Emotions and their Role in Disease

We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing or supressing our emotions.

An emotionally intelligent individual has the ability to recognize his or her own emotions (positive or negative), understand what they're telling them, and realize how these emotions affect them personally and the people around them.

Self-Awareness –

Self -Awareness is the key point to recognise and understand emotions. Why do I feel angry? What has triggered my anger? Was it the other person’s behaviour or is it anger I feel against myself?

Observe how you react to people. Do you rush to judgment before you know all of the facts? Do you stereotype? Look honestly at how you think and interact with other people. Are you open to other people’s perspectives and needs?

This will require a will to look honestly at yourself. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses and work on this areas / triggers that produce a strong emotional response.

Self-Regulation –

This is the ability to control emotions and impulses. People who self-regulate typically don't allow themselves to become too angry or jealous, and they don't make impulsive, careless decisions. They think before they act. Characteristics of self-regulation are thoughtfulness, comfort with change, integrity and the ability to say no.

Examine how you react to stressful situations. Do you become upset every time there's a delay or something doesn't happen the way you want? Do you blame others or become angry at them, even when it's not their fault? The ability to stay calm and in control can help in difficult situations.

We can be cultivating emotional regulation by:

  • Practicing deep belly breathing
  • Observing how different emotions feel in your body
  • Notice what caused you to be triggered
  • Allowing emotional responses without judgement; allowing any and all emotions to pass through you while simply observing.

Self-Regulation doesn’t mean supressing of emotions. Suppressed emotions are simply emotions that you choose not to acknowledge therefore failing to act on them or expressing them in a healthy way. One fact you need to be aware of is that emotions can never be suppressed and ‘have’ to leak out in one way or the other so it makes no sense trying to suppress them.

Studies have shown that suppressing emotions actually endangers your health and well-being both physically and psychologically. Emotional suppression might decrease outward expressions of emotion but not the inner emotional experience. In other words, suppression doesn’t make the emotion go away, it just stays inside you causing more pain.

It’s because suppressed emotions are nothing but you carrying extra energy that you did not dissipate. Expressing anger, grief, frustration, and sadness is not always as easy in our culture as the expression of joy, excitement, and affection.

All things have a natural tendency to become more stable by releasing extra energy and you are no different. Suppressed emotions have to leak out so that you may become psychologically stable.

If we keep on suppressing our negative emotions they get buried in our subconscious which often results in mood swings, unexplained sadness, and mild depression, stress-related illness, all the way to substance abuse and suicide. If, in the future, we face any problem, we won’t just feel bad because of the current problem but also because of these suppressed emotions that we are holding on to.

Sometimes we are not able to consciously suppress our emotions because of the regularity with which they occur. We get so used to their presence that we no longer detect them. This is called emotional numbness. It’s like how a new piece of clothing makes you uncomfortable at first. But after some time you get so used to it that its presence doesn’t bother you anymore. That’s numbness.

Even though you’re no longer aware of these emotions you became numb to, whenever something bad happens in the future, they will resurface increasing the intensity of your bad emotions.

One study examined the association between emotion suppression and disease, in the study emotional suppression caused, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality over 12 years. It was found that people who repress their emotions are more likely to have disruptions in the normal balance of the stress hormone cortisol compared to people who freely express emotion.!po=59.0909

Candace B. Pert writes in Molecules of Emotion: “I believe all emotions are healthy, because emotions are what unite the mind and the body. Anger, fear, and sadness, the so-called negative emotions, are as healthy as peace, courage and joy. To repress these emotions and not let them flow freely is to set up dis-­integrity in the system, causing it to act at cross-purposes rather than as a unified whole. The stress this creates, which takes the form of blockages and insufficient flow of peptide signals to maintain function at a cellular level, is what sets up the weakened conditions that can lead to disease. All honest emotions are positive emotions.”

Empathy –

Empathy is another important element of emotional intelligence. Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you. People with empathy are good at recognizing the feelings of others, even when those feelings may not be obvious. As a result, empathetic people are usually excellent at coaching, listening and relating to others. They avoid stereotyping and judging too quickly, and they live their lives in a very open, honest way.

Many things that happen in our life can disrupt our emotional health. These can lead to strong feelings of sadness, stress, anxiety, embarrassed, resentful, shocked, trapped, worried, lost, depressed…  Even good or wanted changes can be as stressful as unwanted changes. These things include:

  • Being laid off from your job.
  • Having a child leave or return home.
  • Dealing with the death of a loved one.
  • Getting divorced or married.
  • Suffering an illness or an injury.
  • Getting a job promotion.
  • Experiencing money problems.
  • Moving to a new home.
  • Having a baby…

Can emotions affect the body? 

The link between body and mind is a two-way street. A serious illness can cause depression and when someone is depressed the whole body suffers (gastrointestinal system, endocrine system, cardiovascular system).

On the other side, people who enjoy emotional stability are better equipped to fend off diseases and enjoy better health during a chronic illness.

Here's a rundown of illnesses with strong ties to depression or anxiety.

Heart disease and depression

One recent study extending 13 years found that depressed patients were 4.5 times more likely than others to suffer a heart attack, and another found that depressed patients faced more than three times the risk of death shortly following an attack.

Loneliness can be just as damaging: In a study of 1,400 men and women with at least one severely blocked artery, the unmarried patients without close friends were three times as likely to die over the next five years.

Doctors don't know exactly why depression is so hard on the heart. Depression does seem to affect heart rhythm, and it makes the platelets in blood more likely to clump together to form blood clots.

