When Hillary Clinton was named the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, it was marked by numerous expressions of joy, pride, apprehension and anger — all natural on the spectrum of emotions we experience on a regular basis (and certainly during an election season).
But among supporters who cried or got chills and goosebumps, there’s a pretty reasonable question: Why do emotions lead to physical symptoms? Turns out, feelings aren’t just abstract thoughts. We have a physical reaction to our emotions as well — and it’s hardly within our control.
Research shows that we experience physical changes based on how we’re feeling. When it comes to so-called “happy” crying, the reaction is our body’s physical way of regulating overwhelming positive emotions. A 2015 study by Yale University found that shedding tears when we’re elated actually occurs because the body is calming itself down.
Physical reactions even vary by emotion. One 2014 study even mapped where they occur in the body. Scientists discovered that elated emotions — like love and happiness — consume our whole being, with the core of the reaction occurring in our chest through an increased heart rate.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
This is where we physically feel emotions in the body, according to researchers. And it’s not just happy, warm-and-fuzzy moments that spark a physical response.
Negative emotions can also prompt our bodies to behave in a visceral way.
The same 2014 body-mapping study also found that anger and anxiety are concentrated in the chest through rapid heartbeat. Shame is activated more in the brain. Rejection or hurt feelings may also induce an upper body response.
“Terms such as ‘heartache’ and ‘gut wrenching’ are more than mere metaphors. They describe the experience of both physical and emotional pain,” Robert Emery and Jim Coan, professors of psychology at the University of Virginia, explained to Scientific American. “In fact, emotional pain involves the same brain regions as physical pain, suggesting the two are inextricably connected.”
When it comes to the “Hillary moment,” specifically, another psychological process may be at play for those who have been fighting for equal representation. Researchers have long studied sexism and its influence on individual psyches: A 1999 cross-cultural analysis found that gender inequality can hurt a person’s economic and personal growth. Other research also suggests that it can lead to reduced life satisfaction for large groups of individuals. Clinton’s history-making nomination, in this sense, possibly had an immediate cognitive effect. Enter the tears.
In short, as long we have emotions, we’re going to have physical reactions to them. There’s a cocktail of processes occurring when one moment triggers a strong feeling. The human body is a magical (and sometimes uncontrollable) machine.
Source: Lindsay Holmes, Deputy Healthy Living Editor, The Huffington Post