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Preksha Dhyana: Human Body Part II (Health Care): [11] Maintain Emotional Health

Published: 28.04.2010
Updated: 02.07.2015

So far, in this book, we have dealt with the physical and physiological aspects of the human body. Apart from giving some basic knowledge of the structural and functional organization of nervous system, little has been said about our mental states and tendencies. Various aspects of the disease and the disorder of the digestive and other important systems have been discussed together with the needs of health care. While dealing with the endocrine system interaction between feeling and behaviour has been briefly discussed. And the role of emotional upsets as a component of the cause of various illnesses has been pointed out occasionally. However, the influence of emotional crisis on our mental and emotional health and behaviour merits examination in greater details.

The Limbic System

It has now been established that symptoms of disorders such as peptic ulcers, insomnia, palpitations, spasms, asthma etc. can result from emotional rather than physical causes. 'Psychosomatic[1] illnessness' is the medical term for the dysfunction of the somatic organs resulting from mental or emotional disorder. Obviously, therefore, care and maintenance of physical health necessitates care and maintenance of mental and emotional health.

Our thoughts and actions are influenced to one degree or another by emotions. Love and hate, envy, revenge, selfishness and altruism—all these play an important part in our behavioural patterns.

The portions of the brain mainly concerned with emotions lie in an integrated network called the limbic system which includes the thalamus, the hypothalamus, part of the reticular formation, limbic region of the cerebral cortex and some other areas of the brain.[2]

It is the limbic system that colours our mental states and emotions. Its function might be considered as the maintenance of a sort of emotional homeostasis—it recognizes disturbances of mental equilibrium—resulting from the primal drives of hunger or sex, a danger or threat or a less tangible worry or disappointment. The emotional "tag" that this system places on such upsets helps the higher brain to recognize the problems and take steps to restore equilibrium.

In animals, the limbic system provides a set of instincts, i.e. automatic reactions to the informations gathered by their senses from the environment. Primal drives are the unlearned instincts—hunger, sex, anger, fear and aggression. They not only generate feelings but also command appropriate action that satisfies the need. Animals just act out instinctive rituals of eating, courtship and fighting. In human beings, reasoning and learning—functions of the higher brain—are given a greater importance. Man, also, does feel angry, hungry and sexually aroused. But he can modify his action. Because he has the reasoning mind, man can control his responses to the insistence of the instinctive drives, with rational decisions made in the higher brain. Other emotional responses based on equally powerful feelings not necessarily instinctive but learned, interact with the basic feelings. They may reinforce a primal drive or countermand it. Sometimes the emotional promptings of the limbic system may clash with rational decisions. Frequent struggle between the limbic system and the higher brain can cause conflicts that are finally expressed in psychosomatic ailments.

Uniqueness of Man

According to the theory of evolution, man represents the culmination of the process of evolution. Human mind and personality are unique and constitute the highest product yet achieved by the cosmos. In many respects, no doubt, man is also an animal like any other. But possession of some basic human characteristics makes him a very peculiar and in many ways a unique animal. Two unique characteristics of man are more relevant to our discussion than other. The first is his reasoning mind, his capacity for conceptual thinking and rational decisions, and the second is the relative unification of his mental processes as against the much more rigid compartmentalization of animal mind and behaviour. Animal behaviour is essentially irrational and arbitrary due to the rigidity of their instincts. Human behaviour, on the other hand, being relatively free from arbitrary canalization of instincts, is likely to show more rationality instead of irrationality. Abandonment of rigidity of instincts and the provisions of association-mechanism by which any activity or mood, whether in the spheres of knowing, feeling or willing, can be brought into relation with any other, brings about unified mental control for man.

Psychological conflicts Produce Distortions

Unfortunately, for man the unified control is not a pure blessing. The advantages derived from the mental unity are mixed up with emotional conflicts and inevitable tensions. Conflicts result from a clash between two dominating but opposing impulses simultaneously demanding action. They may also result from, as mentioned above, incompatibility between the insistence of the limbic system and the rational decisions. The result may be sheer inaction or mental tension. Other animals are not susceptible to mental tension, because a single urge at a time takes command over its machinery of action. Alas! such an easy way out is not available to man due to the existence of the hidden unconscious component in the human mind. Thus man is perhaps the only organism, inevitably subject to harmful neurosis.

