The world can be a harsh and judgmental place, and because of this, many people feel pressured to keep their emotions in check in and show a tough exterior. There can be many reasons why some people turn to bottling up their emotions. It might be societal pressure to present yourself a certain way or to be “the rock” of your family or friend group. Or maybe opening up yourself in the past has led to you being hurt. No matter what the reason, suppressing your feelings can damage your relationships with others and have some serious consequences both physically and mentally. Your pent-up feelings can manifest themselves in escapist behavior (like excessive drinking), physical and mental illnesses, and can potentially even shorten your lifespan. Studies have even shown that bottling up your emotions can lead to increased risk of developing heart disease and certain forms of cancer. And according to a 2012 study of 243 centenarians, openly expressing emotions is key to longevity. So, how do you know if it’s about time you try letting yourself be a little more emotional every now and then?
5 signs you are bottling up emotions
1. Most people would describe you as “calm.” If you’re upset, you don’t make a scene. If you’re sad, you don’t cry in public. People who bottle up their emotions usually go to great lengths to ensure that no matter what they may be feeling or going through, they keep their composure. It might be pleasant for those around you, who might even admire your ability to keep your cool in any situation and what could easily come off as politeness, but it might actually be a result of you just trying very hard to restrain yourself and your feelings.
2. You feel like your social self and your personal, private self are two completely different people. Your emotions are part of you and make you who you are, so if you’re trying your hardest to disguise them, chances are that you also constantly feel like you can’t be yourself around others. Everyone has a different way of hiding their emotions. Maybe you put up a brave and confident “mask” when you’re with others, or maybe you try to seem laid-back and indifferent, but the key sign is that you feel like you can only truly be yourself when you’re in a safe space where you won’t be judged for what you’re feeling.
3. You feel stressed and anxious. Experiencing and expressing emotions, whether they be positive or negative, is crucial to our mental health. Feeling stressed and not letting it out can lead to it building up, which can cause many mental health problems. If you bottle up your emotions, it is likely that you also feel afraid that people will see through your façade. Keeping up this constant performance can lead to stress and anxiety. You’re constantly keeping your emotions in check, and as emotions are extremely powerful, that can be an extremely draining task.
4. You go to great lengths to avoid triggering situations. Do you dread going places that have strong emotional memories attached, or meet people that trigger certain feelings within you? It’s likely that you’re afraid of being overwhelmed and unable to restrain your emotions. There is a large chance that you are not, in fact, afraid of the place or situation itself, but of the emotional impact it will have on you and the consequences of that impact. This fear can have many negative effects, it can hold you back in life and hinder you from gaining new experiences and chances to grow as a person.
5. You constantly feel like other people are overreacting and being too dramatic. You are used to keeping your cool in all situations. You have probably developed a great sense of self-control, and it might astonish you that other people don’t have the same discipline. People who can’t hold back might annoy you; you can do it, so why shouldn’t they be able to do it, too? You might even feel jealous of others gaining attention for their “irrational” emotional and dramatic behavior and feel like it’s undeserved on their part when you’re the one who is working hard to stay strong.
If this sounds like you, my advice is that you take steps to try and become more comfortable with being open with your emotions. Bottling up emotions comes naturally to many because showing emotions makes us vulnerable to others, and we might be afraid of being used, taunted, or hurt. If you bottle up your emotions for too long, however, it’s inevitable that you will explode at one point. Like a shaken soda bottle, once that final thing triggers the cap to come off, everything you’ve been trying to keep inside of you will come bubbling up all at once. This can lead to relationships being destroyed and will take a huge toll on you mentally. A badly timed eruption can also mentally scar you, and thus might tempt you to, in order to avoid happening in the future, just bottle up your emotions even more, which is very counterproductive and will only invite another outburst to happen in the future.
Learning to become more in touch with your emotions can be a different journey for everyone. You might benefit from taking up a mindfulness practice, talking to a professional, or just opening up to close friends and family. Whatever you do, just start with the intention to trust yourself that it’s okay to let yourself be vulnerable and emotional sometimes. We all are, and it’s just part of human nature.
Have you ever noticed yourself bottling up emotions?
Also by Audrey: 3 Ways Meditation Dramatically Improved My Life Quality
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This article was first published on December 5, 2017 and most recently updated on September 28, 2019.