3 Reasons Why You Should Stop Bottling Up Emotions & Begin Expressing

Emotions are a natural part of being human. They’re an essential aspect of any relationship. Bottling up emotions can be one of the worst things you do to yourself.  If you’ve had some bottled-up anger or frustration for too long, this article will help you understand why it’s so important to express your emotions and how it can actually improve your mental health.

Do you feel uncomfortable with ‘negative’ emotions like anger, jealousy, or sadness but always choose to hold them in instead of letting them out? If so, you’re not alone. So many of us choose to bottle up our emotions instead of simply letting them be. The rationale behind doing this is usually that we don’t want others to see our weak points, or we don’t want to admit to ourselves that we’re not perfect and happy all the time.

Repression Vs. Suppression

Repression is unconsciously hindering negative impulses and desires, whereas suppression is consciously holding back the negative thoughts and emotions from coming out. For example, a person represses their anger by denying that they loath a specific person and consistently misleads themselves by masking their real feelings. In contrast, a person suppresses their anger if they are aware that they are mad and intentionally try to push their feelings down by distracting themselves, like inhaling and exhaling deeply to release the anger and avoid facing a conflict.

In addition, repression is processed by the subconscious mind, while suppression is processed by the conscious mind. Hence, when not addressed, repressed feelings sometimes manifest in ways that seem uncontrollable by the person suffering from repression. Both repression and suppression are coping mechanisms.

Bottling up your emotions is also known as emotional suppression and poses a severe mental and physical health risk. It’s human nature to avoid negative emotions and only want to experience positivity, but that’s unrealistic. What’s also unrealistic is the picture we paint of happy and healthy people, as though they’re happy because they don’t have difficult emotions.

The truth is that people who are healthy in mind and body can accept their emotions as a natural part of being human. Instead, they don’t fight them but accept them for what they are and then healthily and compassionately let them go.

Those who struggle to accept and let go of emotions and keep them inside put their health at risk. Bottling up your emotions leads to an increased risk of stress-related mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety, and physical issues such as inflammation and persistent body aches and pain. Learning how to take a healthier approach to difficult emotions is crucial if you want to keep your health and well-being in check.

If you’re someone who struggles with emotional suppression, then read on. In this article, we’ll help you release those bottled-up emotions and get on the right path towards a healthy mind and body free from emotional suppression. First, let’s take a closer look at the dangers of bottling up our emotions.

Why do we bottle up our emotions?

Guilt and shame

Sometimes we keep our emotions bottled up inside because we feel guilty for having them. We may have learned that some emotions, particularly anger, are ‘not ok.’ It may be that a parent or other caregiver berated us for exhibiting signs of anger when we were young. So we learned to bottle up this natural and often misunderstood emotion to avoid punishment or ensure we got the love and affection we needed.

Related: What Causes Guilt And How To Stop Feeling Guilty In Practical Ways

Stigma

Another reason why so many of us bottle things up is the stigma that surrounds that mental health. It’s unfortunate, but many people judge, criticize and speak negatively of others who let out their negative and distressing emotions around others.

For example, a man in an office might feel anxious and sense an oncoming panic attack. He has to leave his desk and tell his boss that he is not feeling well and will need to take a break for an hour. His coworkers overhear him explaining his situation to his boss and criticize him for being ‘weak’ or call out the boss for being unfair because they don’t get to take an hour’s break. The next day when that man comes into work, he might face judgment and criticism from others.

bottling up emotions

These days the stigma around mental health issues is lifting, but it’s not gone completely. It’s more important than ever to continue breaking the stigma and speaking openly about our mental health, including all of our negative and uncomfortable emotions.

Consistency

Emotional suppression happens a lot in relationships. It’s as though we want our partners to see us as a perfect and flawless person – the perfect partner for them – so that they’ll be happy to continue with the relationship.

In the early days of any relationship, feelings of new love and excitement give us an extra glow and make us more adventurous, confident, outgoing, and relaxed. However, sooner or later, as we get more comfortable with our partner, some negative emotions are bound to come up.

Our partner may have never seen us angry or jealous before, and we feel that we’re not pleasant to be around when those feelings arise, so we try our best not to let them see that side of us. We want to be the same person we were when they met us, not realizing that we have different sides to us, and they do as well.

Here’s why you shouldn’t bottle up your emotions

Pent-up feelings are like a ticking time bomb. Bottling things up serves the immediate but temporary purpose of relief from difficult emotions and feelings, but sooner or later, those emotions have to rise to the surface. We can only hold in so much before we have to let it out eventually.

The danger with not healthily expressing emotions but instead trying to avoid, escape or distract ourselves from them is that, in the long term, the consequences of doing so usually far outweigh the negative aspects of accepting and releasing them in the first place.

If, when a difficult or uncomfortable emotion comes up, you accept it and let it be part of your experience, it may lead to further negative emotions, deep sadness, overwhelm, fear, or even embarrassment. However, all of these feelings are temporary and are highly unlikely to ruin your life or turn you into a social outcast.

On the other hand, the consequences of emotional suppression are much longer-lasting. They may take some time to cause a noticeable problem, but under the surface, your mental and physical health follows a downward path to prolonged stress, pain, depression, anxiety, and even despair. 

