Psychosomatics: When the body speaks!
Published 25 Nov 2021 • By Claudia Lima
Psychosomatics explores the influence of the psyche on our body or, in other words, the influence of our mind on our health. Psychosomatic symptoms, disorders or diseases, are in fact physical expressions of psychological problems.
So how does our body express itself? How can psychosomatic disorders be cured?
Read our article and find out!
The term "psychosomatic" is composed of two words of Greek origin: the term psycho comes from psyche which means "spirit", and the term somatic comes from somatikos which means "of the body, bodily".
Psychosomatics, or psychosomatic disorders, concern both body and mind. A psychological element is in this case involved in the onset of physical symptoms. In other words, the body thus expresses an emotion or a psychological disorder.
It is important to understand the difference between a psychosomatic symptom, which is a response of the body to a mental distress, and a psychosomatic disorder, which means there is a disease or an organ dysfunction that has a psychological cause.
There also exists a specific medical field, called psychosomatic medicine, that studies the influence of psychological factors on the soma (the body), or, in other words, psychosomatic disorders.
What are psychosomatic disorders? Who can be affected? How can these disorders be cured? How can they be prevented?
What are psychosomatic disorders, their symptoms and causes?
It is estimated that 38% of women and 26% of men will be affected by a psychosomatic disease at some point in their life. All age groups are concerned, including young children. This means that anyone can get sick, whatever their personality.
Psychosomatic disorders are real diseases, they cause physical symptoms that affect certain organs and their triggers are essentially of emotional character. There is always a psychological cause, either chronic or sudden, such as: professional conflict, the loss of a job, an accident, the death of a loved one, divorce or separation.
These situations weaken the body's immune defenses and thus increase the risk of diseases.
The most common triggers are anxiety and stress. The latter causes biochemical hormonal and neurological changes, leading to muscle tension, pain and rheumatic symptoms in those who suffer from rheumatism.
Psychosomatic symptoms and disorders can affect the whole body:
- Respiratory system: asthma, hyperventilatory syndrome,
- Skin: eczema, psoriasis exacerbations, warts, herpes, rosacea, sores, canker sores, atopic dermatitis, excessive sweating,
- Digestive system: stomach ulcers, colitis, stomach aches, diarrhoea, constipation,
- Cardiovascular system: tachycardia, arrhythmia, heart attack, arterial hypertension,
- ENT: buzzing, whistling,
- Urogenital system: dysmenorrhoea, vaginismus, impotence, premature ejaculation,
- Musculoskeletal system: tension headaches, cramps, stiff neck, joint or muscle pain,
- Vision disturbances, sleep disorders.
How are psychosomatic disorders treated?
First of all, it is essential to exclude purely somatic causes, before considering a psychological and emotional cause.
Even if the symptoms are of a psychosomatic origin, they are real and provoke real suffering. Patients with psychosomatic disorders are often misunderstood, misdiagnosed and their symptoms are often taken lightly.
The patient is not always aware that there is a link between his or her emotions and state of health, but they are able to understand it.
A doctor starts by performing a physical examination to assess and relieve physical symptoms. When the psychosomatic cause is clearly established, a therapy can be prescribed.
There are many approaches, for example, behavioural, supportive or analytical psychotherapy, with a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Among other recommendations there are relaxation techniques, which help relieve areas of tension in the body, and alternative medicines, such as acupuncture or homeopathy.
In terms of medications, appropriate treatment helps relieve symptoms: anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamines, transit regulators. In some cases, antidepressants or anxiolytics become necessary.
Due to the psychological component of psychosomatic disorders, the prescribed medication can sometimes have a placebo effect.
Is it possible to prevent psychosomatic disorders?
Certain behaviours promote somatisation. In case of moral exhaustion or chronic anxiety, it is important to take care of your lifestyle by following a healthy and balanced diet, having an appropriate physical activity and a good sleep hygiene, and regulating your emotions with the help of relaxation techniques, yoga or sophrology.
It is also essential to take care of your mental health and not hesitate to seek help.
Psychosomatic illnesses should be distinguished from hypochondria. A hypochondriac complains of physical problems that are difficult to identify via examinations and medical analyses. On the other hand, someone who suffers from a psychosomatic disorder does present certain physical symptoms corresponding to their disease, and wants to be cured.
Different schools of thought attempt to explain psychosomatics. For the vast majority of scientists, such disorders are the expression of the patient's internal conflict, that is to say, difficulty perceiving, containing and expressing internal states of emotional or psychological suffering. Some specialists do not exclude a certain genetic predisposition.
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