Women's Health (UK) - - CONTENTS - VIC­TO­RIA JOY

Those feel­ings you bot­tle up? Let ’em all out, for your health

As the lat­est re­search finds that bot­tling up your emo­tions can ac­tu­ally cause chronic dis­eases such as cancer, the stiff up­per lip, that bas­tion of Bri­tish­ness, may well be do­ing you more harm than good. So go on, get it all off your chest – it re­ally is good to talk

Be hon­est – when was the last time you said ‘I’m fine’? Last week? Yes­ter­day? Right be­fore you started read­ing this? If you ac­tu­ally are fine, well then, that’s fine. But it’s quite pos­si­ble you just said it. Don’t want to make a fuss, do you? Only here’s the thing: re­search sug­gests that do­ing ex­actly that – not mak­ing a fuss – could ac­tu­ally be harm­ful to your health. Turns out there’s some­thing to be said for un­pack­ing the true feel­ings you’ve crammed deep down in­side, coiled tighter than Tom Hardy’s buns in Taboo. And for learn­ing to express your emo­tions. ‘Most of us box up our feel­ings be­cause we don’t want them to dis­rupt our day-to-day lives or open up a can of worms, but the sci­ence sug­gests it doesn’t work,’ says psy­chol­o­gist Dr Su­san David. ‘They’re bound to come out at some point – in a less pro­duc­tive, less man­age­able way.’ A prob­lem shared is a prob­lem halved and all that, but it’s a chal­lenge: 75% of Brits don’t feel com­fort­able talk­ing about their feel­ings*, and a poll con­ducted by Ox­ford’s So­cial Is­sues Re­search Cen­tre found a wor­ry­ing 19% of you can’t re­mem­ber the last time you ex­pressed your true emo­tions. Time to sound those alarm bells. BET­TER OUT THAN IN ‘Learn­ing to express your emo­tions, par­tic­u­larly neg­a­tive feel­ings you tend to shy away from, can help you work out the causes be­hind those emo­tions, the fac­tors feed­ing into them and how best to shift your per­spec­tive to one that’s more pos­i­tive and bet­ter at cop­ing,’ says Sarah Stein Lubrano of The School Of Life, a London-based or­gan­i­sa­tion with a fo­cus on teach­ing and de­vel­op­ing emo­tional in­tel­li­gence (EI). There’s no doubt that nur­tur­ing EI is a good thing, and ex­perts agree that ex­press­ing a full breadth of emo­tions is a big part of that process. Plus, re­search shows re­press­ing your emo­tions doesn’t just make for awk­ward si­lences and in­ner rage, but can ac­tu­ally take its toll on your phys­i­cal health as well as your men­tal well­be­ing. Given the num­ber of stud­ies that prove too much stress in the body leaves it more sus­cep­ti­ble to chronic ill­ness, it makes sense that stor­ing emo­tional tur­moil makes that health risk all the more real. Re­search* has re­vealed a di­rect link be­tween phys­i­cal health and emo­tion, with par­tic­i­pants who could more ef­fi­ciently reg­u­late their feel­ings re­port­ing bet­ter gen­eral health. The team be­hind the study sug­gested the se­cret lies in the amyg­dala, a group of neu­rons found deep within the brain, which acts as a path­way be­tween emo­tional reg­u­la­tion and phys­i­cal well­be­ing – though the ex­act process isn’t yet known. Equally, Ger­man psy­chol­o­gists con­ducted re­search into the link be­tween re­pres­sive cop­ing ‘IT FEELS SCARY TO USE WORDS YOU’RE NOT USED TO’ mech­a­nisms and the preva­lence of par­tic­u­lar dis­eases in­clud­ing cancer, car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease, asthma and di­a­betes. They found that those they deemed ‘re­pres­sive cop­ers’ had a sig­nif­i­cantly higher risk of suf­fer­ing from one of th­ese dis­eases, es­pe­cially cancer and high blood pres­sure. BREAK THE SI­LENCE So, why aren’t you all shar­ing al­ready? There are many cam­paigns chal­leng­ing men­tal health stigma and the take-up of talk­ing ther­a­pies is in­creas­ing. Yet, while statis­tics from the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion for Coun­selling and Psy­chother­apy re­port that the num­ber of peo­ple seek­ing ther­apy has in­creased from a fifth to a quar­ter in just four years, that stiff up­per lip still ex­ists.

‘Western cul­ture dis­cour­ages the shar­ing of neg­a­tive emo­tion,’ says Dr David. Think about it: it’s a lot eas­ier to talk about the heady early days of a re­la­tion­ship than the messy fi­nal ones, and far more com­fort­able to an­nounce get­ting hired than get­ting fired. Lev­els of so­cial awk­ward­ness are likely to be high­est in the work­place, where there’s a fo­cus on ap­pear­ing pro­fes­sional (read: de­void of emo­tion), though that’s not to say we’re any more loose-lipped in our per­sonal re­la­tion­ships. Fear of re­jec­tion – you know, that gut-wrench­ing feel­ing that comes when you ac­tu­ally see some­one you like on Tin­der – causes you all too of­ten to shut down to save face. Dr David Caruso, a psy­chol­o­gist at the Yale Cen­ter for Emo­tional In­tel­li­gence, US, says this hits your emo­tional health with a double whammy, as ‘to build good qual­ity long-term in­ter­per­sonal re­la­tion­ships re­quires a level of in­ti­macy based on the abil­ity to share how you’re feel­ing at that time’. IT’S GOOD TO TALK First things first – make sure you ac­tu­ally have a han­dle on what’s go­ing on in your own head. Dr Caruso deems this self-aware­ness crit­i­cal. ‘Ex­press­ing emo­tion has to be­gin with ac­cu­rate judge­ment, oth­er­wise your com­mu­ni­ca­tion won’t be ef­fec­tive,’ he says. ‘How do you feel about the sit­u­a­tion at hand? What do you want to get out of the con­ver­sa­tion and for the other per­son to learn?’ Pay­ing at­ten­tion to phys­i­o­log­i­cal sig­nals, such as clenched fists, hold­ing back tears or even ten­sion around the eyes, be­fore you be­gin talk­ing can help with this too. ‘Use th­ese mark­ers to help iden­tify the emo­tions swirling around your body, then ask your­self what the pos­si­ble causes might be.’ Prac­tice may not make for a per­fect ex­pres­sion of emo­tions, but it can def­i­nitely help. ‘It feels re­ally scary to use words, or even body lan­guage, you’re not used to, but the more you do it, the less power th­ese words and be­hav­iours wield,’ ex­plains Dr David. ‘Take phrases like “I feel…”, “it’s hard for me to say but…” or “I’m strug­gling with…” and say them out loud when you’re alone. Re­hears­ing spe­cific con­ver­sa­tions with your­self, or a trusted friend, be­fore speak­ing to the re­cip­i­ent will en­sure the words be­come just words, rather than freighted with emo­tion.’ And re­mem­ber: it doesn’t al­ways have to be neg­a­tive feel­ings that you share. Re­ally not a talker? Ac­cord­ing to Dr David, re­search sug­gests writ­ing your emo­tions down can do you good, too. The se­cret is just to write with­out wor­ry­ing about punc­tu­a­tion or sen­tence struc­ture. Go wher­ever your mind takes you – then throw the pa­per away or delete the doc­u­ment. ‘It’s not about writ­ing your mem­oirs, it’s about step­ping out from your ex­pe­ri­ence to gain per­spec­tive,’ says Dr David. So go on, get your self-ex­pres­sion on. Wear your heart on your sleeve. The rest of your body will thank you for it.

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