There is a relationship that exists between the mental/emotional state of a person and the workings of his body. For a better understanding of how this relationship functions, we must turn to the physician.
O. Spurgeon English, former chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Temple University School of Medicine, speaks from long study of this relationship between mind and body. He tells us that there are certain emotional centers in the brain that are linked to the entire body through the autonomic nervous system. He describes charges of emotions that are relayed from the brain, down the spinal cord, and through the autonomic nerves to the blood vessels, muscle tissues, mucous membranes, and skin.
Under emotional stress, he points out, all parts of the body can be subject to physical discomfort because of a change in blood nourishment, glandular function, or muscle tone (The Autonomic Nervous System, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals).
You may have wondered, “How can thoughts and feelings going through my mind cause pain in some part of my body far from my brain?” Dr. English explains: An emotion such as fear can cause the mouth to become dry. This means that the blood vessels have constricted and the blood supply and glandular activity have been reduced. This dryness will occur, for example, in someone who must make a speech and is afraid. Various emotions, which have their source in the brain, find their way through definite pathways to the stomach. When a troublesome person can’t be coped with, we say we can’t “stomach” him – and that may be literally true.
Dr. English points out that a poorly functioning personality can be the reason for psychosomatic disorders of the digestive tract:
For decades it has been known that a personality problem which cannot be solved by the mind itself is prone to be “turned over” or “taken up” by some other part of the body. When an irritating friend or a troublesome family member cannot be coped with, the patient becomes “sick,” he can’t “stomach” it, or it “gripes” him. The physician knows that the cause of these gastrointestinal disturbances is emotional conflict. He knows it is the attitudes of generosity and responsibility struggling with an opposing wish to escape them (The Emotional Cause of Symptoms, Sandoz Pharmaceuticals).
Dr. English’s description of the conflict within a person is surprisingly like the one the Apostle Paul presented in Galatians 5:17: “For the whole energy of the lower nature is set against the Spirit, while the whole power of the Spirit is contrary to the lower nature. Here is the conflict, and that is why you are not free to do what you want to do.” The physician and the Bible describe the same problem–the struggle between what ought to be done and the contrary wish to evade it.
The physical effects of this conflict are often referred to as “nerves.” “My nerves are shot,” a woman says. “I’m on edge,” explains another person.
Fortunately, the Bible points the way to a cure: “Let there be no more resentment, no more anger or temper, no more violent self-assertiveness, no more slander, and no more malicious remarks. Be kind to one another; be understanding. Be as ready to forgive others as God for Christ’s sake has forgiven you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
The Bible’s admonition is to confess your hurtful emotions–your sins–and God will be faithful to forgive your sins and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Admit to God that these things are true of you, and then cleansing–fellowship with the Lord and inner peace–will be yours.
The refreshing cleansing that comes from God is capable of washing away all aches and pains brought on by a troubled mind.
This is an excerpt of chapter 7 from Dr. Brandt’s book The Struggle for Inner Peace currently available as an e-book.