We've all heard people talk about the benefits of meditation for our emotional health, but what exactly is going on here? The truth is that many of us have suppressed emotions that we unknowingly let interfere with our day-to-day lives. These can have massive implications for relationships and health
Emotional repression is a common phenomenon that occurs when we suppress our emotions instead of expressing them. This can be a result of family or societal pressures or personal beliefs that certain emotions are "bad" or "unacceptable". I'm sure a lot of us can connect with a memory of a parent or caregiver telling us, "Just be quiet!" when really what we needed was an empathetic ear to hear us. When we continuously go through experiences like this as a child we learn to continuously repress our emotions because our environment has been telling us that is the better thing to do - it makes our parents or caregiver less upset or angry when we push those emotions down and out of the way.
Unfortunately, suppressing emotions can have severely detrimental impacts on our mental and physical health. Some of the ways that emotional suppression can affect us are:
Increased stress and anxiety: When we suppress emotions, the energy required to maintain the suppression can create additional stress and anxiety. The constant effort to push down our feelings can create tension and emotional discomfort that contributes to a heightened sense of anxiety.
Difficulty in relationships: Suppressed emotions can make it challenging to connect with others on an emotional level. When we don't express our emotions, we also don't allow others to see our authentic selves, making it difficult to build deep and meaningful connections.
Physical health issues: Emotions have a physical impact on our bodies. When we suppress them, the energy that would have been released through emotional expression gets trapped within the body, leading to physical symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, and even chronic illnesses.
Decreased emotional awareness: When we suppress our emotions, we become disconnected from them. Over time, this can lead to a decreased ability to identify and regulate our emotions effectively.
Increased risk of depression: Studies have shown that emotional suppression can increase the risk of depression. People who suppress their emotions often have a more negative outlook on life and struggle to find joy in their experiences.
The good news is that it's never too late to start learning how to express your emotions healthily, and one of the best tools we have to do this is meditation. When we practice meditation we slowly start to quieten the mind. When we do this we slowly but surely create space for unresolved emotions to gently make their way to the surface. Don't let that frighten you though because through our practice we also learn to not attach ourselves to these thoughts and emotions when they do arise. This gives us the ability to look at things non-judgementally, and when we look at our thoughts and emotions in this way we learn to understand them better. We understand them without all the baggage we previously brought to the situation. By this mechanism we start to process our emotions in a healthy way and we build a pathway by which we can move forward in our lives without falling into the same traps that our repressed emotions previously caiught us in.
With regard to the hard brain science, research has shown that emotional suppression can activate the amygdala, which is a part of the brain that processes emotions like fear, anger, and anxiety and is partially responsible for our fight or flight response. When we suppress emotions, the amygdala can become hyperactive, leading to increased stress and anxiety. Meditation, however, reduces this hyperactivity of the amygdala.
Emotional suppression can also lead to reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is a part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions and decision-making. When the prefrontal cortex is less active, it can become more challenging to manage emotions effectively, leading to more significant emotional distress. Meditation has been found to increase the thickness of the prefrontal cortex, thereby making us better able to regulate our emotions and create a separation between our emotions and our decision-making process.
In conclusion, meditation offers a powerful tool for individuals to access and process their emotions. Through meditation, individuals can create a space where they can reflect on their emotions, understand them better, and process them in a healthy way. This can lead to improved emotional regulation, decreased stress, and increased overall well-being. If you are struggling with repressed emotions, incorporating meditation into your daily routine will have a massive positive impact on your emotional and physical health as well as your relationships with yourself and others.