Sassy Psychologist: Express your emotions, people!

The presenting problem of clients who come to see me is seemingly, anxiety.  They meet the criteria for anxiety conditions and their thoughts and behaviours match those with anxiety trouble.  But, here’s an important secret I need to share: anxiety is often the result of repressed emotions! An emotion is a physiological reaction to a situation or thought.  If this physiological reaction (be it happiness, sadness, frustration or anger) is not expressed, our body will seek out another outlet.  If you decided that emotions are just too hard to deal with, your body will create anxiety to satisfy its need for release.  A Harvard neuroscientist named Jill Bolte Taylor maintains that emotions are supposed to last for a total of 2 minutes in your body. Two frikin’ minutes, people…no more, no less.  Humans unfortunately become scared of their emotions somewhere along the way and push them away as oppose to letting them in and subsequently, letting them out.  This is very dangerous, folks.  If this is your pattern, you will develop an anxiety condition at some point in your life.

I acknowledge however that working on accepting your emotions can be difficult, if you are not used to it.  Every day, I struggle with getting clients to express themselves emotionally.  Chances are, if anxiety has already manifested, they are already pretty damn good at repressing their emotions.  And if their emotions are really and truly buried, we will not be able to see results in the expression of emotion right away.  Instead, we will work on symptom management with CBT techniques.  But if they are at least aware that they repress emotions, we may be able to get to the ‘meat and potatoes’ a little later in their therapeutic process.

One of my clients had severe anxiety and insomnia.  He worked with other practitioners who helped him decrease uncomfortable symptoms.  However, he never explored his emotions.  As early as our second session, we discovered that he had anger towards his mom for her un-empathic and judgemental nature (a parent with these qualities can definitely affect their child’s anxiety level into adulthood).  Upon working through the anger and unfinished business he had with his mother, he felt a world of better.  He sent me a text the next day indicating that he slept for 9 hours straight after our session (rest that he hadn’t had for over 2 weeks). 

My point is, do not underestimate the power of the expression of your emotions!  Start letting them in slowly and begin practicing with the easy ones.  You’ll soon develop the skills and resources to process and release your emotions.  They cannot kill you, ladies and gentlemen!  Let them out! 

Find a journal, find a friend… find a way.

Anna-Maria Tosco, or our Sassy Psychologist, has two masters degrees in the field of psychology and has studied and worked coast to coast. She has worked in both psychiatric and community settings in some of Montreal's most respected healthcare organizations and institutions, and has also given a variety of talks and workshops on neuroplasticity, meditation, and uncovering barriers to love.