Society seems to condition us to always appear calm and in full control of how we feel, no matter the circumstances. Suppressing emotions may seem like a great way to prove that you’re strong and not a weak crybaby but hiding how you really feel can have serious health consequences such as mental fatigue, elevated blood pressure, and sleeping problems.
Common signs that you suppress your emotions as a coping strategy include:
Using substances like drugs or alcohol to numb the pain and escape from your thoughts.
Consciously not talking about how you feel.
Avoiding situations that remind you of your emotions or force you to confront them.
Distracting yourself as a way to prevent yourself from reacting.
One of the major ways that ‘shutting down’ negative feelings, affects you is by affecting your dreams. The brain naturally tries to work out emotions, but it needs your help to do so. When you refuse to acknowledge these negative emotions, the brain is forced to process them alone. While you sleep, memories are processed and stored. When you refuse to confront your negative emotions while you’re awake, the brain works on combating the negative emotion without you while you sleep at night. This causes these emotions to surface in your unconscious dreaming state.
Research by Malinowski (2017) has confirmed the importance of ‘dream rebound’. When we suppress our emotions, they show up in our dreams. Participants who suppressed negative thoughts had more negative emotions manifesting in their dreams in forms of sadness, fear, anger, and anxiety. Participants who suppressed their negative emotions also had sleep problems and experienced poor sleep quality, difficulty falling asleep, use of sleep medication, restless sleep, and tiredness during the day. They also recorded higher levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.
In essence, researchers discovered that there is a greater tendency for negative emotions experienced during waking hours to manifest within dreams. Especially sadness, fear, anger, and anxiety. Positive emotions did not significantly manifest in dreams. Also, suppression of feelings is associated with poorer sleep quality and correlates with anxiety, depression, and stress.
How To Work Through Your Emotions In A Healthy Manner
Here are a few tips to help you process negative emotions in a healthy way, rather than by suppressing them:
Journal: Free form journaling can help you purge yourself of the negative emotions that you feel. Writing down your negative feelings and noting possible solutions before going to bed can be cathartic and improves your sleep quality significantly.
Talk about your dreams: It is incredibly helpful to analyze your dreams with the help of a therapist. Unpacking what happens in these dreams with your therapist can help you identify the particular emotions you’re suppressing and how to manage them in a healthy manner.
Practice mindfulness: Be mindful of your thoughts. Note them, and then let them go, rather than suppressing them. Meditation can help you feel calmer too.
I help people manage their emotions in the best way possible and unleash their full potential to live and love well. If you need help with managing your negative emotions properly, please contact me to book a session.
Chelsy A. Castro, JD, MA, AM, LCSW