Humans are inherently social beings, and we are strongly motivated to form social bonds with others and to ‘belong’. By sharing experiences and emotions with others we influence our own subjective perception of these experiences. In 1947 the World Health Organisation (WHO) defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being”. There currently exists a significant emphasis on the importance of emotional well-being for our overall health, with individuals who are able to sincerely share their feelings with others being considered to be emotionally healthy. Emotional health or well-being is the ability to be aware of and understand our thoughts, feelings and emotions, and to be able to process them in a healthy way. A study published in 2014 found that participants reported a more positive affect when viewing emotional images with a friend compared to viewing them alone. The researchers concluded that emotional situations are more pleasant when shared, as this sense of togetherness activates the neural reward system- the brain structure that mediates pleasure.
But not everyone finds it easy to share their feelings. We are taught that showing emotions is a sign of weakness, or that it makes us look stupid. Maybe we don’t want to feel vulnerable and the repercussions that come with that, or telling people how we feel makes us feel embarrassed. Additionally, gender and societal roles influence how we perceive emotions- with men expected to be strong and stoic, and women being considered hysterical. These are completely valid reasons as to why people might find it difficult to express their feelings, but we should encourage teaching ways to learn how to express ourselves and talk about the positive mental health outcomes of sharing emotions with others.
There are ways of changing this mindset of negative attitudes to expressing emotions, such as emotional validation, self-recognition and learning how to express ourselves in appropriate ways. “Emotional validation” just means letting yourself feel, with understanding and acceptance. You can practice self-validation by avoiding phrases such as “you’re too sensitive” or “it’s not that big of a deal”. Invalidating our own feelings, or those of others, can have negative consequences on our psychological health. The effects include undermining our sense of self, which can result in the development of lower self-esteem. It can also hinder emotional management, as invalidation tells us that the way we feel is wrong and should not be trusted, and can heighten the risk of developing depression and anxiety. Research has found that individuals with poor emotional management skills are more likely to develop substance abuse disorders, abnormal sleeping patterns, participate in less physical exercise, and have poorer eating habits. Additionally, emotional repression can cause stress, which is linked to increased heart rates, anxiety, and is detrimental to our everyday productivity.
Learning to validate our emotions is a necessary skill to enable us to manage and express our feelings in a healthy manner. Finding the right social circle to be vulnerable in helps in dealing with everyday stress and anxieties. Social support and communication has been found to reduce anxiety and helps in developing a sense of security. Social support is a protector against stress, it gives people a feeling of being loved, cared for, respected, and aids in the development of resilience. Poor emotional health weakens our immune system due to chronic stress, therefore it is very important to focus on finding healthy ways of blowing off steam. People with positive social relationships also have more efficient communication skills, which aid in the prevention of symptoms of depression and other mental health conditions.
Free expression of emotions helps build close relationships and is crucial for our physical and mental health. Stress relief and positive affect have significant benefits on our overall well-being. In fact, a study on the autobiographies of 180 nuns found a strong relationship between positive early-life emotional well-being and a lower risk of mortality six decades later, predicting a long and healthy life. Maintaining open and healthy social support in later stages of life is crucial for our well-being, both mental and physical. While talking to close friends and family is a good option, there are other ways to learn emotional health. Keeping a journal or recording our own voice can also have beneficial effects on emotional management and regulation. At FitQuid we aim to motivate the community to live a healthy lifestyle, by providing support during difficult times. Changing our mindset, knowing that our emotions are valid and should be respected, and expressing them in healthy ways are essential aspects in maintaining our well-being.