From Opening Up: The Healing Power of Expressing Emotions by James W. Pennebaker, PhD
Most people accept the idea that expressing emotions is good for their emotional health. But a growing body of research reveals that what we do with strong emotions affects not only our emotional health, but also our physical health. Actively holding back our emotions is hard work and taxes the body's defenses. This may negatively affect the functioning of the immune system, the heart and vascular systems, and even the brain and nervous systems. This translates into greater risk for disease.
On the other hand, both short- and long-term health benefits may derive from confronting and expressing our deepest thoughts and feelings. In addition to health benefits, expressing our feelings can have a positive influence on our values, our thoughts, and the way we feel about ourselves.
Opening up occurs more naturally when we have a relationship in which we feel safe to talk. Talking to others about the things that upset us helps us to express our emotions. In the process, we gain insight into our life experiences and learn more about ourselves. This knowledge helps us to put difficult experiences behind us.
Sometimes when we experience strong emotions, we may not have someone to whom we can open up. In this case, writing about emotional upheaval can have equal health benefits and has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiety and depression. Following are some tips that can help to guide your writing experience.
- Explore both what happened and your feelings about it. "Really let go and write about your very deepest emotions."
- Write continuously, perhaps for as long as 30 minutes. Don't worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Just let it flow.
- Find a place to write where you will not be interrupted or bothered by distractions.
- In most cases, it is better to not share what you have written with others. You will be more free to write what you really think and feel if you know that no one else will read it.
You may feel some sadness after you write, but that should dissipate within a couple of hours. Most people experience feelings of relief, contentment, and happiness after a few days of writing.
If you find that these ideas are not helpful or that you become more emotionally upset, you may want to consider getting some additional help by talking to a mental health professional.