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Finding healthy ways to express yourself can reduce the risk of chronic poor health

Suppressing emotions can be bad for your health

9 February, 2012

Natural Health News — A new study has shed some light on the relationship between inability to express emotions and susceptibility to inflammation.

Finnish investigators report in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics that people with a diagnosed inability to express emotions, also known as alexithymia, have much higher levels of inflammatory chemicals such as high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) and interleukin (IL)-6 in their bodies.

This was a specific study looking at ways to make a precise diagnosis of alexithymia. But its broader implications for understanding how stress and other emotional states can both trigger and feed inflammatory processes are important.

Inflammation is implicated in diseases as diverse as heart disease, arthritis, asthma, dementia, osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and cancer to name but a few.

Expression not suppression

The findings of the current study echo those of some previous studies. For instance in 2009 a study of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics found those who were encouraged to exchange feelings and express their emotions had lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood than those who kept their feelings to themselves.

In 2010 a study of 124 students found that social situations where people felt judged or rejected increased levels of two pro-inflammatory chemicals interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) – often found in auto-immune diseases.

Conversely there are studies that show that people who are happier have lower levels of inflammatory chemicals.

A positive attitude helps

A 2010 study published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, found that approaching life with a positive attitude was a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and illness.

A study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2003 found a link between depression and  low-grade systemic inflammation in men (but not women) as measured by serum C-reactive protein (CRP) – a predictor of coronary heart disease

A similar study in 2005 issue of the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology looked at the link between burnout, depression, anxiety and inflammation in both men and women. Once again depressed men were more likely than depressed women to have elevated levels of C-reactive protein and fibrinogen (another inflammatory marker for coronary heart disease).

Still much to learn

Even so, women who experienced ‘burn out’ as defined by a chronic emotional exhaustion, physical fatigue, and cognitive weariness, had higher levels of inflammation than men who had burn out suggesting that, as in most things women have a very different physiological reaction to life stressors.

We still have a lot to learn, but the moral of the mind/body connection is that where the heart and mind go, the body often follows, what is not expressed can get turned inward to cause illness, hostile environment at work or at home can take their toll in ways that we are not aware of until it is too late.

Is any of this sound like you there steps you can take to improve the situation.

Seek help if you need it

If feelings of stress, sadness or anxiety are causing physical problems, keeping these feelings inside can make you feel worse.  It’s never too late to learn to express your feelings in a healthy way. It’s OK to let your loved ones know when something is bothering you.

But bear in mind that your family and friends may not always be ready to hear or able to help you deal with your feelings appropriately. If this is the case it’s good to seek outside help for instance from a counsellor to psychotherapist.

It’s also important to drill down to the root of whatever is stressing you and find ways of lightening the load. In some cases building social support and learning to delegate can help tremendously.

Creative, non-verbal ways to express yourself are also important. Write, paint, knit, exercise, cook, any hobby that absorbs you fully and expresses some deep part of yourself will help lower stress levels.

Relaxation methods, such as meditation, are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance but also have a profound effect on the body in terms of reducing stress hormones. Massage  and yoga can also help.

See elsewhere on our site for advice about stress and pain relief.