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Sunday, December 12, 2010


In psychosomatic disorders, there are links between emotion, cognition, and physical symptoms (including pain). Examples where such links have been established are asthma, peptic ulcers, hypertension and skin rashes, where psychosomatic conditions may exacerbate the condition even if they do not cause them per se. These disorders are usually mediated via organs or organ systems that are innervated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Furthermore, many physical illnesses are now thought to have a psychological, more particularly an emotional, component (e.g. Robinson & Pennebaker, 1991). Pennebaker (e.g. 1990) has also reported some fascinating research showing that communicating ( by talking or writing) about our illnesses and negative emotional experiences may help to ameliorate them. Anxiety is thought to be at the root of many psychosomatic disorders. It is one of the most common emotions, and certainly contributes to many types of illness, physical or mental. At one level, it is a commonplace experienc and has had more theories offered to account for it than most other emotions (see McNaughton, 1996; Strongman, 1996). On another level, there is extreme anxiety. Imagine this. You suddenly start to tremble, shake and feel dizzy. Your heart is speeding up and slowing down uncontrollably and you have pains in your chest. You feel overwhelmingly hot and break out in a sweat and then you start to shiver with the cold. Your hands and feet start to tingle. You seem to be losing touch with reality and worry that you are having a heart attack or a breakdown. [panic attack sudden and apparently inexplicable experience of terror characterized by extreme physiological reactions, such as heart palpitations and feelings of impending doom] This is a panic attack – the extreme form of acute anxiety – and it is most unpleasant and disturbing. Any of us might have a panic attack under severe circumstances. We might ride it out and put it down to external factors that we are able to tackle. It then becomes an experience to l ok back on. But if we begin to worry about having more panic attacks, then we might be developing a panic disorder. This might lead us to start avoiding social situations that we believe might bring on an attack. We are then becoming agoraphobic.

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