Have you ever said that you had “cold feet,” “a gut reaction,” or “a shiver down your spine”? You probably didn’t think anything of it, but those cliches have more truth to them than you might think. Emotional body mapping can show you why. In the same way, anxiety and depression can cause physical symptoms, emotions can “feel” like they’re gathering in one or more parts of your body. Feelings are our primary way of interacting with the world, yet many of us don’t pause and unravel how they impact us. If you’ve ever had trouble naming an emotion, understanding the concept of physical feelings and where they live may help you feel more in tune with your body.
Body mapping might not be a concrete solution for everyone, but if you’ve ever needed a little help deciphering your feelings, this could be a good place to start. Plus, we spoke to somatic therapists for tips on tuning in when you’re ready to better connect with your body.
Does This Really Work?
You may have heard of the emotion wheel, which can help you categorize emotions to better understand what you’re feeling. Emotional body mapping is another option, and, as with the wheel, its efficacy depends on the person. So think of the body map as a tool that, like medications, isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s just one piece in a bigger kit for learning how to communicate with your body.
So, Exactly Where Do Emotions Rest in Our Bodies?
Based on a study by Glerean and his colleagues, these are the 13 emotions and the corresponding body parts they activate (or don’t activate). Like on a heat map, increased activity corresponds with warmer colors (red, orange, yellow), while decreased responses correspond with cooler colors (blue, green, indigo).
If you find these maps to be accurate to your feelings, they may help you understand metaphysical changes and how emotions impact your well-being.
How Did They Test This?
To create these body maps, researchers asked 701 people to color in on a body silhouette of the regions where they felt increasing or decreasing activity as they reacted to various stimuli. The stimuli they were exposed to were much like what we encounter in real life: snippets of movies, conversations, and surprising facial expressions. The results showed that, for the participant pool, different emotions consistently impacted similar areas of the body. This led them to believe that feelings can be categorized as follows:
- negative (unpleasant), such as anger, fear, anxiety, and shame
- positive (pleasant), such as happiness, love, and pride
Very few emotions, like surprise, are simply neutral. Participants also saw that pleasant and controllable states were more frequent than unpleasant and uncontrollable ones. If you’ve ever felt anxiety or depression get the better of you, you might understand the feeling of not being in control.
What if I Can’t Find My Emotions?
“Sometimes they are so subtle that it takes time to form the vocabulary to describe them,” says Tanmaya George, a practitioner. To physically feel out emotion and name it, you’ll need to slow down. For this, she recommends a mindful body scan. “Feelings, or fear, can be frozen so that we experience numbness instead of sensations,” she says. “That is linked to shock, and as we start to heal, the shock melts, and the underlying sensations do come to the surface.”
Tuning in with your body and paying attention to where you feel heightened sensations is the best way to locate a feeling. George urges her clients to focus on grounding their bodies. If you find yourself falling into a black hole of despair, use her directions to get back on track:
- Move your feet and hands gently and rub them against a surface to feel your extremities, and then connect to how that feels.
- Look for comforting shapes or objects and allow yourself to take some time to absorb the experience of looking at them. How does it make you feel?
- What sensations develop as you take in the smell, shape, color, and sound?
- Gently orient yourself in the room and look at everything as if you were seeing it for the first time.
- Take your focus away from the discomfort. You can also bring comforting self-touch to the area that is feeling discomfort and sense the warmth of your hand.
Try These Tips and Tricks to Regulate and Release Emotions
Hilary Jacobs Hendel, a social worker, and the author also have tips for when emotion is dominating a certain part of your body, such as anxiety in your stomach. She suggests decreasing stimulation by going into a dark room (if possible) and tuning in to your stomach by doing deep belly breathing. “Deep belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve,” says Hendel. “The vagus nerve is the nerve that emotions trigger that runs through every organ in the body. When we deep breathe, it stimulates the calming portion of the vagus nerve. By breath five or six, you start seeing the change.”
“Once you are doing this deep breathing and approaching yourself with curiosity, compassion, and kindness, then you want to try to identify and name all the emotions that are coming up and to get a handle on what is triggering you.”
Grounding yourself is another helpful tip for when you’re feeling heightened emotions in your body. “Putting your feet on the floor lets your brain know that there is ground underneath you. This sounds so simple, but these are things that calm the brain down,” Hendel says.
Why Should You Address Your Emotions?
“The thing about emotions is that you have to experience them,” says Hendel. “You cannot think your way out of an emotion.” Connecting your mind and body is integral to your overall well-being. In fact, according to Hendel, ignoring, burying, or blocking your emotions may contribute to more illnesses. For example, when your mind-body connection is weak, you may neglect your emotional and/or physical health. Or you may feel shame surrounding emotions, such as depression. For this, Hendel wants to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with you. Sometimes your environment can be hurtful and cause you to internalize a “literal, bad physical feeling.” Or, like anxiety, these sensations of not feeling good enough can manifest physically in your body.
Article Credit: https://greatist.com/connect/emotional-body-maps-infographic