July 19, 2018

To Vent or Not to Vent – What Happens When You “Bottle Up” Your Emotions

By Audrey Ulke, Licensed Psychologist

“Bottling up” your emotions means blocking or suppressing your feelings instead of expressing yourself. You may do this for a variety of reasons, such as having a fear of showing signs of weakness, avoiding talking about a situation because you don’t want to feel negative emotions or misguidedly believing that you must remain positive and upbeat all the time. But, avoiding your emotions does not eliminate them; rather, it makes it more difficult for you to manage other challenging situations that may occur in the future.

The mind and the body are intrinsically linked, and mental and emotional health are important aspects of overall health. Research shows that there is a powerful mind-body connection through which emotional, mental, social and behavioral factors can directly impact our health. Negative emotions, such as anger and anxiety, have been linked to disruptions in the normal balance of the stress hormone cortisol and a lowered immune system, and depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes.

Acknowledging and expressing emotions, especially distressing ones, are important components of mental health and play a vital role in maintaining your physical health.

Next time you feel yourself bottling up your emotions, try some of these tips:  

  • Cultivate awareness. Pay attention to and identify emotions as they arise – notice the people or situations in your life who make you feel stressed, sad, frustrated or angry. Try to address the circumstances that trigger distressing emotions.
  • Slow down. Give yourself time to think and calm down before you react to a person or a situation.
  • Manage stress. Practice relaxation methods, including deep breathing, exercise, yoga, meditation and progressive muscle relaxation.
  • Take care of your body. Exercise regularly (even just a little bit!), eat healthy meals and get adequate sleep.
  • Express your feelings in appropriate ways. Find comfort and relief by communicating with family and friends who will be supportive, validating and empathetic. Let them know when something is upsetting you and talk through it out loud.

Family and friends are significant support resources, but they may not always be able to help you manage your emotional state. Be open to seeking professional help from a trained mental health provider for advice and support to help you improve your emotional health.

Audrey Ulke, PsyD, is a Licensed Psychologist at Mission Weight Management.