reverse the damage I've inadvertently done to myself by reminding myself that I am in charge of my body, not my subconscious. I have had to find ways to empower myself and in doing so, I have reclaimed my control over my mind and my soul and the degree to which I flinch when I think about certain sexual acts or certain conversations has truly lessened. Maybe you would benefit from facing each acute situation head on with someone objective. Deconstruction does wonders.
posted by patronuscharms at 4:29 PM on November 25, 2010

I got severe headaches and stomach aches due to stress at school for over a year. I'm very sensitive to all kinds of things. This is one of the things therapy is great for.
posted by SMPA at 5:36 PM on November 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

yes, therapy will really help with this.
posted by sweetkid at 5:42 PM on November 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have some problems metabolizing adrenal hormones, and though I'm pretty good at managing my stress most of the time, it is still the case that minor physiological jolts that cause adrenaline surges--like missing a stair when going downstairs, or burning myself when cooking, or bumping into an unseen curb while driving--often make me really ill, generally with headaches but sometimes with vomiting as well. So I have both sympathy and empathy for you.

And yeah, therapy. Sympathy, empathy, therapy.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:35 PM on November 25, 2010

It might also be worth discussing this with your doctor (your regular primary care physician) to see if he or she wants to look into screening you for adrenal response issues. If your cortisol levels are running high, for instance, that might make you more prone to stress-related headaches--which would be nice to address--but it also is something that puts you at risk for various cardiovascular crises.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Somatization is a real thing. It doesn't mean that you're making it up or overreacting, it's that you're converting emotional stuff into physical stuff (consciously, less-than-consciously, both, whatever). It's a thing that happens to people, and often times, therapy is an excellent way to help find other ways of handling the emotional stuff so that it doesn't have to keep turning into pain.
posted by so_gracefully at 7:41 PM on November 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid I was given a yoga book, and I used to do some of the exercises in there (not physical poses, more like relaxation exercises).

As an adult I was really surprised to find that other people aren't easily able to relax on command, that people can be very unaware of the state of their body.

I attribute my ability to calm myself down, both physically and mentally, to that book. Often, managing the physical response to an emotion actually seems to produce a somewhat calmer mental state as well.

Similarly, being aware of when I have a "frightened posture" going on, I sometimes just physically make myself stand straight, shoulders back, etc etc, as if I am looking the problem right in the face and giving it what for. Changing my posture seems to feed back into my mental state and make me more confident.
posted by emilyw at 2:34 AM on November 26, 2010

When I started taking yoga classes, the emphasis on the connection between the mind and the body had profound effects on me. Poses that open up your hips are especially powerful, as yogis say that people tend to store their emotions there. I think that yoga may be a very valuable tool for you to help sort out your feelings and manage stress. Good luck!
posted by sk932 at 5:50 AM on November 26, 2010

This previous reference to Selby's Quiet your Mind might be helpful.
posted by ajr at 6:38 PM on November 26, 2010

« Older Internet radio: too many choices equals none.   |   What else is like Speechification? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.