There is new research that shows that both physical and emotional pain share the same brain area and circuitry. This fact explains why a person who has or had physical pain often times experiences mental or emotional pain as well. Both types of pain share the same notification system, so, when you stub your toe, your system knows where the pain is. With emotional pain, the same bodily reaction happens, but where the pain is experienced is typically in the upper torso area.
Research done on emotional pain and this notification system, explains that the vagus nerve is the place of communication between the upper torso and the brain. In fact, it is not just the brain telling the body to experience this pain, but the heart tells the brain via the vagus nerve when one is hurt emotionally. This communication explains why people experience chest and abdominal tightening, as well as a hunched over posture in an effort to shield their heart when they experience emotional pain.
As with physical pain that alerts us to a problem, emotional pain is also alerting us to a problem. The issue is that in today’s society, emotions are often times pushed away or hidden. Many of us are afraid to let people see us cry or be emotional. I see this especially in work place culture. It is expected that you keep your personal feelings at bay while at work, but these types of actions do not help us resolve or heal the pain.
Just as a physical pain might happen from a splinter, you take action to remove the splinter and help your finger to heal. In the same way, we need to think about why we feel emotional pain and help ourselves heal.
When we push our feelings down or hide them and not address them, they can continue to physically manifest into chronic pain in the body. Many doctors and researchers are learning that illness is not always physical. There are some people who are so strongly affected by their emotions that they become debilitated by them. This can lead to disease, which is exactly what it sounds like, the lack of ease. They can even become unable to function in everyday life, whether it be a paralysis, physical pain, PTSD, anxiety, stress, depression, lowered immune function and the list goes on.
One way we can address and help to heal our feelings is though art. Whether we are viewing art, creating art, or doing art therapy, it is an emotional activity. It can put us in into a very meditative state where our brain waves change and serotonin is increased. This state of mind is where we enter a healing, relaxed place that has shown to reduce pain. Researchers have found that participating in art therapy for an average of 50 minutes significantly improved moods, and lowered levels of pain and anxiety. Doing art can also help us address and give outlet to hidden feelings or subconscious feelings we sometimes don’t even realize are there. Just by drawing a picture of what the pain looks like -- colors, lines, and composition -- can tell us more than words about what we are feeling. A picture is worth a thousand words. Many people misunderstand and believe that to do art, you must be an artist or have skills and training. But any art done as a therapy is simply that: a therapy for your heart, for your brain, for your body, for healing; not a masterpiece.
It is not just doing art that can effect us, it is also viewing and analyzing art. Those who view art typically experience wonder, awe, and beauty. These feelings have actually been proven to reduce inflammation, increase blood flow to the brain, help healing, increase life expectancy, and improve over-all health. If that isn’t enough to send you to the art museums, there is more. When we look at art, we have a tendency to feel empathy towards the art. This is called embodied cognition, so if you are looking at a wet forest scene, you may feel a sense of humidity, or if you are looking at flower art, you may feel as though you want to smell them, as though you were actually in the art and were able to use your senses to experience what you see. In this way, we are experiencing connectivity with art, the artist, and a sense of community with those who also have those same feelings. This is how having an art piece in your home that reflects what you want to manifest in your life can literally effect your emotions. So, having an art piece that makes you forget about your pain and reminds you of a healing, relaxed state can literally reduce your pain and effect your brain and heart in a positive way.
Obviously, art is not a fix-all, but I believe that our heart and emotions is the second half of the story, the one that we can create. Just by doing art or looking at art, we can relieve both physical and emotional pain, effect healing, and positively impact the brain, heart, and body biology. Now go look at some art or get creating! It will make you feel good!