Dangers of Holding In Your Emotions

Most of us have heard the term "emotional baggage," and admittedly carry some around. We spend our time keeping busy with work, friends, socializing, cleaning, daily tasks, shopping--anything to avoid having to face or feel our emotions that we are carrying around from past painful experiences or traumas. The problem with this, according to mind/body medical experts, is that repressed feelings don't just go away. They actually remain in the body, taking up our energy and laying the groundwork for physical ailments, illnesses and disease.

"Many illnesses are quite simply the end result of emotions that have been stuffed, unacknowledged, and unexperienced for years," says Christiane Northrup, specialist in women's health and author of Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. "Unexpressed emotions tend to 'stay' in the body like small ticking time bombs," she says. "They are illnesses in incubation." 

According to experts in mind/body medicine, our emotions have a profound effect on us because they are physically linked to our bodies via our immune, endocrine, and central nervous systems. These experts agree that often the seeds for a patient's physical problems were planted by the patient's earlier emotional traumas.

According to Northrup, millions of women suffer from chronic pelvic pain, vaginitis, ovarian cysts, genital warts, endometriosis, and cervical dysplasia, which are conditions that are the language through which women's bodies speak to them.

Edward T. Creagan, MD, an oncologist at the Mayo Clinic, says that in dealing with the emotions of grief, if you don't face your grief, your wounds may never go away. "Unresolved grief can surface years later as headaches, relationship issues, intestinal problems, mental health difficulties, eating disorders, chemical dependency or other issues," he says.

Additionally, holding in emotions can weaken your body's immune system, making you more likely to get colds and other infections, as well as lead to the abuse of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs.

The danger, experts agree, is that when we delay acknowledging our emotions, this can lead our body to speak louder and louder to get our attention.

The following are some of the more common physical ailments and illnesses and that have been linked to holding in emotions:

  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches/ulcers
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Low back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Sexual problems
  • General aches and pains
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Asthma
  • Cancers

Healing Through Feeling Emotions

When we don't allow ourselves to feel our emotions, and instead run away from them or use other processes, such as drugs, to get a "high," we create a dangerous situation for our mental, emotional and physical health.

Healing can occur when we allow ourselves to feel, express and release emotions from the past that we have suppressed.

The following are some helpful tips to help you address, express and improve your emotional health.

Tips to Improve Your Emotional Health

  • Cry. The next time you feel moved to tears, stop and let yourself experience it.
  • Laugh. The next time you feel moved to laughter, allow yourself to laugh.
  • Speak. If you feel angry or upset with someone, speak with them about it. Sometimes just saying, "I feel angry," feeling it in your body, and then explaining why you are angry, can be the key to cleansing out the anger.
  • Make sounds. You can do this in your car, in your home, or in your office. Take a deep breath, and as you are exhaling, allow whatever sounds you feel to come out. Repeat this up to ten times. Sound has a powerful ability to release emotional energy. Try a longer session, combined with stretching exercises, to release some of the longer held, stagnated emotions.
  • Pay attention to physical clues. This could include an uneasy feeling in your stomach, a tightening of your chest or throat, or a clenching of your jaw. Your body might be hinting at emotions that you are trying to stuff. Pay attention to what the emotions might be, acknowledge them and breathe deeply. Tuning in to how you feel in your body can be the key to your healing.
  • Practice Yoga. Yoga is probably one of the best activities you can do to tune into your body, mind and emotions.  It is a holistic health practice. The postures will allow you to feel where you may be storing suppressed emotion, and the deep breathing will allow you to move the energy and express it in a healthy way. 
  • Get a Massage. Massage is another powerful way to tune into where you may be storing emotion in your body. By breathing deeply while the massage therapist works on different parts of your body, you can safely and effectively release long-held emotion. 
  • Talk to someone you trust. By confiding in a trusted friend or a trained therapist, you can explore your feelings more deeply and improve your self-understanding and self-acceptance, which is a key to good health.

When we acknowledge and allow ourselves to express our emotions in a healthy way, our self-understanding and acceptance improves, our body and mind feel cleansed, and we feel freer, happier, and most definitely, healthier.

Note: Although you may not be used to talking to your doctor about your feelings or problems in your personal life, it's important to be honest with your doctor about your emotions. Your doctor can suggest ways to treat your physical symptoms while you work together (or with a recommended therapist) to improve your emotional health.


American Academy of Family Physicians. Mind/Body Connection: How Your Emotions Affect Your Health. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/healthy/mental/782.html. Accessed January 13, 2010.

Creagan, E. T. Grief: A Mayo Clinic Doctor Confronts Painful Emotions. MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/grief/HQ00771. Accessed January 13, 2010.  

Mate, G. Suppressing Our Emotions Harms Physical and Mental Health. Alive.com. April 2004.  http://www.alive.com/1787a5a2.php?subject_bread_cramb=78. Accessed January 13, 2010.

Northrup, C. Women's Bodies, Women's Wisdom. New York: Bantam Books,1998.