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Somatic Symptoms: Messages from the Mind-Body

by Lane Gormley, EdS, LPC

In Greek, sōma means body. Somatic symptoms are physical symptoms that appear to be caused by mental or emotional factors.

The psychiatric/psychological literature contains many theories and many questions about the link between mental/emotional pain and physical discomfort or illness. Current research on this subject can be found in online journals as well as in libraries. It is more or less widely agreed, for example, that depression often manifests in the body as exhaustion, aching back and limbs, anorexia or weight gain, insomnia or hypersomnia, headaches, and/or other bodily discomfort.

Other illnesses that have been associated with mental and emotional stress are asthma, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), stomach ulcers, and allergies. To say that someone’s illness is “psychosomatic” is often considered an insult in our society. It is also a misunderstanding of the mind-body connection. Since medieval times, healers have postulated a connection between physical and mental symptoms. The fact that a physical condition can originate in the mind in no way lessens the seriousness of its symptoms. Hundreds of people die each year from asthma and allergic reactions.

While some researchers downplay the extent to which the mind can influence the body, Louise Hay writes extensively on the mental patterns that create “dis-ease” in the body. The internationally known, best selling author of Heal Your Body states, unequivocally, “We create every so-called illness in our body.”

There was a time in my own life that I was hesitant to make a life-changing decision. I thought, waited, ruminated, and stalled for time – long past the moment when a decision should have been made. At that time of my life, I also had severe hip problems. Just getting out of bed in the morning was a challenge. I had to sit on the edge of the bed for a while and then stand up, slowly and with great difficulty. Then I would try to position my hips on top of my legs and my upper body on top of my hips. It was as though I were disjointed in an odd and painful way.

I was talking about the issue with one of my physical therapists, and he said, “Well, let’s look and see what Louise Hay has to say about this…” He got out a book and looked up “Hip Problems” and read aloud to me, Fear of going forward in major decisions.

So, I made the difficult decision. It caused some turbulence in my life for a period of time; and then everything was resolved. During the months of upheaval, the hip pain subsided – although I did not notice the absence of pain because of everything else that was going on. Later, though, I remembered; and I bought Heal Your Body and, in a later edition, You Can Heal Your Life.

Naturally, I do not forego medical advice if I feel I need it; and I am consistent in the care of my physical body. Any time there is something wrong, however, I like to check Louise Hay’s books just to see if there is any part of the mental and emotional health picture (thoughts? emotions? beliefs?) that I need to understand in order to facilitate my physical healing process.

You Can Heal Your Life contains a list of common physical ailments, the emotional problems that they might represent, and new thought patterns that we can instigate to create healing. Several doctors have told me, for example, that cold germs are always in the air but that we only catch a cold when we are under stress. Louise Hay writes that the probable cause of a cold is “Too much going on at once. Mental confusion, disorder. Small hurts. ‘I get three colds every winter,’ type of belief.”

Instead of cultivating or “soliciting” our colds, Hay suggests that we say: “I allow my mind to relax and be at peace. Clarity and harmony are within me and around me. All is well.”

Just as the mind influences the body, the body influences the mind. Think how your thoughts and mood are affected when you are ill. As Buddha wrote, “To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

If you have recurring issues with physical and/or emotional health, consider reading Louise Hay’s books. They may give you some clues about healing the mind-body. If you need help working toward the mental and emotional stability that underlie good physical health, we will be happy to assist you.

72 thoughts on “Somatic Symptoms: Messages from the Mind-Body

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