Emotions are often described in mind-body medicine as “e-motion”: energy in emotion. They are present to tell a story about what we need to pay attention to – an inner reflection of what is happening in our lives.
Unfortunately, some emotions get labeled as being ‘negative’ and end up conveniently tucked away so that the conscious mind does not have to be present to discomfort. Since emotions are physiologically represented in our bodies (patterns of neurological activity, as well as patterns of immune system and hormonal/endocrine activity, etc.), the suppression of our emotions has simultaneous physical and psychological ramifications.
In the linked study, beliefs about emotion, coping styles, and their connection to anxiety/depression and fatigue were examined.
Aims: “This study investigated two hypotheses: a) greater endorsement of beliefs about the unacceptability of negative emotions will be associated with greater emotional avoidance and lower levels of support-seeking and self-compassion; b) these beliefs about emotions will be associated with higher levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety and fatigue and that this relationship will be mediated by social support-seeking, emotional avoidance and self-compassion.”
Results: “Beliefs about the unacceptability of negative emotions were significantly associated with more emotional avoidance and less self-compassion and support-seeking. The relationships between beliefs about emotions and depression, anxiety and fatigue were significantly mediated by self-compassion and emotional avoidance but not social support-seeking.”
Essentially, the message is that when we relate poorly to some or all of our emotions, especially the one’s we’ve labeled as bad or negative, we isolate and are harder on ourselves. In contrast, when we cultivate a healthy relationship to our feelings and interact with them with the attitude that they carry important energies, truths, and meaning, we can reduce our risk for anxiety, depression and fatigue. While the study did not find that the relationship between beliefs and depression, anxiety, and fatigue were mediated by social support-seeking, there is a solid scientific foundation for the argument that social engagement and prosocial behavior is bi-directionally linked to health and disease, and ultimately the quality of our relationships is reflected in our physiology. Mind-body medicine that supports self-regulation, self-awareness, and self-expression, can enhance our capacity to cultivate and engage in healthy relationships with others.
It was William Blake who said something along the lines of “All emotions are innocent.” Thus, it is our relationship to them and how we interact with their presence that determines if they contribute to ill-health or wellness. May we all strive to explore healthier relationships and improved understanding about the emotional patterns that we experience. In a future post, I will discuss how many psychological models of emotion list primary and secondary emotions and how recognizing that one emotion may be riding out in front of another less comfortable emotion can aid our exploration…