Did you know that when you are disturbed, you tend to store all that stress in some secret areas of your body, but you might know where exactly?
Our language is filled with negative psychosomatic references to stress:
“My boss is a pain in the neck.”
“My co-worker gives me a headache.”
“My ex-boyfriend makes me sick to my stomach.”
Often we attempt to push unwanted feelings—such as irritation, fear, sadness—out of our awareness. We associate such feelings with hopelessness or powerlessness. So, in an effort to blot them, we forcefully engage in denial or repression. We drive them out of our consciousness and deny our emotions. Instead of acknowledging, processing, and releasing these unwanted feelings, we bottle them up can convert them into stress.
Nathaniel Branden, the founder of The Psychology of Self-Esteem, insists that we must accept all our feelings without censorship; we should never disown, deny, or repress any part of our experience. He points out that to deny our feelings is to keep ourselves in a perpetual state of internal conflict. The more you distance yourself from your feelings, the more disempowered, and out of touch with your true self.
But where do these unwanted feelings go?
Mysterious Aches and Pains
For years, I’ve made a study of where people tend to store their unwanted emotions. Certainly, not all body aches or illnesses are psychosomatic. However, as I studied people’s bodily reactions to stress, recurring patterns emerged.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Repression
Fear is the driving force behind repression and is frequently rooted in your past. Repression is often necessary, particularly when you feel overwhelmed or experience trauma. But overdependence on repression fuels psychosomatic symptoms and self-destructive patterns. As a therapist, I challenge my clients to come up with new responses to fear instead of repeating old behaviors.
I’ve made a list of these patterns below. You may recognize some of them. I personally can identify with all of them. Keep in mind, psychosomatic reactions are not neatly organized; some overlap, some converge. It all depends on your character and interpersonal style. The list below is best used as a general introduction to psychosomatic symptoms, a jumping-off point for personal exploration.
As you review the list, ask yourself: Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?
Top 10 Tension Areas for Unwanted Feelings & Stress
1. Lower Back: Anger
If you sit on frustration, the lower back is commonplace for storing repressed anger. For relief, learn to constructively articulate frustration and address conflicts with others at the moment. Sounds simple? Believe me, it’s not.
Learning to harness the power of anger and turn it into a creative force is key to living a dynamic and rewarding life. Strive to convert anger into the assertion, express it constructively, not destructively. You’ll be rewarded with a surge in confidence, energy, and healthier relationships.
2. Stomach & Intestines: Fear
When you’re afraid, you tend to tense your stomach and intestines. Sayings such things as “I’m sick to my stomach” is usually bodily responses to conflict. The more you deny or repress fears, the more physical reactions you’re likely to manifest.
Begin by acknowledging your trepidation and talking it through with someone you trust. Consider all your choices and outcomes. The more you can express the fear in words, the less of a hold it will have on your body.
3. Heart & Chest: Hurt
I recently worked with a woman who was complaining of chest pains. A series of medical work-ups found no psychical cause for her symptoms. Was she supposed to live with chronic discomfort?
Reluctantly she turned to therapy. When I asked her if someone she loved had hurt her, she guffawed and brushed my question off as psychobabble. A few sessions later, as she spoke about the demise of her last relationship, she began to cry uncontrollably.
For too long she ignored her broken heart. She needed to mourn the relationship and honor her sadness. After this release, the tension in her chest finally lifted.
4. Headache: Loss of control
If you’re a major or minor control freak, you’re in for a real challenge. No matter how strong-willed you might be, an emphasis on the control will eventually lead to burnout–and splitting headaches.
Not all difficulties in life can be solved by intellect or trying to control everything. In fact, many problems are exacerbated by controlling tendencies. Letting go, accepting what you can and can’t control, and developing a mindfulness practice are the steps you need to take to cure your headache habit.
5. Neck /Shoulder Tension: Burdens And Responsibilities
Shouldering too many responsibilities is a pain in the neck. If you suffer from neck and shoulder tension, it’s likely that you’re overly burdened. Rather than ask for help from others, you’re likely to do everything yourself. This most often leads to neck and shoulder tightness.
Learn to delegate, ask for support, decide what is really worth taking on, and for goodness sake, share responsibilities with others.