It just worried me sick. It ate through me like a cancer. It cut me like a knife. It’s killing me. These are expressions we use that hint at the mind/body connection. Have you ever wondered if there really is any basis for these sayings? Can our thoughts and feelings actually influence our health? Can the death of a spouse, unemployment or other environmental situations cause problems for your immune system?

Usually when people make such a statement they are experiencing some kind of stress or emotional aggravation. Heightened emotional states — especially the kind which we do not want to experience — and it create a perfect breeding ground for illness.

It is difficult at times to look at emotions and say, “What are emotions and how do they work?” You could look at emotions like energy in motion-twirling and swirling around. Our emotions are energy, and they are always in motion. We all know that our bodies are made up of molecules, and molecules are made up of atoms, and atoms are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons and they all twirl around each other in a wonderful dance.

Emotions operate on various levels. They have a physical, psychological, and spiritual aspect. Emotions bridge thoughts, feelings, and actions and let us know how things are going in our lives. When our emotions are positive and free flowing (i.e., allowing emotions to be felt and expressed without resistance), we raise the movement within the cells of our bodies and the cellular aspect of the body becomes more fluid and free flowing. When our emotions are negative, the cells in our body slow down and create a vacuum for illness and disease.

Human beings are the only creatures on earth that can change their biology by what they think or feel. According to research, exposure to stressful life experiences has been associated with changes in the immune system. Viral and bacterial infections, auto-immune diseases, cancer, heart disease, and HIV-related illness have all been linked to immune system changes associated with stressful events and psychological responses.

For example, immunological changes have been observed in response to major life change events such as a marital separation, the death of a loved one, caring for a sick spouse, people who suffer from chronic stress, and being unemployed. In a series of studies done over the past ten years, the relationship between psychological stress and illness has been linked together. People with chronic stress are prone to acute infectious respiratory illness, heart and liver disease, chronic headaches, Irritable Bowel syndrome, back- aches, and joint problems. In fact, in a recent study done at UCLA, studies showed that 90% of illness had an emotional root.

Experts have noticed that illness has many positive rewards. Ever notice when someone becomes sick they receive cards, flowers and gifts. Often people who are ill will gain praises from family and loved ones. In fact, sickness gives us permission to do things that we would not do otherwise. It makes it easier to say no to unwelcome people, burdens, and job demands in our lives. Being sick, or not feeling good allows us to take time to rest, stay in bed, meditate, reflect, and gives us permission to relax. It also gives us permission to be loved because we attain a great amount of emotional support when we are sick.

Most research thus far is showing that the immune system and the mind are indeed connected. People really can be worried sick, or can psychologically be “eaten up” like a cancer. The medical field and psychology field can join together integrating both practices to ensure the best possible care.