Suppressing your emotions can be incredibly bad for your health

Life is full of emotional distress. Emotional stress can be quite challenging. The pressure to succeed in our relationships and at work can evoke uncomfortable combinations of emotions.

Many people don’t have a healthy relationship with their emotions. And more often than not, they choose to repress negative emotions— they don’t know how to relate to them or what to do with them.

Instead of processing these emotions, most of us subconsciously learn to avoid them or push the discomfort away. But even when we do, it always stays. Hiding emotions is something we all do very often. We silence the pain and bottle up our anxiety, fear, and anger.

Psychologists argue hiding and repressing our emotions only makes it worse. People who regularly refuse to deal with their emotions honestly can have more interpersonal challenges.

Studies show that the more you hold something back or try to force it away, the stronger it becomes. Neuroscience suggests that the more emotions and conflicts a person experiences, the more anxiety they feel.

Hiding your feelings has a high cost. A study from the University of Texas found that when we avoid our emotions, we’re actually making them stronger — this can create serious implications for your body and mind. Bottling up emotions can make people more aggressive,” according to the research.

To confront or cope with our negative emotions, some people calm themselves with excessive work, food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, or something else they hope will give them a temporary lift or help them escape or run from themselves. To avoid feeling negative emotions, we pursue distractions. “If you view negative emotions as something you shouldn’t have to experience, you will naturally resist them,” argues Scott Jeffrey, founder of CEOsage.

Repressed emotions can destroy our relationships, and make us miserable. “In other words, deciding to bury your feelings, ignore them, internalize them, pretend they didn’t happen, or convince yourself that there is no need to deal with them can literally make you sick from the stress,” says Emily Roberts, M.A., LPC a psychotherapist.

Express your emotions by talking about them, writing about them, redirecting them to the right people

The more vulnerable you are — both with yourself and others — the better. Researchers call this the “beautiful mess effect” — other people view our vulnerability more positively than we do. Sharing your feelings may seem like a weakness to you, to others it seems courageous and builds trust and connection. If something feels way off, don’t be scared to get help.

Start listening to your emotions. The faster we move through life, the less we feel. As we slow down, pausing occasionally, we can “stop and see” what’s going on. Simply acknowledging your emotion reduces the intensity of them, making them easier to manage.

“When you identify what is bothering you — “I’m feeling stressed right now” — your frontal lobe gets to work. That brain region helps with problem-solving, finds solutions, and validates your experience, which can help you start to feel better,” explains Emily.

Tune in to the feeling state in your body (anger, sadness, frustration, fear, grief, depression, or shame), and learn to focus your attention on the overall feeling. Embracing it with full awareness and relax the tendency to judge or react to the emotion. Just be with whatever you’re feeling, and calmly allow the emotional energy to flow. Keep paying attention to the emotion in a relaxed, centered space. After a while, the raw energy of the emotion is set free, explains Scott.

It’s uncomfortable to face negative feelings or emotions, but a better understanding of it can improve the overall quality of your life. Developing a healthy self-awareness of your emotions can help you manage it.

This article first appeared on Medium.

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