A danger in any therapy practice is if a therapist only focuses on one aspect of the problem – usually the one (s)he is specialized in. While most emotional issues have at least some psychological components that can be addressed through therapy, it’s important to notice other possibilities that should be taken in consideration as well.
Our physical bodies and emotional lives are not independent of each other – physical issues can create or enhance emotional problems, as well as the other way around. A common example is when people under physical stress are less able to control their immature emotional urges. Did you experience being tired, hungry or sleepy, and lashing out at people around you? Even such common, everyday stress can deplete our bodies of energy needed for suppressing immature emotions or keeping them in line.
What happens if the stress is less easy to notice and recover from? PMS in women is one of the obvious examples – and there are many others that might not be so obvious. I worked with a couple some years back; the woman complained that the man was irritable, disinterested and lacked focus. We worked on some of their disagreements in values, expectations, communication and underlying transference, and while it certainly did bring improvement, the real breakthrough only happened when the man went to a health check. It turned out his thyroid was malfunctioning. After receiving medication, his emotional balance returned quickly and easily. This didn’t resolve all of the issues in their partnership, but it certainly made them much easier to work with.
Another client, who carried huge emotional burdens from childhood, reported great improvements after therapy – and an extra important improvement happened when she removed processed sugar from her diet. She told me that her moods were much more stable now, and while childhood issues were certainly important to work with (and we continued to do so) it was easier to deal with them when her body was also more balanced. Food allergies and sensitivities can have emotional consequences too.
Lack of nutrition or other physical imbalance can also cause or enhance emotional symptoms. Your body might feel in crisis even if you wouldn’t consciously notice. Modern extreme diets, which often remove whole groups of foods from one’s diet, usually bring temporary relief (which I’m convinced is mostly due to eliminating processed foods – something that every diet has in common), but after a while, nutritional imbalance causes huge stress for the body – and that stress can show as emotional symptoms.
This is equally true about vegan diets and very low carb diets (which often remove not just bread and pasta, but even fruit, legumes and root vegetables from one’s menu) – to name just a few. Vegans might develop anemia, for example, which can worsen in menstruating women. Such women can experience anxiety and depression on top of physical symptoms. Low carb diets might cause glucose imbalance, which in turn can lead to thyroid and adrenal problems – both strongly related to emotional symptoms. That’s what happens when we trust very limited, one-dimensional research data or even just other people’s theories rather than our own bodies.
Some people keep “pushing their bodies around” in search for a perfect body; from one diet to another, from one strict exercising regime to another, with occasional unhealthy binges on processed food in between. I can easily imagine that years of such bodily stress might cause chronic anxiety and other emotional symptoms. I will not advise you to just accept unhealthy weight if you have it – it’s always better to strive towards health than to give it up – but, by all means, keep some sense of balance and treat your body with respect and kindness. Nature is all about constantly re-creating complex balance. We humans keep on thinking that we can cheat and “hack” nature by one extreme practice or the other – but nature always wins in the end.
If you are a therapist, you might feel that it endangers your practice and income if you warn people about potential solutions that have nothing to do with your area of expertise. Well, perhaps you will lose a couple of sessions a month – but there are more than enough family imbalance and childhood trauma floating around to keep you busy. And everybody who acts with integrity, makes the world just a little bit better. It always makes me feel warm inside when I see articles on internet that radiate thoughtfulness and respect for people rather than manipulation and confidence without competence. I strive to be one of such authors. I never had cause to regret it.