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How are you feeling right now? Maybe you’re glad, maybe you’re mad, maybe you’re sad, or maybe you’re something else entirely.

There are thousands of different words to describe your emotions, but it’s something that many people still have trouble expressing.

Bottling up your feelings can be bad for your physical and mental health. Instead of hiding your emotions, you should own them.

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Why Shouldn’t I Keep Emotions to Myself?

People may hide their feelings for many different reasons. Societal pressures may lead you to think showing emotions is weak. Or maybe you think you’re protecting yourself or others by hiding what you’re feeling.

But holding emotions in can do more harm than good. Studies over the years have shown that hiding your feelings can cause both physical and mental harm.

According to a study in the International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, people who repress their emotions are at higher risk for health problems.

The study documented research that linked repression with a wide range of both short-term and long-term illnesses, including cancer, heart problems, and physical pain.

Bottling up your emotions also can have a psychological impact, causing anxiety or depression, the study reported. People may turn to substances like drugs or alcohol to combat what they’re feeling.

In contrast, owning what you’re feeling can help you deal with any problems in the moment. It can help to ease anxiety, depression, or other mental health burdens, according to a report in Current Directions in Psychological Science. People who express their emotions are less likely to turn to self-destructive behavior like substance abuse, the study said.

What Does It Mean to Own Your Feelings?

Owning your feelings may help your physical and emotional well-being. But what does the term actually mean?

“Owning your feelings really speaks to the importance of being able to identify and label our feelings using specific language,” says Jennifer Beckjord, PsyD, senior director of clinical services at UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital. “It’s important to really understand what’s going on because we can’t do anything about a problem without knowing what it is.”

According to Mental Health America, it’s important to identify what you’re feeling as specifically as possible. That means identifying not just your basic emotion but also how strongly you’re feeling it. Instead of saying you feel angry, are you just annoyed, or are you outraged?

Being able to understand your specific emotions — and how strongly you’re feeling it — can help begin the healing process.

How Can I Own My Feelings?

Recognizing and identifying your emotions is important, but so is taking action. You can do a few things to fully take ownership of your feelings.

  • Talk to someone: Find someone you trust — whether it’s a licensed therapist or just a friend or family member — and talk to that person about what you’re feeling. “Sometimes we try to sort things through in our own mind, and that can get really confusing or complicated,” Dr. Beckjord says. “It’s really important to talk it out with others.”
  • Write them down: Journaling allows you to put your thoughts and feelings on paper and begin to understand them. A UCLA study found that just putting feelings into words can help people feel better.
  • Get professional help: Identifying your feelings may only be half the battle. If you’re experiencing particularly strong emotions, or if they’re causing a heavy physical or mental burden, you may need to seek help. Professional counselors or therapists may be able to help you confront and overcome what you’re going through.

Whatever method you use to own your feelings, just know that it’s better for you — physically and mentally — than bottling them up.

For more information, call UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital at 412-624-2100.

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Todd B. Kashdan, Lisa Feldman Barrett, Patrick E. McKnight, Current Directions in Psychological Science, Unpacking Emotion Differentiation: Transforming Unpleasant Experience by Perceiving Distinctions in Negativity. Link

Mental Health America, Tools 2 Thrive, Owning Your Feelings. Link

Jainish Patel, Prittesh Patel, International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being. Link

UCLA, Putting Feelings Into Words Produces Therapeutic Effects In The Brain, Science Daily. Link

About UPMC Western Behavioral Health

UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is the hub of UPMC Behavioral Health, a network of community-based programs providing specialized mental health and addiction care for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. Our mission is to provide comprehensive, compassionate care to people of all ages with mental health conditions. UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital is a nationally recognized leader in mental health clinical care, research, and education. It is one of the nation’s foremost university-based psychiatric care facilities through its integration with the Department of Psychiatry of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. We are here to help at every stage of your care and recovery.