Somatisation

Today we talk about somatisation.

Polyvagal theory is useful once again to see more in depth what are some connections between body and mind.

This theory tells us how, based on an internal or external stimulus that we perceive as dangerous or even life-threatening (so, something we elaborate with our brain), our internal system triggers a physical reaction, namely fight, flight or freeze. This can entail a variation on our heartbeat, a slowing down of our stomach, pupils dilation…

These connections between mind and body are very strong, and they are also at the origin of somatisation. Somatisation is the physical manifestation of a mental condition. This can happen in the form of symptoms that appear apparently out of nowhere (for example, we are anxious and start experiencing digestive problems) or even as a factor that worsens physical conditions (like what happens with stress and inflammatory bowel disease).

This relationship goes also the other way, where a physical condition triggers an emotional reaction (like when severe medical issues cause depression, and this co-occurrence makes the medical condition worse).

In all these situations our body acts to protect us or signal that something is wrong. 

This also happens in more subtle ways: have you ever had a bad day where your head is somewhere else and you end up falling, things slip off your hands, you hurt yourself by accident? It’s like distraction became physical.

The body is the “tough” one. We respect it more than our mind. Our culture has also educated us to only believe to “visible” symptoms, and we tend to take a day off from work more easily if it’s for a strong headache rather than for grieving.

So very often, somatisation obliges us to listen to our needs.

It’s our body that screams “listen to your mind!”.

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