Sunday, March 23, 2008

Bottling Up Emotions with regard to Health and Illness

Some of you know that I had a bout of adrenal fatigue last May, right around Mother's Day and a lotof it may have been due to stress. As a result of that fatigue, I started counseling to try to find ways to alleviate the stress.

One of the books my counselor recommended was called "The Dance of Anger" and the gist of it was that women in our society are socialized never to get angry. Instead they seek to please everyone, but ignore their own needs, including the fact that it is okay to get angry. Often, women like this (and I am one of them) wait until things get so bad - they get so angry - that it often explodes out of them. One trick is to acknowledge and express that anger before it gets out of control. (There are some women who do express their anger, but they are often denigrated and called "bitches", but that doesn't apply to today's post.) Also, women like this tend to think that if someone is mad at them, it's their own fault, not the other person's. So, on top of being angry, they then feel guilty about being angry because they don't feel they are supposed to be.

Obviously, while anger is one strong emotion women often deny themselves, sadness, irritation, frustration, etc., are a bunch of other feelings that we often don't acknowledge because we are supposed to always be pleasant and smiling and to do whatever is asked of us. Repressing your emotions and keeping it to yourself does have an impact on your health.

When I started acupuncture, Brodie asked me how I was doing emotionally and what my stress level was. One point she made is that, according to traditional Chinese medicine, problems with your breasts, i.e., breast cancer, is a result of bottling up your emotions. It blocks your liver chi, which then loses its ability to filter out waste and abnormal cells. So, she has been advising me to learn to recognize and feel all those emotions when they start to happen and then to let those emotions pass THROUGH me, to allow my liver to process it and let go of it and not harbor it inside where it can be harmful to my health. It's hard to learn how to do this because women are taught that we shouldn't express negative emotions.

For me, not sharing what's going on with my life - how I'm feeling, what's going on with my personal relationships and at work - also has the effect of bottling up my emotions. There was a time when I didn't share with anyone what was going on with me. I hid stress and sadness between a smile and a "I'm fine". So, in the interest of my health, I opt for being open.


Carver said...

I think it's great that you are making a conscious effort to be open as part of your strategy for being healthy. Someone once told me a long time ago that depression is in some cases repressed anger. I know that is somewhat simplistic and depression is complicated and can have many causes. However, something clicked in me and I found that when I am able to express anger in healthy ways I am less likely to feel depressed.

Dee said...

Thank you, Carver, for sharing your story with me. Hadn't heard that depression is repressed anger. I am finding that it is important to express anger in healthy ways and I try to do it, although I am not always successful.

This just reminds me of something someone told me last year - I told him I thought that I was finally figuring out how to be a grown-up at age 42. His reply is that he knew of a lot of 40-something-year-olds who were growing up, too! I think he meant that we're all figuring out how to be mature, healthy adults in our 40's. Makes me wonder why that's the case?

Dee said...

Hey Carver! I see you changed your profile picture! Very interesting composition - with the white flower and your foot in a sandal! Had to look at it twice to figure out what I was seeing, but it is certainly a spring-like picture! Love it!

Carver said...

Hi Dee, A friend jokingly asked if the weather was warm enough in NC for me to take a picture of my feet in flip flops and I said no but I could take one in socks and my sandles. About the growing up thing, I turned 50 this year and I'm still changing in a lot of ways. I really think it's a life long process which is good in a way. Take care, carver

Dee said...

You're right - it's important to continue growing and changing throughout your life -it is healthier in the long run. I'm just wondering why it's taken me 40+ years to get to this point!!

I'm already seeing students running around campus in flipflops, although the average temperature is still about in the mid-50s, although a glorious day in the low 60s has occurred once or twice. Still, not warm enough for me to wear sandals yet!

That also reminds me of living in Fairbanks. Around this time of year, the temperatures start climbing to around freezing after a winter that averages below zero. Even though there's snow on the ground, students wear shorts and flip flops when the temps start hitting the 30s!