di Claudia Venturino, psicologa, psicoterapeuta e psicodrammatista
For many centuries philosophy and medicine considered mind and body as two separate entities; Plato was the first strong defender of this dualistic position: soul and body are two different and independent substances. Yet daily we experience how flawed that thesis can be. When we struggle to concentrate on our work because of a toothache or when we get tummy-aches before a test it seems evident that mind and body are not separate entities at all.
As our mind is conditioned by physical wellness or discomfort, so feelings and emotions produce certain repercussions on the organism. Such bodily manifestations can range from an episodic headache during a tense situation, up to real complex pathologies called psychosomatic disorders.
Psychosomatic disorders can be divided into two subgroups: primary and secondary. In the first ones a biological dysfunction originates the disease while the psychological component affects the pathology, strengthening the existing symptom.
In secondary psychosomatic disorders, instead, no biological dysfunction can be proven as the origin of the symptoms; emotional conflicts constitute the triggering element of the somatic symptoms. This way one can develop serious diseases such as anorexia.
Allergic manifestations belong to the first group: the triggering event is to be found in a biological element, the allergen, yet emotions play an important part when the symptom manifests itself or persists.
The allergic experience is a true defensive strategy towards external substances that are read by the organism as extremely dangerous and problematic; they can create unconscious links with painful or conflictive events from our past. A recent study from the US(1) demonstrated that stress and anxiety modulate the intensity of an allergic attack and can amplify the symptoms, making the attacks more aggressive and lasting through time. Researchers believe that a small tension is sufficient to seriously worsen allergic reactions, even very common ones.
But we have good news: as negative emotions can worsen allergic symptoms, positive ones can make it better! A Japanese immunologist conducted the following study(2): starting from that assumption he observed the effects of positive emotions on subjects affected by allergic rhinitis or by atopic eczema, like listening to Mozart, watch a comedy, make love, kissing and allowing to be cuddled. The conclusion was that such situations heal allergies. The explanation for this lies in those substances produced by our immune system when stimulated by pleasant experiences. Cuddles and laughs can then represent a pleasant way for getting closer to a final cure for allergies.