Feeling your feelings
Final year MBBS, GMC Amritsar
If I asked you a simple question right now, that is, how would you like to feel during this moment? What would you answer? Let me guess! Would you like to feel happy, would you like to feel at ease, would you like your body to breathe in peace? Obviously yes, isn’t it? But what if you had a bad day? Or what if you just woke up feeling like shit today? On top of it, you were told, “Just cheer up, you have everything anyone could want, others have it worse!” or, “You are supposed to be happy!” And somehow our minds get programmed in a certain manner that we indulge in self-criticism for not feeling joy, happiness, etc., without even someone else having to say anything to us about it. It’s inappropriate to express anger, it’s shameful and cowardly to reveal your tears, it’s ungrateful to be unhappy despite having everything you need, isn’t it? Isn’t it all that we have been taught to believe since forever?
But if all emotions except happiness were so inappropriate, is it just an evolutionary error that our bodies and minds are designed to feel these emotions and feelings? Maybe yes or maybe no. But are you aware that there’s something that’s really certain about “the subtle art of being happy all the time”, i.e., it really messes up our systems, it messes up our brains and it messes up our bodies? You need evidence, don’t you? Studies also show that effortful suppression of negative emotion has immediate and delayed consequences for stress-induced cardiovascular reactivity.1 Evidence for links between emotional suppression and mortality appeared initially in a Yugoslavian cohort study conducted in 1970 by Grossarth-Maticeck.2 Long-lasting hopelessness was independently associated with cancer, and anger with heart disease. Another study on emotion suppression and mortality risk over 12 years of follow-up concluded that emotion suppression may convey risk for earlier death, including death from cancer.3 So, basically, continual emotional suppression requires effort, and eventually this ‘effort’ can take its toll. The effort increases sympathetic nervous system activity which can have unhealthy consequences.4 Sympathetic overstimulation has been found to be associated with cardiovascular ailments, kidney diseases, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, mental health illnesses like anxiety, depression, etc. Although the sympathetic nervous system is meant to sense stressful situations and induce a flight and fright response to protect us, however, consistent stress signals whizzing through the body can wreak havoc.
So, do I really need to emphasise the fact again that how essential it is for us to feel our feelings no matter how terrifying it might seem at times to do so? But now, how do we exactly feel our feelings? First, take a deep breath and give yourself a hug whenever you feel an emotion that you have been taught to label as “negative”. Let go of the underlying guilt, i.e., shush that voice inside your head that says, “it’s not okay to feel this way!” That voice is not yours, it’s just an old-programming pattern that you don’t have to believe in anymore. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to feel annoyed and express that anger (as long as you don’t harm anyone, obviously ;)), it’s okay to feel anything that you feel. It can be painful at times but you just need to breathe through that pain and keep loving yourself while you process those emotions. Remember, you are a being beyond just flesh and bones!
- Quartana P and Burns J. Sep 2010. Emotion suppression affects cardiovascular responses to initial and subsequent laboratory stressors
- Grossarth-Maticek R et al. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 1985;29(2):167-76, Psychosocial factors as strong predictors of mortality from cancer, ischaemic heart disease and stroke: the Yugoslav prospective study
- Chapman B P et al. J Psychosom Res. Oct 2013 Oct; 75(4): 381–385. Emotion Suppression and Mortality Risk Over a 12-Year Follow-up