Suppressing Your Emotions Might Be Hurting Your Heart Health
Being able to express and process your emotions is crucial to your well-being—and not just mentally. A new study has found that bottling up your feelings can have actual physical consequences, particularly for your cardiovascular health.
New research being presented this week at the North American Menopause Society Annual Meeting in Chicago collected health data on 304 women, including conducting ultrasound imaging to assess their arteries and any buildup in them. The researchers also surveyed the women about their self-expression in their intimate relationships, including rating how much they resonated with statements like "Caring means putting the other person's needs in front of my own" and "I rarely express anger at those close to me."
The results showed self-silencing—aka inhibiting your own self-expression to avoid conflict or damaging your relationship—was associated with cardiovascular complications. People who tended to suppress their emotions and needs were more likely to have plaque buildup in their carotids, the main arteries carrying blood to the head, and that plaque buildup can increase your risk of stroke and cause other cardiovascular issues.
According to psychotherapist Emily Roberts, M.A., LMHC, emotional suppression often affects our bodies through a buildup of stress.
"Whether you are experiencing anger, sadness, grief, or frustration, pushing those feelings aside actually leads to physical stress on your body," she writes at mbg. "Holding in feelings has a correlation to high cortisol—the hormone released in response to stress—and that cortisol leads to lower immunity and toxic thinking patterns. Over time, untreated or unrecognized stress can lead to an increased risk of diabetes, problems with memory, aggression, anxiety, and depression. In other words, deciding to bury your feelings, ignore them, internalize them, pretend they didn't happen, or convince yourself that there is no need to deal with them can literally make you sick from the stress."
The researchers of the current study note that emotional suppression has also been specifically linked to worse mental health and self-reported physical health.
So if you're (a) someone who tends to bite your tongue and prioritize everyone else but yourself or (b) someone who pushes away bad feelings without acknowledging them or expressing them, it's time to sit down and consider how your self-silencing habits might be affecting your well-being in the long run.
Where to go from here? Writing can be truly therapeutic, so consider picking up a journaling practice or another form of writing to declutter the mind and release all those pent-up emotions. If you're not one for pen and paper, here are a few more activities recommended by psychologists for getting in touch with your emotions.
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