Anxiety, emotions and somatization: how do they work together?

Anxiety and emotional turmoil have curious and diverse ways of presenting themselves to us, many of which are usually not interpreted as such sometimes even if a specialist tells us.

Headache, abdomen, back, arms and legs, joints, chest… Nausea, dizziness, vomiting, ulcers, diarrhea … Difficulty swallowing, difficulty in breathing, skin disorders, hoarseness, memory loss … blindness, deafness …

How does our body react to anxiety?

Logically, when our body exhibits any of the above mentioned problems, the first thing should always be to exclude a physical origin; But, What happens when medical examinations do not find a cause for this symptomatology?

It is quite common in our social environment to identify the origin of headaches, muscle contractures or exhaustion as the consequences of exposing a person to a significant level of stress or due to a state of “ fallen soul ”.

However, there are many other physical symptoms that can indicate that a person is experiencing a high degree of anxiety or that they may even be going through a depressive episode.

Somatizations and their symptoms

According to the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), one of the world’s most prestigious diagnostic manuals, published by the American Psychiatric Association, all of the symptoms described in the previous paragraph, and a few more, may appear in a picture of somatomorphic disorderThat is to say a disorder which is characterized by the appearance of physical symptoms but the origin of which is not an organic alteration, but which is due to a certain number of psychosocial problems, which are somatically exteriorized.

It is estimated that around 25% to 75% of visits to the primary care physician are in fact due to various somatomorphic disorders. However, it is also common that many such patients do not accept that the source of their discomfort is not organic disease, so their adherence to treatments is generally low.

The Spanish Society of Psychiatry declared in 2015 that somatomorphic disorders had a prevalence of 28.8%, Only overtaken by affective disorders (35.8%), and closely followed by anxiety disorders (25.6%).

Anxiety prevention and emotional management

It seems clear that poor anxiety management or poor emotional regulation can be the root cause of somatization. And that seems to be one of the great evils of our time.

Typically, people learn to deal with frustrations and stressful events as they age and become adults; from the youngest age, boys and girls have to deal with their emotional development, their socialization process, And the formation of their identity and their self-esteem.

In this way, you learn that you don’t always get what you want, that I can’t always do what I love, that I have to share affections, spaces and objects, that I must strive to achieve what I want. I should trust myself to believe that I can achieve my goals, and gradually assume that I have to abide by a set of rules which are mostly imposed, but which I ultimately understand as necessary to achieve some harmony when living with them. other.

Tools to overcome the demands of everyday life

Now obstacles don’t just appear when we learn to dodge – nor do frustrations disappear when we learn to tolerate; in fact, adulthood is often a difficult path in which stressful life events often occur and not a few situations in which our goals are in jeopardy or not achieved.

If the evolutionary development at the socio-emotional level has facilitated the acquisition of tools to adapt to stressful situations and tolerate frustrations (loss of job, break-up, suffering from a serious illness, car accident, loss of loved one, difficulty in reconciling personal, work and family life, failure to meet vital expectations, difficulty adapting to new situations …), people often go out and keep moving forward, even though they sometimes have need professional help on time.

But if on the other hand these tools were not acquired at the time, then there will be no ability to tolerate frustration successfully, and skills to deal with emotions, so the first hurdle major that arises is very doable. This anxiety arises, and if it is not properly controlled, a pattern of avoidance or paralysis that will inevitably lead to suffering from a psychological disorder.


Dealing with somatization issues is difficult because, as we pointed out earlier, many people who suffer from it are rooted in the fact that their symptoms, being physical, must have a physical cause.

Others are reluctant to have a professional psychologist intervene and end up being chronic anti-anxiety and antidepressant users, or going to pain services relatively often; but the truth is that their problems do not improve, although pharmacology relieves them in the short term.

It is clear that psychotherapy is the most useful alternative, perhaps supplemented by pharmacological treatment which acts on the physical symptoms, because it allows the person to understand what and why their somatic discomfort occurs in the absence of organic origin.

Work on the cause of anxiety, on the cognitive patterns involved in the perception of stressful situations, facilitate stress coping strategies, relaxation techniques, skills to manage emotions more effectively, promote positive self-esteem … of course that means more effort and time for those who suffer from somatization, but there is no doubt that it is more effective to focus on what generates the physical symptoms than to simply act indefinitely on them as a short term relief, and never ending real problem. .

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