Neuropeptides (nerve proteins) are chemicals that regulate almost all life processes of our cells and also the way all cells communicate with each other. Peptides are tiny pieces of protein that are produced in the brain and throughout the whole body e.g. endorphins (our happy hormones), serotonin (our feel-good chemical), vasopressin (regulates blood pressure) and insulin (regulates metabolism and sugar). The discovery of neuropeptides opened the way to connect the processes of body and mind; “the chemicals that are running our body and our brain are the same chemicals that are involved in emotion” (C.Pert).
Our thoughts, our daily mood or emotional state have a big influence to our physical health. When we have a specific feeling, thought or drive, it affects our nervous system by using neuropeptides who carry the messages back and forth between mind and body. Neuropeptides –who link perception in the brain to the body and emotions- are constantly changing their configuration, reflecting changes in our emotional state throughout the day.
When our mental and emotional state is out of balance, neuropeptides will make physical symptoms to appear in the body.
Each emotion is associated with a particular neuropeptide, so if we have a tendency to experience a particular emotion, our cellular structure will be modified to accommodate more of the neuropeptide associated with that emotion.
Imagine what happens when you experience fear and anxiety on an everyday basis:
Stress makes the body react with a “fight-or-flight” response, releasing cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline that prepare systems throughout the body to deal with the danger. Stress hormones act by mobilizing energy from storage to muscles, increasing heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate and shutting down metabolic processes such as digestion, reproduction, growth and immunity.
If the body stays in this alerted state too long, the chemicals (hormones, neuropeptides..) cause physical damage to several systems: everything from high blood pressure to problems with immune system, heart, memory, digestion, mood…
Our body is becoming stronger or weaker depending on our mental and emotional state. The body responds favorably to health-enhancing chemicals which have a tonic effect on all organs, releases brain endorphins and the muscles are relaxed. Health-enhancing chemicals are pleasant emotions, moods, thoughts, attitudes like hope, love, laughter, optimism, empathy, acceptance, joy, humour, inspiration, confidence etc.
Health-degrading emotions, moods, thoughts and attitudes like shame, guilt, apathy, fear, hate or anger release chemicals that deteriorate the immune system and other systems in the body, and also cause damage in various organs.
This doesn’t mean that you should avoid experiencing or expressing painful or unpleasant emotions -the so-called negative. All emotions are valid, they have their function and purpose e.g. anger can provide you the energy to defend yourself when someone has crossed your boundaries or it can motivate you to challenge interpersonal and social injustices. It is all about KEEPING A BALANCE and let emotions work for you and not against you.
Any prolonged negative emotional and mental state will make areas in your body more prone to illness. The interesting thing is that when physical symptoms appear, it means that you have been in that state for some time already or you may even no longer be in that state of being anymore.
Emotions play also a significant role in fulfilling your needs. If you ignore or you are not aware of your needs, or you suppress your emotions, your subconscious mind will find another way to pass you the message that something’s wrong: by alerting you with physical symptoms. You need to find ways to express whatever emotions you feel. Candace Pert (who studies influences upon health at a neurochemical level) said that “repressing emotions can only be causative of disease” because failure to find effective ways to express negative emotions causes you to “stew in your own juices” day after day, and this chronic immersion in negativity is what appears to produce harmful influences on health.
Again it is all about body and mind (psyche and soma) working together as a balanced and healthy WHOLE.
KEYPOINT: There is a strong link between emotional and mental states and the neurochemical changes they produce in the body. Emotions can have positive or negative effects on the body. A prolonged negative mental state (suppressing emotions and needs or experiencing only painful emotions) will appear in the form of physical symptoms or illness. You might wanna try to find healthy and creative ways of expressing your emotions, keep an upbeat frame of mind when dealing with daily problems, support yourself and ask for support to cope creatively with stress and painful emotions. Make sure that your daily emotional state supports your health instead of working against it!
3 Responses to Emotions and physical health: what neuropeptides have to do with it?