10 Harmful Effects Of Bottling Up Your Emotions (+ How To Stop)

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Consult a counselor to help you address the emotions you have been bottling up. Simply click here to connect with one via BetterHelp.com.

Emotions can be a tricky thing. In an ideal world, we’d just be able to feel what we need to feel so we can process our experiences and move forward in healing and growth.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in that world.

Instead, we get things like:

“I don’t have time to be sad! I have to go to work!”

“Suck it up, cupcake. Everyone has problems.”

“No one cares anyway. So why should I bother?”

And so we bottle up our emotions, for whatever reason, because life is moving forward, and we can’t just stop. Also, people can be jerks about it.

The problem is that negative emotions don’t just disappear. Instead, they get packed away in a tiny little box somewhere in your brain. Every time you suppress an emotion, it gets stuffed in the box. The more you stuff those emotions away and don’t process them, the fuller the box gets until it’s bulging at the seams.

And then what happens? It finally breaks open, of course.

The end result is physical and mental health problems that could have been avoided if you had just dealt with those feelings when you had them. Suppressing emotions raises stress levels, which can throw off the chemical balance in your body, cause anxiety and depression, as well as a host of other issues. (source)

How can you tell if you are bottling up your emotions or handling them in a healthy way?

10 Signs You Are Bottling Up Your Emotions

The following signs may point to unresolved emotions. These are some of the most common things to look for, but do be aware that the stress of carrying that emotional load can show up in many different small ways from person to person.

1. Unhealthy coping mechanisms.

How do you actually deal with your emotions? Or do you at all? Some people cope by heavily engaging themselves in other activities, so they just don’t have to think about it.

They may drink, abuse drugs, throw themselves into exercise, lose themselves in their work, or drown out their thoughts with chores and busy work. They may be the kind of person who simply doesn’t sit still because they start thinking and feeling their emotions when they have downtime. 

2. Broken sleep schedule.

The stress of unresolved emotion can be a catalyst for disrupted sleep. The person may experience insomnia, irregular sleep patterns, or sleep far too much. After all, you aren’t feeling those emotions if you’re asleep.

3. Increased depression, anxiety, and stress.

Unresolved emotions cause a lot of stress, which trickles down into worsening mental health. Depression and anxiety are common. People with trauma or mental illnesses may find that they have a harder time with their symptoms.

Though we mention depression and anxiety, it is worth noting that we mean lower case “d” depression and lower case “a” anxiety. Not everyone who experiences these problems actually has a specific disorder. Sometimes, just dealing with those suppressed emotions can be enough to cause those problems to recede.

4. Getting sick often.

People who are under stress often tend to get sick more often. When you are under stress, your body creates a hormone called cortisol which helps you deal with the stress. The problem is that people are not built to live in stressful conditions long-term.

The long-term production of cortisol can have a dramatic effect on your immune system and mental health. Just imagine if you had a fire alarm in your house ringing 24/7. That’s similar to what cortisol does in your body.

5. Avoiding confrontation.

People who avoid confrontation may be suppressing their emotions. Humans are moody, messy creatures. Sometimes you end up butting heads, even with people you like and respect.

There’s nothing wrong with a little conflict. In fact, conflict is necessary and healthy. Relationships and bonds are often strengthened in the recovery period after a conflict.

But someone who is suppressing their emotions, who doesn’t want to rock the boat, may not be speaking their mind or telling the truth. They avoid confrontation, so they don’t have to expose themselves.

6. Extraordinary emotional responses.

A person suppressing their emotions can be like a carbonated bottle of soda that’s been shaken up. They are under such emotional pressure that they blow up with the slightest amount of conflict or provocation.

They suppress their emotions to the point that they just explode into anger or drown in overwhelming sadness whenever those emotions finally do surface.

7. Difficulty in expressing emotions.

A person who is neglecting their emotions can lose touch with how to properly express them. It’s like playing a musical instrument. If you don’t practice and keep practicing, you’re going to get rusty and lose some of the knowledge that you’ve been building.

The more you suppress your emotions, the harder it gets for you to express them, which causes you to suppress them more, which makes it harder for you to express them, and so on. It’s a vicious downward spiral that only leads to stress, depression, and anxiety.

8. You may be alone or feel lonely.

People are social creatures. Some more than others. We have certain needs that are fulfilled by interacting with others. But bottling up your emotions can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness because you may not feel understood by the people around you. And if you’re not feeling understood, you have a wall up between you that prevents you from being meaningfully connected.

Other times, you may actually be pushing people away, because to express your true feelings would be to show vulnerability, which requires the ability to actually express and process your emotions.

9. You experience digestive issues.

Stress and unresolved emotions can play havoc with your digestive system. As a result, you may have stomach cramps, diarrhea, bloating, or constipation. This will also cause problems in other areas, like weight gain and loss, because your body isn’t doing what it’s supposed to be doing with the fuel you need to function.