Cancer and depression

In a remarkable study: Tracking 4,825 people ages 71 and older, researchers found that those who were chronically depressed for at least six years had an 88 percent greater risk of developing cancer within the next four years. The researchers speculated that depression fuels cancer by damaging T-cells and other parts of the body that fight the disease. (Of course, both cancer and chemotherapy may have biochemical effects that contribute to depression as well.)

One study of women with advanced breast cancer found that those who attended weekly support groups lived an average of 18 months longer than those who didn't. Although later studies did not find the same benefit, doctors agree that support groups can increase your quality of life.

Diabetes and depression

Depressed people are particularly vulnerable to type 2 diabetes. The good news is that treatment for depression seems to help people with diabetes control their blood sugar better.

Asthma and depression

Emotional stress seems to trigger asthma attacks in both children and adults and makes the disease more difficult to manage. Asthmatic children suffering from anxiety or depression need higher doses of medications and spend more time in the hospital than other asthmatic children. One study found that children who live with street violence and other threats were twice as likely as other children to show symptoms of asthma.

Depression may also lead to asthma attacks by hampering the immune system. Depressed people may be less capable of fending off viral respiratory infections, and such infections can trigger severe attacks. Finally, patients suffering from emotional distress may be less likely to monitor their breathing and take their medications.

Hypertension and depression

A landmark CDC study got its start in the early 1970s with thorough psychological testing of nearly 3,000 adults with normal blood pressure. When researchers checked the blood pressure and medical records of the subjects between seven and 16 years later, they spotted a remarkable trend: People suffering from either severe depression or anxiety at the start of the study were two to three times more likely than the others to develop hypertension.


  • Co-occurrence of Depression with Cancer: Awareness and Treatment Can Improve Overall Health and Reduce Suffering. National Institute of Mental Health..
  • Pennix, Brend W et al. Chronically Depressed Mood and Cancer Risk in Older Persons. Journal of the National Cancer Institute, vol 90, No. 24.
  • Rozanski, Alan et al. Impact of Psychological Factors on the Pathogenesis of Cardiovascular Disease and Implications for Therapy. Circulation.

Due to this mind-body connection, the way you think and feel and the deep-seated belief patterns you hold can all contribute to the development of disease. If you do not explore and deal with painful emotions, they can create an underlying sense of anxiety, depression, or anger that can physically disrupt the body’s natural ability to heal itself.

Coping with Life Stressors with Regular Relaxation

There are many effective relaxation practices to help you cope with the inevitable stress of life and minimize its impacts on your digestion and overall health:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Tai chi
  • Spending time in nature
  • Art
  • Gardening
  • Exercise especially walking
  • Humour
  • Guided imagery
  • Journaling

Using these mind-body approaches can help you regain control of your psycho-emotional health and create an environment within your body that supports health rather than disease.

Cancer-Prone Personality Types

  • Represses both positive and negative emotions.
  • Shows anger, resentment, or hostility towards others.
  • Takes on extra duties and responsibilities, even when they cause stress.
  • Reacts adversely to and does not cope well with life changes.
  • Is negative or pessimistic.
  • Becomes easily depressed or has feelings of hopelessness.
  • Worries often and excessively about others.
  • Feels the need for approval and to please others.

Cancer-Resistant Personality Type

  • Expresses emotions in a positive and constructive way.
  • Controls anger and resolves anger issues positively.
  • Knows when to say no, is able to keep boundaries.
  • Copes well with stress and feels in control of situations.
  • Is optimistic and hopeful.
  • Does not become easily depressed.
  • Seeks out and maintains social support networks.
  • Does not worry excessively.
  • Likes to please, but does not seek approval as an emotional crutch.


Cancer types related to lifestyle characters

When looking at specific cancers (breast, prostate, lung) it has been documented that there is a specific lifestyle character/personality to people suffering the respective cancer.
Sometimes referred to as a higher level of psychology, this approach examines how thought processes and habits affect meridian lines and cause a physical representation in specific organs in the body. These connections are only theorised however, some say that they are present in as much as 80% of patients. Addressing this with patients must be done carefully, to not accuse them of a certain belief. It is important to remember that although we may see something different to the patient, perception can alter any situation from negative to positive. Therefore, treatment focuses around self-awareness.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer patients are commonly unable to fulfil expectations (remember these are things they perceive as expectations). They develop cancer when they cannot fulfil the expectations they are putting on themselves.
For instance: The expectation to be a good mother can cause stress when a child dies, making the mother feel as if she was unable to fulfil her duty.
Left sided breast cancer in right-handed patients is commonly associated with the loss of a male figure in their life that they believed had expectations they were able to fulfil.

Prostate cancer

Prostate cancer patients commonly perceive that they are unable to be as good as or fulfil the expectations of their father or father figure. It is common that the father figure is idolised and the patient’s own expectations are not met in prostate cancer patients.

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is linked with the inability to perform one’s duty. This duty can commonly be work related. Pancreatic cancer can come about when a patient’s life work is no longer of value. Often these people work all their lives and are very proud of their business until a situation arises (such as the loss of the inheriting son) and the business loses all emotional value. Therefore, their sense of duty is unfulfilled.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is due to a severe lack of security. It has been documented that in places where invasions caused populations to lose their homes, belongings and livelihoods there is an increased level of ovarian cancer. This meridian line is also linked with kidney, uterus, cervical, ovarian and kidney cancer.


Melanoma has been connected with disgust to a situation. These patients commonly have quite high ideals of what is right and not right. They develop cancer due to the long-term exposure to a ‘not right’ situation.


Further studying but not required: 

Book: Choose Wonder over Worry by Amber Rae

Book: When the Body Says No by Naomi Klein

Book: You can heal your life by Louise Hay