Emotions are a fundamental part of being human; they shape our experiences and how we interact with the world. Yet, all too often, we bottle them up; but expressing them, no matter how big or small, can be incredibly therapeutic and beneficial for the mind.
“Suppressing emotions” can cause unseen harm, according to Mumbai-based counsellor Dr Manisha Kiran Parekh. In her practice, she has come across many individuals who have remained silent about their emotions, either because they have no one who listens or because they believe their sentiments will not be comprehended. “Speaking up can be liberating,” she says.
Priyanka Bakhru, an integrated clinical therapist and counsellor based in Mumbai agrees, saying, a mind under emotional duress can never function clearly. “A different part of the brain takes over, the primal survival mode, and it overrides logical thinking,” says Bakhru. Suppression of emotions, can also magnify the feeling and escalate them, she adds.
Benefits of talking about your emotions
A March 2018 review of ‘affect labelling’– putting feelings into words – has revealed that vocalising emotions can lower its intensity. Authors Jared B Torre et al, researchers and psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that voicing feelings reduces activity in the amygdala, thus reducing emotion intensity. Additionally, normalising failure, pain, and guilt, by expressing them can be relieving and comforting to those around us.
Deepti Chandy, an associate counsellor at Anna Chandy & Associates in Bengaluru, states that bottling up feelings can cause pressure to build over time, potentially resulting in physical illness or emotional outbursts. “It is critical to share how we feel regardless of whether or not we are experiencing difficulties coping. Sharing helps us understand ourselves and our own thought processes. It also helps us let off steam,” she adds.
Some other benefits of talking about our feelings listed out by Chandy:
- Talking about our emotions provides a release and allows us to gain clarity in our thinking. Recognising patterns in our thinking can help us understand the basis for these thoughts and avoid negative loops.
- Talking about our emotions to someone can help us feel better supported and accepted, and also helps us connect with the person we are speaking to.
- Speaking about what we are going through can help us stay in the present.
How to talk about our feelings
The first step is to acknowledge and express our feelings to ourselves; the next is to identify who we want to share our feelings with.
“A psychologist or a counsellor can help when you want to share your feelings. These mental health professionals will help identify what help is needed,” says Chandy. In cases of severe distress or when the condition is chronic, a psychiatrist should be consulted on the counsellor’s advise.
Bakhru lists out a step-by-step guide on talking about your feelings.
- Express your feelings to yourself: Emotions like guilt, fear and jealousy, must be dealt with by first acknowledging them.
- Vent out with someone you trust: Releasing emotions with a trusted friend offers validation and a fresh perspective.
- Discuss conflict with the concerned person: We avoid confrontation because it appears daunting, but it often leads to growth and improved relationships.
- Talk to a trained therapist: Therapy is not only for serious issues; if a situation causes ongoing anxiety or misery, it is a sign of needing mental health support.
Things to keep in mind:
While talking about your feelings has its benefits, it can prove detrimental in some cases. Bakhru lists out some factors to keep in mind while seeking help:
- Avoid co-rumination, seek positive support: Sometimes we go into a downward spiral with friends or colleagues, when the conversation is constantly around complaining. This serves no real purpose but puts us in a negative frame of mind. Find a more constructive sounding board.
- Avoid being addicted to sympathy: Sometimes the problem starts out as real, but when we do not find a solution, we start to perversely enjoy the importance of being a hapless victim.
- Do not give up on therapy, keep trying until you find the right fit: Like doctors and fitness trainers, there is a right fit for each individual. The task is to try a few therapists until you find the right one for you, not to try one and give up on helping yourself entirely.