Emotions are such a prominent part of human life. Can you imagine a life where you cannot feel love for your parents, family, partner, or friends; cannot feel the pain from your heartbreak, losing a loved one, fighting with your best friend; cannot “cry it out” after that pain; cannot be embarrassed about waving at a stranger thinking you just saw your friend, and… you get the gist. Humans are different from animals because of their ability to feel so many different sorts of emotions in varying levels. But what happens when you bottle up those emotions? Unfortunately, there are many reasons as to why anyone would do this, and we think the most common could be because people don’t want to bother anyone else about the things that are bothering them. Besides sharing your feelings with another person, there are so many multiple ways to “vent” your emotions out, but before we talk about all those ways, let’s look at why emotion regulation is so important.
In an article by Gross et al. (1995), the authors favor both the ideas that emotions can be controllable as well as uncontrollable. They looked at the relation of emotion regulation with three main domains of mental health: Work, Relationships, and Inner-self. It is important to understand and regulate the emotions a person feels in order to effectively complete a task since, for any occupation, social -interaction is very important. Failure in regulation and expression of these emotions can dramatically reduce the efficiency of a task, according to Gross et al. (1995). Furthermore, the inability to express emotions can also prevent people from developing satisfactory and sustainable relationships. There are different patterns of emotional give and take in any relationship, especially friendship and/or intimate relationships, but in order for the relationship to be successful, the ratio of positive patterns should be more than negative patterns – in other words, more positive moments than negative ones. Individuals unable to regulate their emotions will be precluded from desired intimacy and strong relationships. Lastly, mental health consists of more than just work or social relations, it also involves a sense of being at peace with one’s inner self too. A person’s ability to control their emotions and be at peace with themselves in the absence of any company is really crucial in order for them to not destroy the relationships with people around them or turn to other relief methods such as substance abuse. Additionally, the research paper also mentioned that prolonged inability to control and balance emotions can cause individuals to face major depressive disorders.
“Prolonged inability to control and balance emotions can cause individuals to face major depressive disorders.”
That was just the theoretical aspect of emotion regulation, now let’s take a look at the experiments. In an experiment by Bonanno et al. (2004), researchers looked at the ability to enhance or suppress emotions in 101 college students in New York. The experiment was done to assess emotions after the 9/11 attack in students who just started college after the incident. This assessment was repeated to measure distress levels after one and a half years. As a measure of initial distress, the undergraduates completed a symptom checklist, and after about three months, they participated in an expression-regression experiment. Scientists predicted that the flexibility to enhance and suppress emotions could cause reduced distress over time. The study supported the finding that individuals successful in adaptation are linked directly to the ability to flexibly suppress and enhance emotional expressions. Hence, we can say that if people are flexible in expressing their emotions one way or the other, then there can be reduced distress in later years, and fewer chances for them to face major depressive episodes as mentioned by Gross et al.(1995).
Additionally, another study by Ciarrochi et al. (2003) looked at the social and emotional competence (SEC) of 361 college students for stressful events and its effects on mental health. The participants had to complete two one-hr assessments: Session A (Social and emotional health as well as problem-solving skills) and Session B (measured emotional competence and stressful events). These sessions were one week apart and were totally anonymous. The current study supported all the previous studies on the direct link between SEC and mental health (suicidal thoughts, depression, social anxiety, etc..)
We have sufficient evidence that would support the importance of expressing emotions in order for better mental health. Emotions are a prominent part of human lives and yet, emotion regulation seems like a very underrepresented topic. Still, we hope that after reading this article, there is a better understanding of why it is important to be flexible about expressing and suppressing emotions. Expressing emotions does not necessarily always mean sharing them with another individual – you can have your own ways to express those emotions and be at peace with your inner self. It can be writing your thoughts/emotions/expressions down in a diary or writing them in a song, a painting, or through exercise. It can be anything that works for you and your mental health. So, try to find a way to express emotions that works for you, and let us know in the comments below!
Bonanno, George A., et al. “The importance of being flexible: The ability to both enhance and suppress emotional expression predicts long-term adjustment.” Psychological science 15.7 (2004): 482-487.
Ciarrochi, Joseph, et al. “Relations between social and emotional competence and mental health: A construct validation study.” Personality and Individual Differences 35.8 (2003): 1947-1963.
Gross, James J., and Ricardo F. Muñoz. “Emotion regulation and mental health.” Clinical psychology: Science and practice 2.2 (1995): 151-164.