Mental wealth: Rid yourself of the physical effects of negative emotions

Our resident psychologist says that upsetting emotions affect people physically, but shaking your whole body out can help release the tensions.

Dr Nick Baylis: on the physical effects of negative emotions
Dr Nick Baylis: on the physical effects of negative emotions

It might be a deeply troubling memory of an incident or a relationship, or something forthcoming about which you’re ill at ease; but whatever it is, the mere thought of it causes you some characteristic physical upset. 

Perhaps it’s a pressure in your head, an eye flicker, a throat pain, a skin rash, a stomach clench, a gut wobble, a knee shake.

Being part of the animal kingdom means that when things hurt us emotionally, we experience them in our body. Feelings are just that: highly physical… felt. And those feelings can get stuck.

To help release them, treat yourself to the simple but profound benefits of whole-body shaking and bouncing. This approach derives from the Chinese medicine and exercise system known as Qigong, meaning life-energy movement. The particular technique is called Shaking the Tree, but is commonly known as the Shaking Cure among African and Aboriginal cultures. 

You rhythmically shake your whole body as one, up and down, at varying tempos to suit your needs: anything from a light bounce to a fast and exhilarating shake, all as a means of vibrating out tensions literally being held in any part of your body: face, vocal chords, shoulders, stomach, guts.

After an emotional shock, any animal, including humans, will tremble spontaneously as their nervous system rebalances itself. It’s a natural, healthy, necessary response that the shaking technique is simply mimicking. This deliberate whole-body trembling is also akin to a vigorous form of improvised freestyle dancing, and results in much the same sense of wellbeing.

Emotions are catching, and because we all engage empathetically with emotionally charged individuals, we could all benefit greatly from routinely shaking out the ‘embodied emotions’ that are part and parcel of empathetic interpersonal encounters. An immediately helpful routine would be to shake first thing in the morning, before lunch, and when you get in from work. 

The shaking cure can have strong therapeutic uses: if while doing the technique you imaginatively rehearse in your mind’s eye any upsetting memories (or vividly picture future events that are causing you anxiety), the combination of that imagination and this physical remedy can considerably lessen the trouble those thoughts cause you, and will also improve how you deal with similar scenarios in real life.  

In much the same spirit, why not also consider the following innovation to revolutionise your relationship with work.

A standing desk, whereby your computer keyboard is brought to elbow height and your screen is elevated to eye level, so you stand comfortably upright while you type, phone and read. Ten minutes in and you’ll never go back. Being on your feet like this will bring out your confidence and dynamism; with the added benefit that your body shape will rise to the challenge.

It’s compulsory for all new office designs in Denmark to provide standing desks as an option; its health service was sick of treating back pains caused by sedentary lives. 

From an historical perspective, it’s likely that seated environments were a Victorian contrivance to render office workers and schoolchildren more passive and controllable. Two characteristics a healthy individual wants to avoid at all costs. 

In seated regimes, simply getting up and walking around becomes a privilege to be granted by those in authority. By contrast, pictures of libraries in that era show confident, well-to-do gentlemen reading at their standing lecterns. 

It’s quite a thought, isn’t it? How does it make you feel? Well, here’s a clear course of action: stand up to life and shake it.

Visit Nick’s website at

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