The mechanism normally available to man for minimising conflict is forcible banishment of one of the two opposing impulses to the realm of unconscious mind and the very process of banishment is itself unconscious. From the darkness of the sub-conscious dungeon, the frustrated but self-assertive emotion would persist in form of crude urges to violent aggression and cruelty which is all the more dangerous for not being consciously recognised. Thus the roots of irrational fear, hate, cruelty, retaliation and such other emotional distortions and disorders lie in the process called 'repression' by psychologists. Repeated conflicts and frequent 'repression' inflict lasting distortions on the psyche and produce undesirable and evil determiners of human behaviour such as cruelty, vindictiveness, militarism etc., and result in imbalance of emotional homeostasis. Many of the mental illnesses such as neurosis, psychosis, schizophrenia and manic-depressive psychosis can be traced back to emotional crisis. Some forms of mental illness can lead to an inability to function or ultimately to suicide. Some other forms manifest themselves as psychosomatic disorders, which themselves, in turn, result in serious somatic diseases. Thus the search for causes and cure of all illnesses ends in the imbalance of the emotional homeostasis and its rational treatment.

The Cause

Significant progress in endocrinology, in the recent years, has established that all the emotions and impelling driving forces are generated by the synthesization of the chemical messengers called hormones and neuro-hormones secreted by the endocrine system and special cells of the nervous system. Microscopic amounts of these powerful chemicals are released in the blood- stream and participate not only in every bodily function but profoundly influence the mental tendencies of an individual. The primal—unlearned—instincts are meant to be aids to survival and self-preservation by nature; but intense and conflicting instincts are not only, embarrassing but can sometimes be harmful. And as we have seen, unconscious repression of these forces could be even more dangerous. Repression, therefore, has no positive value, as a method for establishing emotional balance. Recreation from games and sports provides one kind of emotional outlet, e.g. playing football.or climbing mountains could provide excellent outlets for ventilating anger. An erotic urge may be sublimated into higher creative activities like painting, music, exploration or research. Canalisation of aggressive urges into conscious constructive channels or sublimation of the 'libido' into higher type of creative activities, are desirable and beneficial antidotes to the poison of repression. They are, however, incapable of a permanent prevention of the recurrence of distortion producing conflicts. Conscious reasoning and rational judgment alone can prevent the relegation of the conflict-producing urges to the dungeons of subconscious to become psychological dynamite. For the maintenance of emotional health, development of sound conscious reasoning and strong rational judgement is necessary. Progressive development of the reasoning mind—the unique attribute of "mankind - would purge out the repressive forces which distort the rational behaviour. As stated above, endocrine products are the prime movers which generate the powerful forces of all the instincts and urges, passions and emotions in man. Human behaviour under emotional stress, anxiety and conflict is governed by the synthesization qf hormones. Hence the remedy for emotional diseases lies in the transmutation of hormones.

... and the cure

Systematic meditational practice has the power to produce changes in the electrical activity of the nervous system as well as transmute the synthesization of the secretion of the endocrine system. This has now been established by the use of bio-feedback and other scientific measuring equipments. Meditation was until recently looked upon as an item of Eastern mysticism. But it has now been irrefutably proved by scientific observations that the meditative state produces symptoms that are diametrically opposite to those produced during the state of stress and emotional upset. And since hypertension and other psychosomatic illnesses are caused by frequent triggering of stress mechanisms, meditational practices can prevent and cure such illnesses. Meditational practice is not an irrational, emotional or religious experience but a deliberate mental operation of psycho-analysis. It is, in fact, a form of psycho-therapy for eradicating the forces which produce and would continue to produce psychological distortions, emotional crisis, mental disorders and irrational behaviour, if not destroyed. It is a "process of remedying inner- incompleteness and reducing inner discord" as aptly stated by William James.


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Published by:
Jain Vishva Bharati
Ladnun-3 41 306 (Rajasthan) Editor: Muni Mahendra Kumar © Jain Vishva Bharati Edition: May, 1993 Typeset by: 
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Sardarpura, Jodhpur
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Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Amygdala
  2. Anger
  3. Body
  4. Brain
  5. Cerebral Cortex
  6. Endocrine System
  7. Environment
  8. Fear
  9. Hypothalamus
  10. Meditation
  11. Thalamus
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