Psychosomatics: The interplay between body and soul

15. August 2019

The term psychosomatics is composed of the two puzzle pieces psyche (soul) and soma (body). The two parts do not work independently, but are closely intertwined. In addition, our social environment also plays a major role in our well-being. Even the vernacular knows about the influence of the psyche on the body and already names two typical symptoms: “This is totally hitting me in the stomach” or “This problem is giving me a headache” are just two of the many phrases that pick up on this phenomenon

More and more, classical medicine is moving toward taking this interaction into account in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases and physical ailments.

Psychosomatics as a holistic form of treatment

Many physical symptoms or even chronic illnesses can be traced back to psychological causes. Meanwhile, clinics have specialized in the psychosomatic form of treatment and justify their concept holistically: the focus is then on the mutual relationships between mental, physical and social factors. You can recognize such clinics by the addition “Special clinic for psychosomatic medicine”.

Indications of a psychosomatic illness

Patients with physical symptoms usually go to a general practitioner or specialist to find out the physical cause and initiate treatment accordingly. However, when it comes to psychosomatic complaints, treatment does not show lasting success. Patients often then find themselves on a long odyssey of doctor visits, diagnostic procedures and uncertainty. Various forms of treatment are then tried, medications are prescribed, the body is x-rayed. Yet often no clear physical cause can be established, let alone alleviate the suffering. Many patients are then left at a loss and despair.

It is then high time to broaden the perspective and look at the interaction of body and mind. Nowadays, more and more medical professionals are trained to take possible psychological triggers into account. It should be emphasized once again: Our body and our mind are two highly complex systems whose interaction plays an immense role in the development of health and illness.

Important: A helpful mental game is to imagine the psyche like a steam boiler in which there is sometimes more, sometimes less pressure. If there is too much pressure over a longer period of time, it must be released. The psyche looks for different valves for this. Sometimes these valves are in the psyche itself and express themselves in moods, thoughts and emotions, but sometimes these valves are in the body.

How do psychosomatic complaints arise?

Many people still find it difficult to accept the influence of the psyche on the body and not dismiss it as “psycho-babble” or “esotericism”. Therefore, doctors encounter resistance from time to time when they consider possible psychological triggers for physical complaints. The following causes often lead to psychosomatic complaints.

Chronic stress

When we are under constant stress over a long period of time, the concentration of the stress hormone cortisol increases in our body. Among other things, cortisol impairs our sleep, appetite and sense of pain. Physical complaints arise to which no clear organic cause can be assigned.

Personality traits

High anxiety can play a role in the development of psychosomatic illness. Some people are also naturally more sensitive to their body symptoms and worry about their health more quickly. This can increase the influence of the psyche on physical symptoms.

Social isolation and withdrawal

Loneliness can make you sick. We are social beings who need contact with other people. If this contact is lost, the basic need for social interaction is not fulfilled. The body can react to this with complaints.

Traumatization

Although they are actually no longer present to us, traumas can continue to have an effect in the subconscious. If these are unprocessed, they may appear in the form of physical symptoms.

Important: The psychological causes of their complaints are sometimes not obvious to patients. Our psyche influences us in many cases from the subconscious and their condition must be carefully worked through. More on this in the section on the treatment of psychosomatic diseases.

“Psycho-somatic or somato-psychic?”

Physical diseases such as cancer, heart, circulatory or respiratory diseases can psychic concomitants (eg, depression or anxiety) entail. Although these are not strictly speaking psychosomatic diseases, these symptoms are nevertheless treated in psychosomatic institutions.

Primary mental illnesses are also often accompanied by physical symptoms. A depression, anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder also affects the physical condition. Sleep disorders, gastrointestinal complaints or migraines are particularly common in this case. One then speaks of psychosomatic complaints in the narrower sense, since the psychological trigger is known.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus often has psychosomatic causes. It is usually preceded by a so-called hearing loss, in which the hearing suddenly decreases and the above-mentioned hearing sensations occur.

