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The Mind-Body Connection: How Emotions Manifest as Physical Aches and Pains - By Errolie Sermaine

Errolie Sermaine - 1st September 2023

In the intricate web of human experience, emotions and physical sensations are often interwoven, creating a complex relationship between the mind and body. It isn’t uncommon to hear phrases like “my heart ached with sadness” or “I felt a knot in my stomach from anxiety.” These expressions hint at a deeper connection between our emotional states and the physical sensations we experience. This phenomenon has been explored through various psychological theories, including Gestalt theory and concepts presented in the book “The Body Keeps the Score.” But why would our emotions manifest as physical aches and pains?


The Intersection of Emotions and the Body

Gestalt theory, developed by Fritz Perls, Laura Perls, and Paul Goodman in the 1940s, emphasizes the importance of the whole experience, rather than analyzing emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in isolation. According to this theory, emotions and physical sensations are intricately connected, forming a holistic experience. Emotions are not just abstract mental states; they involve the entire body in their expression. “The Body Keeps the Score,” a seminal work by psychiatrist and trauma expert Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, further explores this connection between emotions and physical sensations. The book delves into the impact of trauma on the body and mind, highlighting how traumatic experiences can be stored within the body, leading to a range of physical and psychological symptoms.


Emotions and Physical Sensations

Our bodies are highly attuned to our emotional states. When we experience emotions such as stress, anxiety, or sadness, our bodies often respond in tangible ways. These responses can vary from person to person, but common manifestations include muscle tension, headaches, gastrointestinal discomfort, rapid heartbeat, and shallow breathing. For example, consider the experience of anxiety. When confronted with a stressful situation, the body’s fight-or-flight response is triggered. This physiological reaction involves the release of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which prepare the body to either confront the threat or flee from it. As a result, muscles tense up, blood pressure rises, and the heart beats faster. These physical changes are not isolated from the emotional experience; they are intertwined with feelings of apprehension and unease.

Gestalt theory suggests that individuals often experience emotional distress as bodily sensations. This can be observed in the common practice of using metaphors to describe emotions. People might say they have a “heavy heart” when they’re sad or a “butterflies in the stomach” sensation when they’re nervous. These metaphors point to the undeniable connection between emotions and physicality.


Trauma and the Body

Trauma, as explored by Dr. van der Kolk exemplifies how intense emotional experiences can become embedded in the body. Trauma can stem from various sources, such as accidents, abuse, or combat, and its effects can linger long after the traumatic event has passed. One of the central ideas in the book is that trauma disrupts the body’s natural equilibrium, leading to a range of physical symptoms. It explores how traumatic memories can become trapped in the body, leading to symptoms like chronic pain, muscle tension, and even autoimmune disorders. These physical manifestations are the body’s way of communicating the distress that remains unresolved. Traditional talk therapies may not always be effective in addressing trauma stored in the body, making approaches like body-centered therapies and somatic experiencing crucial for healing.


The Brain-Body Connection

The connection between emotions and physical sensations is not just metaphorical; it’s deeply rooted in our biology. The brain-body connection plays a pivotal role in this relationship. The brain, through its intricate network of neural pathways and chemical messengers, communicates with different systems in the body, including the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. When the brain perceives a threat or experiences intense emotions, it sends signals to various parts of the body to prepare for action. This is evident in the release of stress hormones, increased heart rate, and heightened sensory awareness. Over time, chronic emotional states can contribute to the development of chronic physical conditions.


Breaking the Cycle

Understanding the link between emotions and physical sensations opens the door to holistic approaches to healing and well-being. Gestalt therapy, for instance, encourages individuals to become aware of their bodily sensations as a way of gaining insights into their emotional experiences. By paying attention to physical cues, individuals can begin to identify and process underlying emotions. “The Body Keeps the Score” emphasizes the importance of addressing trauma through body-centered approaches. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are highlighted as effective tools for reconnecting with the body and releasing stored tension. These practices facilitate self-regulation, allowing individuals to manage their emotional responses and reduce the impact of traumatic experiences on their physical well-being.



The intricate dance between emotions and physical sensations is a testament to the profound interplay of the mind and body. Gestalt theory and the insights from “The Body Keeps the Score” shed light on the connection between emotional experiences and bodily responses. Whether it’s the clenching of fists in anger, the weight of sadness in the chest, or the shallow breaths of anxiety, our bodies are speaking the language of emotions. Recognizing and honouring this connection is paramount for holistic well-being. It reminds us that emotions are not confined to the realm of the mind—they course through our veins, resonate in our bones, and are etched into our very beings. By embracing this understanding, we pave the way for healing that encompasses both the physical and emotional aspects of our lives.

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Author Biography:

Errolie Sermaine is a BACP and NCS Accredited Counsellor and Clinical Supervisor. Since qualifying she has run a successful private practice and worked for a variety of organisations. She is also a fully qualified teacher and trainer with a wealth of experience of designing and delivering a huge a range of courses. Passionate about training counsellors, she has been the Clinical Supervisor for several Professional Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling courses, as well as the Designated Safeguarding Lead and Curriculum Manager for an Outstanding adult education provider.
Errolie can be found at the following links on social media sites:
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Please note that all beliefs, views and opinions expressed within guest writer articles are solely those of the guest writer and do not reflect the beliefs, views and opinions of London School of Counselling, this website or its affiliates.
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