Too many of us tend to ignore our feelings and suffer alone when the opposite is much more effective. We've summarized 10 reasons why you should talk about your feelings rather than hush up. We hope you remember these next time you're holding on to your feelings and are wondering what to do.
Bottling up really isn't an option. It doesn't work (trust me! I've been trying for over 30 years). Feelings don't disappear. Instead, facing them head-on by talking about them with a trusted friend, family member or qualified therapist is one of the most successful strategies for dealing with whatever's going on for you. Like the UK-based Mental Health Foundation writes, "talking about your feelings isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy."
Talking about your feelings validates that what you are experiencing is real and means something to you. If you're upset over something, it's because you care about it. Trying to ignore that feeling would be invalidating to your experience and your values. Instead, by recognizing and seeking to understand your feelings, you'll learn what's important to you and be able to live a more fulfilling life in line with your values.
Psychologists at UCLA have proven what we've suspected all along, that talking about feelings is relieving. Through brain imaging studies, the researchers found that the mere act of putting feelings into words reduced brain activity in the amygdala, one of the primary areas of the brain associated with processing emotional responses, meaning that the intensity of an emotion decreases.
Have you ever found yourself wanting to support a friend but not known how? How often have you wished that they would share what was going on for them, what they needed? Now consider how you tend to feel... have you ever held back from sharing your feelings, even when your friends can clearly see that you need help? By sharing your feelings and what you need, you invite the people who care about you to support you, the way you want to be supported.
With intense feelings, especially ones like worry and uncertainty, it's easy to get stuck ruminating; like your brain is obsessively pondering a question, going through what happened or imagining what may happen. Opening up to a friend can jolt you back to the present and into a more productive mindset that will actually allow you to do something about the feeling.
Your friends have had different experiences to you and will see the same situation differently than you do. Sharing your struggles, feelings and thoughts allows you to gain new perspectives on the situation and to more objectively analyze a situation. (You can read more about this in our other article, You are not the centre of the Universe.)
When you're visited by difficult feelings, it's easy to feel alone. Like you're the only one suffering (especially if you spend any time on social media!). When you share what is going on for you, chances are high that your friends will respond and share that they too are feeling, or have felt, similarly to you. Opening up invites others to be more honest about their own struggles, allowing you to build stronger, healthier and more supportive relationships.
Feelings are signals from the brain aimed at helping us survive. Feelings of fear arise when we should be cautious, joy and excitement when we are feeling happy and worry when something important to us is coming up. These signals aren't always accurate or complete, but that doesn't mean that we can ignore them completely. Like Licensed Clinical Social Worker Hilary Jacobs Hendel warns, "when the mind thwarts the flow of emotions because they are too overwhelming or too conflicting, it puts stress on the mind and the body, creating psychological distress and symptoms." (via Time). That's to say, ignored feelings have a tendency to become more intense and to show themselves in novel ways. Interestingly, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence in the United Kingdom recently updated their recommendations and suggested that people suffering from chronic pain with no known cause should seek physical and psychological therapies rather than painkillers (read more).
This probably isn't at the top of your priority list when you're hesitating over whether or not to share your feelings but know that every conversation about your struggles slowly chips away at the pervading mental health stigma. By opening up and sharing your vulnerabilities, you welcome your listeners to do the same and together you help normalize seeking and receiving mental health care and support.
The previous reasons have mostly assumed that the feelings we're hesitating to share are unpleasant ones, but even pleasant feelings can be uncomfortable to share. How often have you held back from sharing because you didn't want to appear to be bragging, shine attention on yourself or be excited when others aren't? In cases like these, remember the Swedish proverb:
Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow
Now that you know why talking about your feelings is important, how do you actually start these, sometimes difficult, conversations? We'll be sharing our thoughts on this in an upcoming article. Until then, check out these two resources we found helpful: Why Talking About Our Problems Helps So Much (and How to Do It) from the New York Times and Talking About Your Feelings: Dos and Don'ts.
Did we miss any reason? Message us on Instagram, @feelmoapp, and let us know!
Ps. If you struggle with talking about your feelings, Feelmo can help! Feelmo's emotions explorer, with more than 400 feeling words to choose from, helps you identify the precise words to describe your feelings and the clinically informed reflect activities help you explore your feelings and uncover the messages they're trying to tell you. Try Feelmo today in the App Store.
PPs. Like this post? Read more from Markus on his website.