Pain disorders

If patients complain of severe pain, regardless of the area of the body, but there is no physical cause, the pain syndrome can be assumed to have a psychosomatic origin.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia (binge eating), or binge eating disorder (overeating) can have a significant impact on the body.

Irritable bowel

Chronic stomach pain, constant diarrhea, and abdominal cramps that cannot be explained by food intolerances or physical causes have a strong psychological component.

Sleep disorders

Often the head can’t switch off and the thoughts are circling about the problems in everyday life and at work. Falling asleep and sleeping through the night is hardly possible and the result is exhaustion and dejection.

Dizziness

Dizziness attacks and circulation problems are sometimes not explained by physical causes such as low blood pressure. Then it is advisable to look at psychological factors such as the current stress level and other strains.

The treatment of psychosomatic complaints

Treatment in psychosomatic medicine is characterized by the principle of holism. In an interdisciplinary team, patients receive individualized care and their therapy plan is tailored to the specific disorder. The following therapy options are used in the treatment of psychosomatic procedures:

Psychotherapeutic procedures
Mental stress is worked through in talks with psychotherapists

Relaxation techniques (e.g. mindfulness or meditation) methods to reduce stress, which are also integrated into everyday life after treatment.

Nutritional training
A healthy diet contributes to well-being.

Art therapy
Art can be used as other forms of expression for mental processes find.

Sports therapy
Other forms of expression increasing one’s body awareness

Medical setting
Medical examinations ensure the correct and appropriate use of medications.

What can I do myself with psychosomatic complaints?

Even in everyday life, the building blocks of psychosomatic treatment can be integrated. For example, you can look for a relaxation training yourself, which is good for you in stressful times. Inspiration can be found, for example, at Youtube or in podcasts.

Sport is also elementary to bring body and mind into balance. The important thing is: the sport must be fun and should not become another obligation. Also, make sure you eat a wholesome diet – because you can only work on your recovery with the right energy intake.

Another tip is to be well aware of your own signs of too much stress or other strain. How does your body feel in such situations? What do your thoughts revolve around? How is your sleep? If you have a good look at yourself, overload can be prevented. When the first symptoms are noticed, appropriate countermeasures can be taken directly.

Network Psyche and Body

If you suspect that a psychological cause could lie behind your physical complaints or if your doctor has drawn your attention to this possibility, it makes sense to follow up this lead. With a treatment that addresses mental and physical aspects equally, the balance in the network psyche and body can be restored.

The new findings in psychosomatic medicine ultimately mean that the approach is no longer purely symptom-oriented. The causes of symptoms will increasingly be addressed on a larger scale. This makes treatment not only more effective, but also more sustainable and can improve symptoms in the long term

In conclusion, psychosomatic treatment as an opportunity

The psychosomatic approach requires a change in the habitual way of thinking that with physical symptoms, the cause is always in the body and an ointment, injection or medication will probably help. The psychosomatic approach offers new forms of intervention and gives many sufferers new hope for symptom relief. Hopefully, this article has helped you to change your perspective on health and illness a little and to better understand the interplay between psyche and body.

References

(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uJAYTPRHXZs

(2) https://www.podcast.de/podcast

(3) Wittchen, H. U., & Hoyer, J. (2006). Clinical psychology & psychotherapy (Vol. 1131). Heidelberg: Springer

(4) Fava, G. A., Guidi, J., & Sonino, N. (2016). The psychosomatic practice. Acta dermato-venereologica, 96(217), 9-13.

Friederike Reuver
Autor:in Friederike Reuver
"Die LIMES Schlosskliniken haben sich auf die Behandlung von psychischen und psychosomatischen Erkrankungen spezialisiert. Mit Hilfe des Blogs möchten wir als Klinikgruppe die verschiedenen psychischen Erkrankungen näher beleuchten und verschiedene Therapien sowie aktuelle Themen vorstellen."

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