The health risks associated with emotional suppression

Emotional suppression leads to a prolonged stress response, which is toxic to the body. Stress has long been associated with physical health issues like chronic pain and inflammation, heart disease, obesity, and poor immune system functioning.

Psychological research also highlights the strong correlation between chronic stress and the onset and common but destructive mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety. A study published in the journal Behavior and Research Therapy explains that emotional suppression can serve a functional purpose at times but may also have ‘negative emotional and cognitive consequences, potentially becoming a development or maintenance factor in mental or physical ill-health.’

Emotional suppression and stress

The brain and body are designed to handle stress in short bursts. Think of our ancestors hunting for food in the wild. The sight of a lion on the horizon with its eyes fixed on the hunter is a signal to him that he is in danger.

The sight of the dangerous lion elicits a response in the brain, in a small almond-shaped structure called the amygdala, to activate the body’s nervous system in a way that will help them survive the threat. Stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released in large amounts and help the heart pump extra blood around the body, prepare the muscles for action so they can run away fast, and ultimately ensure their survival.

When we frequently suppress our emotions, we place our brain and body under a lot of stress. The emotions we choose to suppress are typically strong and overwhelming, so we figure it’s best to try to avoid them altogether. However, emotions have a physical aspect to them and require attention and acceptance to release them. If we don’t allow them to release but instead hold them in, the body reacts. Our heart rate rises, our breathing gets tight, and our blood pressure rises. When this keeps happening, we put our bodies at risk of illness.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms

Suppressing emotions at any stage of life can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms in adulthood, including toxic relationships, substance misuse and abuse, and self-harm. Instead of processing emotions in a healthy way, some of us choose to suppress them through behaviors that make us feel good or relieved, albeit temporarily.

Once that relief inevitably wears off, we are faced once again with the emotions from which we tried to escape. What’s worse is when suppressed, emotions tend to come back stronger the next time around. One might enter a vicious cycle of emotional suppression, unhealthy coping, the return of the now even more overwhelmingly strong emotions, and further engagement in the coping mechanism. In some cases, this can lead to drug dependence and addiction, which can be fatal if left untreated.

Related: What Are Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms And How To Develop Healthy Habits

How do I stop bottling up my emotions?

Once you understand that emotional suppression leads to more destructive consequences than the emotions themselves, you’ll likely want to get started on releasing all of the emotions you’ve pent up over time. It’s important to take things slowly at first – you don’t want to overwhelm your nervous system with years of bottled-up emotions all at once. Read the tips and advice below to help you get started on slowly but surely releasing your held emotions and learn how to stop bottling them up in the future.

Write

Sometimes emotional suppression comes from the fear or belief that nobody will understand or accept us if we try to express how we feel. That’s likely, not true – we have a lot more in common than you might think – but the belief can be so powerful that it keeps us locked inside ourselves. Still, you need to release your emotions, so if you’re not feeling ready to talk about them with others and haven’t been able to articulate them well in the past, try writing down how you feel.

Keeping a journal of our feelings and emotions is an effective means of self-reflection and can offer significant insight into the root causes of those emotions. The more we understand their roots, the easier it becomes to accept them and eventually even share them with others.

bottling up emotions

Engage in healthy coping mechanisms

Writing is an example of healthy coping mechanisms to help you deal with uncomfortable emotions, but it’s not the only one. You can approach and deal with emotions through exercise, meditation, therapy, and cultivating strong social connections.

Exercise has been found to improve mood and well-being and can increase emotional resilience in the face of difficulty. Meditation teaches us how to sit with our emotions without trying to change or escape from them. Healthy social bonds give us a sense of meaning and belonging that can create a feeling of love and support, two essential ingredients in staying healthy and happy.

Creative expression is also a great way to process and release negative emotions. Writing, painting, playing music, and even coloring can serve as outlets for negative emotions like anger and sadness and create an inner space for those feelings to be processed and better understood.

Own your life

Even though being alive means you have to deal with some challenging emotions from time to time, you also get to experience the wonder and beauty that life has to offer. You only get one life, and it’s worth living this experience as fully and wholeheartedly as possible.

Share your emotions, including your fear and your anger, as well as your joys and pleasures, with those you love so that you may live your life wholeheartedly and not end up regretting the things you didn’t do when you get older.

Related: Feeling Behind in Life? How to Overcome It and Make the Most of Your Life

How Can Good Self-Esteem Help You Through Difficult Situations?

Good self-esteem helps you through difficult situations because it enables you to accept different conditions and unexpected changes, making you capable of organizing and executing the action needed to solve them. Self-esteem makes you ready to face defeat just in case your plan does not work out the way you thought it would. If you have good self-esteem, you also have the confidence to ask for others’ help, and you are more inclined towards positive thinking.

Furthermore, if you have high self-esteem, you are able to stand up for your points of view. You will not restrict yourself when you feel you need to express yourself. When you know your value and capacities, difficult situations are always under your control.

Aside from helping you through difficult situations, self-esteem also allows you to avoid additional struggles. For instance, having self-esteem allows you to set healthy boundaries, thus protecting yourself from additional unwanted behaviors from others.

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