Like many introverts, I used to like bottling up my emotions. I felt strong; I could control myself. Instead of lashing out in anger or bursting into tears, I was the epitome of self-restraint.
Then I learned that the consequences for bottling emotions can be dire and even life-threatening. In a study conducted by psychologists from Harvard School of Public Health and the University of Rochester, researchers found that suppressing emotions might make you more likely to die from heart disease and some forms of cancer. Previous studies found a link between negative emotions (such as depression, anxiety, and anger) and heart disease triggers.
“Ew, no,” I thought. I realized that I needed to change. This way of life would not give me happiness in the end. Premature death of heart disease and cancer was, let’s say, not ideal. So, without further ado, I present you with six ways to help you “unbottle” your feelings, straight from the experts.
6 Tips to Stop Bottling Up Your Emotions
1. Name them.
Naming emotions is one of the first ways to deal with them and make them “go away” peacefully. In a study led by Dr. Michelle Craske at UCLA about spider phobia, the researchers found that subjects (a.k.a. people) who verbalized more words about their fear and/or anxiety had a reduced response to seeing a spider. They would take an average of 1.5 steps more toward the spider than the other groups. Even though they didn’t necessarily feel as if they feared the spider less, their brains and bodies would not react as strongly.
In another study led by Professor Matthew D. Lieberman at UCLA, researchers found that labeling feelings makes them less intense. “In the same way you hit the brakes when you’re driving when you see a yellow light — when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses,” he says. Thus, by naming your feelings, you could decrease their intensity, making them more manageable.
Saying you feel “good” or “bad” probably falls short of describing the strength of your emotion. Are you feeling frustrated? Tired? Annoyed? Thankful? Concreteness really helps here.
Usually concreteness only comes through writing or talking with someone, as I have found through personal experience. I can describe my feelings or emotions in my head, but it just goes in circles: nothing resolves. However, if I write them down or verbalize them, I can get over them quicker.
2.Write a journal entry.
Research has shown that journaling can:
- reduce stress levels
- help you problem solve more effectively
- improve your mental and physical health (sounds great to me!)
Don’t just write everything factually. Give some color to your writing with words that describe how you felt in reaction to an event, and why you felt that way. Here are some examples.
Instead of saying, “I felt so bad after the party,” describe the party in detail and what triggered that feeling. You could say, “I was invited to the party and hoped to have a good time. I tried talking to people but they either just politely talked to me or straight out ignored me. I am not transparent! (Or am I?) That party was one of the most annoying, frustrating, and terrible parties I’ve ever gone to.”
You don’t have to write regularly. I just use loose sheets of paper to vent what I feel when I need it. I don’t even bother keeping a notebook because I do not want to go back and read all the cringy stuff I wrote, which gives me a sense of liberty when I write. Without a sense of restraint, you can allow your emotions to come to the surface in a healthy manner and come to closure with them.
3. Talk to someone.
This one may not come naturally to introverts. However, talking through your emotions with someone helps you:
- sort through the problem
- see the situation from a different perspective
If you are not/do not want to go to a psychologist, you can talk to:
- a good friend
- someone who would keep your secrets
- someone at the help hot-line (here is the number for those of you who live in the United States: 1-800-487-4889 or 1-800-662-4357)
- someone you can trust
Open up and talk to them. Describing and talking about an emotion out loud tends to decrease the effect of it and helps you come to a resolution.
Even though we introverts do not speak much, we can choose to come alive at certain times, such as in a discussion about our interests or hobbies. In that sense, we can encourage ourselves to discuss our feelings with someone. I can exert myself and make conversation when I choose to (even though I am a huge introvert), and so can you! It will make you feel better, I promise.
4. Take a solitary brisk walk or exercise.
According to the American Physiological Association, even five minutes of moderate intensity exercise will improve your mood. Look, it’s just five minutes! You definitely have time to do that!
Personally, I always feel happier and calmer after a walk. Even if I walk along a busy street with hundreds of people passing me, I have space to think and reflect (and name my emotions). It is also one way of having introvert alone time, and taking a break from the extroverted world.
5. Pinpoint the cause of your emotions.
Generally, you don’t feel something for no reason. Even though it sounds funny, emotions are usually logical beings, meaning that something triggered you to feel this way — no matter if you are aware of it or not. Finding the cause takes time and patience, but once you do, you’ll be better able to guess at and thus deal with your emotions.
Psychologist Joan Cusack Handler gives a few prompts for self-reflection to pinpoint the cause of your emotions:
- What feelings am I aware of having (often many)? What is the most prominent? How do I describe it? When did I become aware of this feeling?
- What might be triggering this feeling? What’s happening (or not happening) in my daily life? It helps to deconstruct the day/week/month.
- Perhaps you don’t know how you feel. One direction is to examine your behavior and daily life, which can help you recognize your feelings. How is my home life? Am I getting along with my partner? My children? My parents and siblings? How am I doing at work? Am I enjoying my work? Am I getting along with my coworkers and boss?
“The reality is that life events generate feelings,” she describes. “Though we may decide which feelings to attend to, we don’t decide to feel or not feel. It’s our project to identify them and give them room to breathe.”
When you know the cause of your emotions, you can then deal with it, and then with the emotions. I once felt down for a long time until I realized it was because I overthought and constantly worried about the future. I did not know what was going to happen or what I wanted to do. But once I made a conscious effort to go with the flow and not plan out my life so much, I felt better.
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6. Make use of your emotions.
Finally, put your emotions to good use. You can:
- draw a picture
- write a short story (or a long one if you want)
- work out
- play music
- do a DIY project
Lastly, negative emotions can be useful, too. According to Lifehack.org, “somber moods actually stimulate areas of the brain that control attention, analytical thinking, and abstract ideas and thoughts,” allowing us to create more intrinsic and detailed works of art. Don’t let your emotions simmer under the surface, doing more harm than good. Use them! You can utilize your emotions when you stop restraining them.
How do you deal with strong emotions? Let me know in the comments below.