When your heart is breaking, the pain may feel so bad that it may actually feel like . . . well, your heart is literally breaking. That feeling probably isn’t just in your head; according to research, your emotional pain might be manifesting as physical symptoms.
Susanne Babbel, Ph.D, is an expert in somatic psychology, which is the study of the mind-body connection. In an article for Psychology Today, she says research shows there’s a link between emotional trauma and pain and/or illness in various parts of the body.
During periods of stress, “stress hormones such as cortisol are constantly released [by the nervous system], causing an increase in blood pressure and blood sugar, which can in turn reduce the immune system’s ability to heal,” she says.
“The more anxious and stressed people are, the more tense and constricted their muscles are, over time causing the muscles to become fatigued and inefficient.”
Here are some places your body might be aching due to emotional scars.
Alan Fogel, Ph.D, is a psychologist and author who says your chest can feel the pain of loss, grief, or heartbreak.
“The sense of safety that comes from being in the company of loved ones is partly created by vagal-parasympathetic activation which promotes an easy and relaxed integration of breathing and heart rate, both of which are located in the chest,” says Fogel in Psychology Today.
Fogel says residual muscular tension can build in your neck, throat, or jaw when you’re feeling unresolved anger or frustration. Think of how you might be holding back the temptation to yell by clenching your neck or grinding your teeth.
Stress and anxiety can cause all sorts of head pain. Emotional stress can cause migraine headaches, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and blood vessels that dilate when you worry can make that headache worse. Chronic stress that builds every day can also aggravate a tension headache.
According to Verywell Mind, the online health resource partnered with the Cleveland Clinic, symptoms of nausea, indigestion, or the general malaise from “butterflies in the stomach” might be a result of shame or guilt. Anxious thoughts send hormones released by your body to your digestive tract where they have a negative effect on your gut microorganisms and decrease antibody production, says the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Feeling overwhelmed at work or school might cause shoulder pain. Healthgrades, an online medical resource, says stress doesn’t directly cause shoulder pain, but it exaggerates by causing you to clench the muscles and enlarging your blood vessels so that it restricts shoulder movement. Hunching over a computer screen all day can create the perfect storm for shoulder pain.