Can sadness make you sick?
It might seem like an odd question, and it’s true that sadness can’t definitively give you the flu, but there is a link…
It comes down to how we handle emotions in our personal circumstances, and the difference between repressed and suppressed emotions. In this post, we’ll explore how to handle our feelings effectively and shed light on the difference between suppression and repression.
Emotions are an integral part of the human experience. They provide valuable insights into our thoughts, needs, and reactions to the world around us. Dealing with our feelings in a healthy way is essential for our mental and emotional well-being. Suppression and repression are two mechanisms people often use to cope with difficult emotions. However, it’s crucial to understand these distinct processes when it comes to managing emotions.
If you have a family feud, or an argument with a partner, the chances are you’ll still have to put your best foot forward the following day. Whether that’s with a client, taking the children to school and carrying out the usual routines, or reporting to colleagues in a work meeting: you know you have to carry on.
Suppression or repression?
Suppression is a conscious effort to push aside or ignore unwanted or uncomfortable emotions.
It involves the deliberate decision not to dwell on a particular feeling. We usually avoid feelings like these, because we don’t know exactly how to deal with them, so we file them away until we have a moment to unpack them. In the kind of situations we described above, we suppress our feelings until there’s a moment when we can revisit them. It may be appropriate short-term solution, as long the feelings are addressed as soon as you have the time. When you continually suppress your emotions, however, they can resurface stronger and more intensely, leading to emotional volatility.
Conversely, repressing feelings and emotions means that we don’t deal with them at all. But it is an unconscious defense mechanism. Repression often results from trying to protect oneself from overwhelming feelings. It occurs when intense or traumatic emotions are buried deep in the subconscious mind to avoid conscious awareness. We avoid them, and they become hidden, unprocessed, and stored away. We may even forget about them altogether. Until they suddenly reappear, often triggered when we’re least anticipating it.
As repressed feelings are subconsciously hidden, we often have trouble realizing what’s wrong. If you think something is out of balance, are anxious, or are feeling down, but don’t really know why, you’re not alone. Most people with repressed emotions have difficulty describing or understanding them. Examples of how you might be feeling include:
- numbness or emptiness
- nervous, stressed, or just constantly in a low mood
- uncomfortable if other people want to discuss their emotions
- mostly balanced and happy because you refuse to focus on anything significant or sad
- uncomfortable, irritated, or even angry if asked about your own emotions.
It’s not just about how you feel either. It also affects how you behave towards others, probably without realizing why or how. Repressed emotions often present themselves in our behavior, usually in our interactions with others, at work, at home and in our relationships. As we said earlier, these feelings are often triggered when we’re least expecting it and we can overreact, or even have an outburst, in everyday situations.
Protecting our mental and emotional state is critical for our physiological health and wellbeing. Dealing with our feelings is a crucial aspect of maintaining good mental health and fostering positive relationships. If left unresolved, repressed emotions can lead to serious and long-term illness.
The Mind-Body Connection
Repressed emotions can affect us physiologically and psychologically. They may resurface in unexpected and potentially harmful ways, such as through physical symptoms, unexplained anxiety, or depression and can contribute to mental health conditions, especially stress or extreme emotions, like anger. Unresolved anger can cause increased risk of:
- high blood pressure
- cardiovascular disease
- digestive problems
- high levels of stress
The mind-body connection is a well-documented phenomenon that suggests that our mental and emotional states can significantly impact our physical health. The main culprit is stress and anxiety.
Here are some ways in which not managing your feelings can lead to illness:
Mental Health and Well-being:
Failing to manage emotions can also take a toll on mental health. Conditions like depression and anxiety often stem from unaddressed emotional distress. Mental health issues, in turn, can exacerbate physical health problems.
Stress and the Immune System:
Studies have shown that emotional repression has links to decreased immune system function. Unmanaged stress, often triggered by unaddressed emotions, can weaken the immune system because when the body is constantly in a state of stress, it becomes less effective at defending against infections and illnesses. Chronic stress is associated with various health issues, including heart disease, high blood pressure, and a weakened immune system.
