When you label some emotions as negative and suppress them instead of releasing them, they turn toxic and run within. Your body and brain undergo physical changes as a result.
It’s good to feel your emotions. I can’t believe we’ve come to the point where we have to state the obvious. It’s like saying, «It’s good to breathe.» We, humans, have managed to complicate the simplest of things that we are caught in, an eternal monologue with ourselves: «Should I tell how I feel? What if it pushes them away? What do I really feel anyways? I can’t believe I feel jealous. I must be a bad person. What if he/she comes to know how I really feel inside? I’m crazy.»
No, you’re not. You’re human, and beautifully so. Here are a few simple reminders before we go into the science of it.
No emotions are good or bad. They simply exist. Just like your breath.
Your thoughts are what you think in your head. Your emotions are physical responses in your body.
So when you say «I feel stupid,» you’re mixing up thoughts with emotions. «You think you are stupid» and you feel scared that others might not approve of you.
According to experts, there are only five basic emotions: glad; sad; mad; scared; disgust. So you could feel happy, sad, angry, afraid or disgusted. Everything else — jealousy, shame, guilt, embarrassment, insecurity, etc. — are combinations of the basic emotions.
Here’s the interesting bit. Your feelings are body responses to the thoughts in your head, not what goes on outside.
Friend acts mean.
Thought in your head: How could she be so mean? I don’t deserve this.
Feelings: Usually a knot in your tummy or pang of pain in the middle of your chest, which you call as anger, feeling upset, sad, etc.
Now if you change the thought:
Friend acts mean.
Thought in your head: She must have had a lousy day. Anyways, I don’t deserve this.
Feelings: Perhaps mild irritation followed by feeling neutral.
So instead of fighting your feelings, which you can’t control, allowing yourself to feel them will make you feel lighter and freer. When you suppress them instead, in an effort to act strong, uncomplicate things, stay cool, this is how it affects your body and mind.
1. Suppressed Emotions Trigger Stress
When you feel angry and you allow yourself to feel it, you process it and in a few seconds or minutes of feeling it in your body, it usually subsides. The thoughts might persist. But the feelings (body sensations like racing heart, burning sensation, quick breathing, a sense of restless in your naval) all evaporate. If you instead suppress what you feel, these physical responses turn into stress chemicals.
Your brain then goes into «panic mode» and produces all the more cortisol, responsible for fight or flight response. That’s like being on auto-pilot, even when there is no danger threatening you.
2. It Tightens Your Muscles
Ever been in a middle of an argument or emotionally charged situation when you suddenly feel your neck or shoulders feel tight? That’s all your suppressed emotions turned into body tension right there. Typically, your upper body, especially right below your brain, becomes the bank of all your knotted up emotional stress.
It can also travel down from your head, neck, and shoulders to your upper and lower back. It’s basically unfelt and unexpressed emotions that instead of being processed and drained out turn into toxins running down your system internally. That’s why physical pain or aches usually accompany situations where you’ve bottled down your emotions.
3. Numbing Out Your Feelings Alters Brain Chemistry
And this is not at all good for you. Your brain functions with the help of neurotransmitters. The most important of them being serotonin and dopamine. Those diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses often show a deficiency of these neurotransmitters. When your main organ that controls your entire system is tipped off balance, you can’t do much to maintain your physical or mental health.
While feeling and expressing the difficult emotions are important, allowing yourself to feel happy, relaxed, content, close and emotionally connected to another is equally important. The chemicals produced when you feel good help bring about a balance, which keeps your brain running smoothly and your mood remaining light and stable.
4. Bottled Up Emotions Mess Up Your Appetite
Sometimes you just don’t feel like eating when you are too upset (or way too elated) or end up binge eating when you’be been having a rough patch for a while. How you feel directly affects your digestive system. Which brings us to the next point.
5. Your Gut Can Get Screwed Up
Here’s the thing. 80-90 percent of the main neurotransmitters that keep your mental health and sanity is produced in your gut. That’s why it’s called the second brain, although a few argue that it is the primitive brain responsible for our survival through evolution.
So when you push down all your feelings instead of processing them as a healthy adult, your gut goes for a toss. It is also why you have digestion issues such as nausea, diarrhea, bloating and/or constipation when going through a tensed time.
6. Unprocessed Emotions Can Rewire Your Brain
Those exposed to severe trauma often suffer from feeling on the edge constantly. It’s their brain’s way of being on alert, in case what happened in the past might happen again. This is the kind of state the brain of a person who refuses to feel his/her emotions.
Those who refuse to feel their emotions and resort to intellectualization or rationalizing (like those infamous phrases «such is life; what can you do, we got to toughen up and do what’s needed; happiness and sadness are all momentary; life is beyond such labels»), don’t realize that those emotions still exist within their system.
Instead of dealing with it, their brain slowly begins to get used to the overdose of emotions within to the point that they begin to think it is normal. An important step in therapy to get through depression and other mental illnesses is to help the patient feel what they feel and process it.
Once you’re through with processing your emotions, it is easier to drop the unhealthy beliefs and self-beating thoughts. Even if you aren’t in therapy, your life would be so much better if you be honest with yourself about how you feel and allow it to express itself in healthy ways.
7. Toxic Emotions Can Cause Weight Gain
Your body produces the stress hormone «cortisol» when it is under any form of threat. Cortisol helps tackle adrenaline and corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), both of which cause temporary loss of appetite. But when these two hormones are done with their job and dissolve, cortisol still waits on guard, causing an increase in appetite. That’s why you go for cheese fries or dessert after the residue of a stressful event gradually decreases.
Cortisol can also turn into “visceral fat,” the primary culprit behind the “big belly.”
8. Suppressing Emotions Affects Your Immunity
Anything fluid and running is healthy. Anything stagnant tends to turn toxic and collect germs and turn infectious. So is your emotional system. Stopping yourself from feeling what you feel can cause not just stress, but also impact your immune system as well as your endocrine and lymphatic system.
You are more likely to fall sick, catch infections, have your allergies triggered. Your mental immunity against mood disorders, too, breaks down. No matter how strong, rational, cool, or detached you are, the fact is that your emotions are all stored in your subconscious. Since you don’t feel it (and therefore release it), it will find a way to release it in other ways. Your body is the first to struggle as they take the form of toxic chemicals which could trigger the onset of autoimmune disease, cancer, heart disease and more.
Allow yourself to feel what you feel and express it at least to yourself first. It’s the first step to truly being free of it and thinking objectively. Otherwise, they are influencing all your choices and decisions from behind the scene.