The mind-body connection
Updated: Oct 18, 2022
Somatisation is the term used when somatic symptoms such as pain or unexplained physical symptoms are experienced in response to emotional or psychological distress such as those related to anxiety and depression. It can lead to frustration among patients and health professionals as there are no clear physical causes found on further investigations. This is similar to those that may experience chronic pain even when the injury is no longer present.
The condition is recognised in the ICD as psychosomatic or unexplained somatic complaints, and in the DSM as a poly-symptomatic disorder that can include a combination of pain, gastrointestinal, sexual and pseudo-neurological symptoms. It may be termed as MUS or ‘Medically Unexplained Symptoms’, which the DSM-5 categorises as Somatic Symptom Disorders (SSD).
Depression is a common condition which can present with somatic presentations and it is well known across cultures. This may include appetite changes, fatigue, insomnia and general aches/pains. Anxiety somatic symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, stomach aches, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, insomnia and muscle aches. PTSD is another psychological disorder which can present with chronic physical symptoms (such as Gastrointestinal and cardiac problems, musculoskeletal pain and general health complaints), with 50-80% of those with PTSD having chronic physical symptoms. Some unexplained conditions where there is no clear physical cause (such as IBS, chronic fatigue syndrome, TMJ pain and fibromyalgia) may have a significant psychological influence.
This highlights the mind-body connection, which is highly recognised in Chinese medicine.
In Chinese medicine the mind and body cannot be separated. In textbooks, majority of physical conditions can have an emotional cause. Emotions are meant to be expressed or processed, and when they aren’t they cause a blockage of energy flow through the body and organs, resulting in physical symptoms and illness. Different emotions also have different effects on the body’s energy flow. For example, worrying ‘knots’ the Qi, anxiety can ‘scatter’ Qi, anger can ‘raise’ Qi, fear ‘descends’ Qi. A great benefit of acupuncture is that in most cases we aim to CALM the mind too, addressing the mind AND body.
If you are struggling with unexplained symptoms and needing some relief, consider seeking support from an acupuncturist or Chinese medicine practitioner. There are people who specialise in trauma release and somatic experiencing too, so it is worth checking out who is in your area. Your GP may also refer you to a psychologist/psychiatrist if needed. You deserve to feel your best, always.
Somatisation- PMID: 21509227
Anxiety somatic- PMID: 15014583
Depression somatic- PMID: 16001092
PTSD- PMID: 34298467