Negative emotions like anger and resentment, when left unaddressed, can lead to chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a natural response to injury or infection, but chronic inflammation is linked to a range of health conditions, such as arthritis, diabetes, and even cancer.
Chronic or acute stress can activate the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis (HPA) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS), usually through the production of raised levels of cortisol. This in turn affects the neuroendocrine, metabolic and immune systems and has been shown to contribute to the development of inflammation and diseases, including obesity, and type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Somatic (Psychosomatic) Symptoms:
Emotions that are not properly managed can manifest physically, leading to somatic (formerly referred to as psychosomatic) symptoms or disorders. They are triggered by high levels of stress, anxiety, or depression and manifest as physical diseases such as hypertension, respiratory ailments, gastrointestinal complaints, pelvic pain, ulcers, migraine and tension headaches, and dermatitis.
Unresolved emotional turmoil can contribute to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease. The constant release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, can negatively impact the cardiovascular system, leading to hypertension (high blood pressure), and other heart-related issues.
Strategies for Managing Emotions
It is essential to acknowledge that neither suppression nor repression is ideal for emotional well-being. Understanding the distinction between them is vital to be able to recognize your own behavioral patterns. Suppression and repression may provide temporary relief, but they can ultimately lead to emotional distress and turmoil and as we have seen, serious disease. A healthier approach is to:
The first step in managing emotions is to become aware of them. Pay attention to your feelings without judgment. Understand that it’s okay to experience a wide range of emotions and labeling them can help you better manage them. Practice mindfulness, self-reflection, and self-compassion to better understand and manage your emotions. Embrace your feelings, rather than suppressing or repressing them– as Radical Forgiveness says, feel your feelings!
Mindfulness and Meditation:
Practice mindfulness, self-reflection, and self-compassion to better understand your emotions, to help you stay present in the moment and observe your emotions without reacting impulsively. These practices promote self-awareness and emotional regulation.
This technique involves changing the way you think about a situation to alter your emotional response. By reframing your thoughts, you can shift your emotional experience. For instance, instead of catastrophizing, try to see a challenging situation as an opportunity for growth. This also forms part of the 5 Stages of Radical Forgiveness.
Prioritize self-care activities, such as exercise, meditation techniques, a balanced diet, adequate sleep, and relaxation techniques.
Establishing healthy boundaries can prevent emotional overwhelm. It’s important to know your limits and communicate them to others to protect your emotional well-being.
Emotion Regulation Techniques:
Learn specific emotion regulation techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, or grounding exercises, to help manage intense emotions when they arise.
Develop Emotional Intelligence:
Work on enhancing your emotional intelligence (EQ). This involves recognizing, understanding, and managing your own emotions as well as those of others. EQ is a valuable skill in personal and professional relationships.
Seek Professional Help:
If you find it challenging to manage your emotions on your own, consider consulting with a therapist or counselor. They can provide guidance and evidence-based strategies to support your emotional well-being. Radical Forgiveness coaches offer individual and group sessions around the world.
How can we help you to identify and understand your emotions for yourself and deal with them effectively?
The beauty of the Radical Forgiveness work is that it allows you to understand your own brain activity, discover where feelings may have originated, and teaches you how you can release them. It does require effort and commitment on your part. You will need to understand the principles then digest the concepts and complete the exercises in relation to yourself. Overall, Radical Forgiveness methods allow for personal growth, emotional resilience, and improved overall well-being. They can be a valuable resource in your journey to manage and navigate your emotions effectively. The work empowers you by easing your burden and lightening your pain—because you are finally able to let go, so it may well prevent more than just the flu…
Our self-development courses can enable you to discover more about understanding your emotions and healing any pain you may carry, through circumstances you have experienced, for example how to try to understand how you perceive yourself and why , through our Radical Self-Forgiveness/Self-Acceptance course, or healing issues with family members, through 21 Days for Forgiving Parents, Partners and More.