Emotional release is a healthy act known as catharsis. During a catharsis, pent-up emotions are discharged and this results in the alleviation of underlying emotional tension. In other words, catharsis makes you feel better.
But how you go about releasing your emotions matters. Just any old action does not work. Here are a few dos and don’ts for expressing your emotions and experiencing a healthier you.
Studies now show that expressing emotions in violent ways, such as by hitting a punching bag or playing violent video games, are actually harmful to your mental health – not helpful. In fact, expressing your emotions violently actually increases feelings of aggression, anger and rage, it does not diminish them.
On the other hand, expressing your emotions in healthy ways can help you process your emotions and experience a catharsis. For example, if you have experienced betrayal of a lover, expressing the emotions around that betrayal is healthy and can help prevent turning the feelings inward in feelings of self-hatred or self-blame. Talk about how you feel to your partner, to a confidant, or to someone who understands.
Revenge is typically borne out of anger and although some might say it’s even natural, it is not the best way of processing and moving through strong emotions. Revenge has been shown to increase stress and impair health and immunity.
Rather than revenge, attempting to forgive a person who has wronged you tends to bring peace, according to Dr. Judith Orloff, and this makes it well worth the difficulty and “soul-stretching.”
Ignored feelings tend to get pent up and create scenarios that aren’t healthy. For example, you may be feeling hurt because your partner has not wanted to make love with you for a month. Attempting to ignore this hurt will likely make it bubble up in other ways, like in a fight when your spouse has to work late – something you would normally not be angry about.
Talking about strong, painful emotions helps to process them so you can move beyond them. While this approach may be difficult initially, in the long run it does create catharsis for many.
People use various ways to cope with feelings and many of them aren’t healthy, for example, people often drink, do drugs, eat, hurt others, obsess, steal or do other things to try to deal with negative emotions. However, engaging in these types of unhealthy activities normally replaces the existing problem – strong emotions – with two problems – the emotions and the behavior. Positive catharsis is not gained this way.
Writing, art, music and other creative pursuits can help process tough emotions. Writing, in particular, has been studied and translating feelings into language has actually been shown to affect brain and immune functions in positive ways. Writing through even the most painful of emotions – such as those associated with a diagnosis of cancer – can be healing.
No matter what is going on in life, it is possible to process, work through and move beyond painful emotions. It may take time, and may be hard to do while you're in the thick of it, but it can be done.
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