Physical Responses to Emotional Experiences

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) says this (among other things), about physiological changes associated with emotion:

The most obvious signs of emotional arousal involve changes in the activity of the visceral motor (autonomic) system. Thus, increases or decreases in heart rate, cutaneous blood flow (blushing or turning pale), piloerection [JS note: aka “goose bumps], sweating, and gastrointestinal motility can all accompany various emotions.

The NLM goes on to explain that “These responses are brought about by changes in activity in the sympathetic, parasympathetic, and enteric components of the visceral motor system, which govern smooth muscle, cardiac muscle, and glands throughout the body.”

When musing about the body’s response to certain emotional triggers, blushing and tears (crying) came immediately to mind. As I considered the contents of the NLM article, which I only skimmed, I began to appreciate the complexity of the relationship between the mental and physical components of consciousness. And a quote in the article, attributed to American physiologist Walter Cannon  (1871-1945), helped me more fully understand that various emotions and the body’s responses to them take precedence over others: “The desire for food and drink, the relish of taking them, all the pleasures of the table are naught in the presence of anger or great anxiety.” One of my favorite concepts, the idea that context plays an enormous role in virtually all of our experiences, comes into even sharper focus as I think about Cannon’s observation. A story I recall writing quite a while ago illustrates this point. The response by a male character to the behavior of another character, a woman, differs dramatically between two situations. In the first, in which the two characters are in a social setting, the woman touches the man’s arm during their conversation. The man does not react, physically, but thanks to the omniscient narrator, we know he is, emotionally, extremely excited by her innocent touch.  In the second situation, in which the two of them are alone, her touch on his arm prompts him to pull her close and kiss her passionately. [As it turns out, he misinterpreted her touch as an overture, which, we learn, it was not. His deep embarrassment about his misreading prompted him to disappear, permanently. The story is too long and involved to continue explaining here…]

As is often the case, I do not know why the body’s physical responses to emotional incitements was on my mind. But, as usual, I allowed that random thought to guide my curiosity this morning.  It’s interesting, what a persons sometimes finds, when curiosity is allowed freedom to pursue answers.


I had a strange dream early this morning. I returned to my house from being away for a week or more, to find that children from across the street had dug a deep hole in my back yard, uncovering some sort of electric-powered pump that seemed to have a role in my swimming pool (which was never visible in the dream). Through a series of interchanges with the kids and, then, the tall and imposing father of one of them, I became highly agitated. I expressed outrage that the kids had the gall to dig up the pump without my knowledge or consent. The father dismissed my anger as an overreaction. The interchange escalated. I demanded that the hole be filled, returning my yard to the state it was in before my departure. Next, some men from the “water department” were in my yard. The tall neighbor had called them. He had accused them of being idiots when they told him they were going to fill the hole and charge him for it. That aspect of the dream seems to dissolve at that point, replaced by a friend from my youth (who looked the same as he did in high school) who wanted my help in staging his furniture on his screened front porch (he had just moved in from out of state). Among the things he wanted: to borrow some of my furniture from my front porch; to have me help him put his couch on my roof so he could have a better “view.” I suggested that putting the couch on my roof would require some construction adjustments; otherwise, the couch would slide off…and I did not want to invest in construction that could cause my roof to leak. The dream seems to have ended about then. Both aspects of the dream worried me (the unconscious me, not the conscious, cognizant, fully aware me). I was afraid of being physically attacked by the tall neighbor. I was afraid of upsetting my high school friend who was just moving in. Odd. Truly odd.


I have developed a bit of a crush on Laura Ramos, a Cuban actress who plays Gladys, Nelson’s mother, in Wrong Side of the Tracks. No, not really. It’s not a crush. I just find her character quite attractive. Vivacious. Energetic. Physically alluring. Her smile is beautiful. And her teeth… There’s something about her teeth that I find fascinating. At 44 years old, she is a veteran actress, having acted in television, film, and theatre since she was 21. Already, in her youth, has had a 23 year acting career. Ramos is not the only appealing actor in Wrong Side of the Tracks. José Coronado, Luis Zahera, Nona Sobo (a Spanish-born actress of Thai ethnicity) , Maria de Nati, and others do nice jobs of engaging viewers in the show’s plot. The show is two seasons long, with 24 episodes. We have quite a few left to watch. I like having interesting programs awaiting my focused viewing.


Today, I shall spend most of the day paying some attention to the smoker. It will be jammed with future meals for at least six hours. When it’s all done, I will be able to freeze quite a few protein-rich main courses, making the preparation of dinners in the coming weeks an easy, satisfying undertaking. For now, though, I will have something simple for breakfast.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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