Ever feel like you need to cry, scream, laugh, punch a pillow, or dance it out?
We’re often taught to bury our pain and soldier on. Over time, this can lead to repressed emotions, also known as unconscious avoidance.
Research from 2019 linked emotional repression with decreased immune system function.
Here are a few ways to release repressed emotions:
acknowledging your feelings
working through trauma
trying shadow work
making intentional movement
Acknowledge your feelings
The more you understand your emotional world, the more you can digest your feelings in healthy ways.
The first step is to connect with and understand your emotions. People with repressed emotions may have trouble identifying their feelings, which is why it can be valuable to talk with a mental health professional.
A 2007 study(Trusted Source)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17576282/ showed that labeling your emotions can decrease their intensity.
You can do this by using psychological tools, like the cognitive distortion categories, or by exploring ways to categorize your emotions to help you make sense of them.
Work through past trauma
Often, there are things we carry around for years that stem back to childhood. Some examples of past trauma include:
abuse, including mental, emotional, physical, or sexual
loss of a loved one
separation from a parent or caregiver
dysfunction at home
Unresolved childhood trauma can show up in many ways, including:
casting blame on others
withdrawing from social activities
In order to work through trauma, Olson says it’s crucial to feel the grief about the fact that you may never get what you wanted or deserved years ago.
Once you’ve allowed yourself that grief, you can acknowledge the adaptive strategy you developed as a result.
For example, you may have developed a coping strategy to be independent that eventually results in feelings of isolation. Without recognizing your strategy, you might think you’re being alienated by others.
On the other hand, if you realize your isolation comes from your adaptive strategy, you can identify the root of the issue and modify your strategy to better meet your true needs.
Similar to exploring childhood trauma, shadow work offers another lens of exploring different parts of ourselves that we keep hidden, typically due to shame or inadequacy.
People tend to hide the parts of themselves that they believe are unacceptable.
For example, were you told to “calm down” or “stop crying” when you were upset as a kid? This emotional invalidation may cause you to feel ashamed of your emotions or to downplay them.
Shadow work can be done in several ways, though it’s generally recommended to work with a therapist.
You can find a few shadow work exercises here.
Somatic experiencing (SE) is a way to address any unprocessed tension or emotion that may be lingering in your body.
SE uses a body-first approach to address symptoms, with the idea that freeing unprocessed trauma can promote emotional healing.
One way to do this is through intentional movement, according to Vincent.
“When we intentionally move, we can create a sense of safety in our bodies that we may not have experienced before, especially individuals who have stored trauma,” Vincent says.
Examples of intentional movement include:
belly breathing exercises
Vincent notes that intentional movement releases any stored energy while helping the brain recognize the difference between tension and relaxation.
Being still allows us to be with our thoughts and feelings in a present state.
It taps into the brain’s default mode network(Trusted Source)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17576282/, which is when your brain briefly enters an idle state. This triggers what scientists call “self-generated cognition,” which includes things like daydreaming or letting your mind wander.
By momentarily disengaging from external stimuli, research(Trusted Source)https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24376427/ says people can better connect with their inner thoughts, emotions, and desires.
“We live in a world where stillness isn’t practiced enough, nor is it valued, but can be so nourishing to our minds and bodies,” Vincent says. “It also allows space for emotions to come into… consciousness.”
Some ways to practice stillness are:
sitting in nature
listening to calming music
progressive muscle relaxation