10. You experience regular headaches for no reason.

Some people will experience regular headaches for seemingly no reason, but the reason is actually the stress and hormone production that comes with bottling up your emotions.

Do I need professional help?

So, you want to stop suppressing your emotions. You want to make healthier decisions for your mental health and well-being. So, what do you do next?

Well, we’ll get to that. But first, we need to touch on an important point. We would very much encourage you to see a qualified mental health counselor before you start fiddling with that metaphorical over-packed box we were talking about.

The problem is that once you crack open that box, it’s going to be a rough ride for a while as you deal with the surge of emotions that you’ll hopefully end up experiencing. After that, you likely won’t be able to just close it again.

That can be a major problem, particularly if you have traumatic experiences in your history that are the reason for suppressing your emotions. If you were abused or neglected, there will be many other things that you’ll need to deal with that will come out of that box.

People bottling up their emotions isn’t always as simple as, “I just don’t have time for this.” Some people have done it since they were children because it allowed them to survive some terrible things they were being subjected to. Other people learned to do it to avoid getting beaten up or abused in a relationship. If you are one of those people or think you might need additional support, get yourself a counselor.

Don’t expect friends, family, or self-help to carry you through. They won’t be able to and may very well make the situation worse. Instead, a counselor should make the process much smoother.

One avenue you may wish to explore is the online counseling service provided by BetterHelp.com – you can connect with a trained professional via video or phone or instant message, all from the comfort of your own home.

But, if you feel you are ready to take this one, there are some ways you can work on learning how to feel your emotions healthily.

How do I handle strong emotions?

The following process can serve as a guideline for navigating strong emotions.

(Author’s note: This is the exact process I personally used to unmake decades of bottling up my emotions and to create better habits. It took months, but it got easier and easier until it started flowing mostly on its own.)

1. Acknowledge the emotion.

The first step is to identify and acknowledge the emotion. People who bottle up their emotions may not have enough time to identify what they are feeling before immediately stuffing it away.

Suppose you’re in the habit of doing that. In that case, you need to let yourself sit in the uncomfortable emotion so that you can figure out what exactly it is that you’re feeling. Anger? Sadness? Fear? Anxiety? What is it?

2. Identify the cause.

Next, ask yourself, “Why am I feeling this way?” And really dig around for the answer.

It may be something surface-level. “This person was a jerk, so I’m angry at them.” Fair and reasonable.

However, sometimes it may not be so obvious. Maybe your partner did something insensitive, and now you feel anxious and afraid. It may not be that they actually did something that would normally elicit that kind of response. Instead, they may be inadvertently touching some other raw nerve that is causing that emotional response. Maybe they did something that touched on a past traumatic experience, which is now fueling your discomfort.

3. Allow yourself to feel that emotion.

Let yourself feel the emotion when it arrives. This is particularly important in dealing with strong emotions because the brain knows what it needs to do to cope with the situation; we often interrupt the process.

The strong emotions that we feel are the brain’s way of dealing with difficult things. Your body is creating hormones and releasing various chemicals that allow it to heal itself. It just needs the freedom to do that.

Trauma and mental illness are different, however. These things change how the brain works or may be so severe that they override those natural processes. In that event, there may be other therapies or medications needed to facilitate balance and healing.

4. Try to resolve the cause.

Are you able to resolve the cause of your strong emotions? If you are, talk it over with the person who wronged you if you’re able.

However, in a lot of situations, you may not be able to resolve the cause. Maybe it’s something that happened far back in your past, or it’s environmental, or you’re just not in a position to confront the person that wronged you.

That’s okay. It’s not required to resolve the cause. It just usually makes things easier. Striving for acceptance of the situation is often the better choice.

5. Take some time for self-care.

Once you’ve done these things, allow yourself some time for self-care. Take some quiet time to recuperate or do something fun to get your brain moving in a positive direction again.

For example, watching some stand-up comedy or doing something that brings you happiness can help you move past the negative emotions. Wait to take this step until you find that the strong emotions are receding. You don’t want to be trying to replace negative emotions with positive ones. That’s just bottling up your emotions with extra steps.

The benefits of being able to actually feel and express your emotions are limitless. It’s true that no one particularly wants to feel the negative emotions that life will sometimes give us. But to be a healthy, happy, peaceful person, one needs to handle their strong emotions, so they don’t become a bigger problem later on.

Many people view the ability to bottle up their emotions as a positive. And you know what? Sometimes it is. Sometimes you don’t have time for a breakdown. There are things to do, responsibilities to maintain, and life may not be giving you a break. So sometimes, you need to shut down those emotions so you can do what you need to do.

The key is to get back in later, when you do have some time, and open that box. Take those emotions out of the box, deal with them, and move forward to brighter things.

Still not sure how to deal with the feelings you’ve bottled up inside? Need a helping hand? Speak to a counselor today who can walk you through the process. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced counselors on BetterHelp.com.

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