For some time now, what we think of as modern medicine tended to see little connection between a person’s mental or emotional state and their physical condition. The focus was on the biology and the chemistry. This is understandable both because science got more skilled at seeing, measuring, analyzing, and identifying what happens in the body and because for centuries medicine only offered vague ideas about “miasmas” or “humors” as a diagnosis.
But over the last couple decades, there has been a growing sense that the state or condition of someone’s mind and emotions has a huge impact on their physical health and well-being. Some of this change comes from the influences of eastern medicine and some from the growing interest in preventative care, and some from the fact that diagnostic tools can measure things we couldn’t see before.
For example, science now understands that stress and panic can contribute to heart problems. They know for example that stress and panic in a person’s mind and emotions leads directly to the body releasing adrenaline and something called cortisol. These powerful hormones cause the heart to beat much faster, blood vessels to expand or get smaller, and other bodily reactions.
We’ve all had that sudden scare, whether a car accident or a loud noise startling us and we know how draining it can be physically. We recall that it took many minutes before our pulse rate went back to normal and we were able calm down. Then there’s rage and anger, also closely tied to stress and panic; these also release adrenaline and cortisol.
If this release happens only rarely, then it probably will not be a problem, but if this flood of hormones is chronic, happening all of the time because we’re stressed, worried, angry or enraged, then over time it will cause heart problems—it will affect the body.
I could go on about how our bodies act and react whether someone is grieving, depressed, discontented, or guilty. My point is that our thoughts and emotions have a direct impact on our bodies and our physical well-being.
I thought about this a lot lately within the context of the “body politic.” As far as the dictionary goes, “body politic” is defined as “a group of persons politically organized under a single governmental authority.” Others have defined it as “the people of a nation, state, or society considered collectively as an organized group of citizens.”
I like to think of the body politic like our physical bodies of bones, nerves, and organs; as comparable to our institutions both formal and informal, along with our laws, customs, structure of government, media, industry and the processes by which these all work i.e., our metabolism. For me, the question is how our collective thoughts and emotions will impact the body politic.
We’ve just been through one of the hardest years any of us could remember topped off with a divisive election that brought to a head the baggage of the last four years. I was a young teen in 1968, the year most often used as a point of comparison when thinking about 2020. It took years to recover from 1968.
What I suspect is that the body politic has had its form of adrenaline and cortisol coursing through its veins for the last few years. Our immune system is quite possibly attacking the very body it’s supposed to protect. We need a rest now because if we’re not careful, this chronic flood of adrenaline and cortisol to the body politic will kill us.