Health, Emotional Expression, and Longevity

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by Nils Osmar. March 11, 2022

Are there health benefits to expressing emotions rather than repressing them, and if so, could they translate into a longer lifespan? Several studies suggest that there may be.

“Studies by Pennebaker and his colleagues (1997) demonstrated that individuals who repress their emotions also suppress their body’s immunity, making them more vulnerable to a variety of illnesses ranging from common colds to cancer 5.

“Other findings have demonstrated that patient with cancer and other forms of malignancy that chronically mask their experiences and feelings are more liable to die despite treatments than expressive patients 18, 19.

“Empirical evidence indicates a substantial reduction in pain and discomfort from arthritis following the expression of negative…. The amount of relief from pain and discomfort reported by patients with chronic illness has been found to be commensurate with how able they are too deeply and authentically express their emotions and feelings.

“In conclusion, it is clear that expressing one’s true emotions and the feeling is crucial to physical health, mental health, and general well being, while a reliance on concealment gives rise to a barrier to good health. In as much as having a family membe r or a trusted friend to confide in seems like the best option, it is not the only one. Talking with a psychotherapist or a counselor is another method of getting help.

“Alternatively, one may resort to writing down ones true feelings and emotions, or simply recording with tape the particular events in one’s life that have been most upsetting and emotionally distressing…”

Penn Medicine Article: “Five Health Benefits of Crying

  • “Have you ever noticed that you generally feel much better after you’ve had a good cry? There’s a reason for that. When we cry we are actually relieving our body of countless toxins and hormones that contribute to elevated stress levels.
  • “This in turn can help individuals to sleep better, strengthen their immune systems, and avoid gaining weight.
  • “By lowering our stress levels, crying may also help lower our blood pressure…”

Mayo Clinic Article: “Health Benefits of Laughing? It’s No Joke”

Short-term benefits

A good laugh has great short-term effects. When you start to laugh, it doesn’t just lighten your load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in your body. Laughter can:

  • Stimulate many organs. Laughter enhances your intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulates your heart, lungs and muscles, and increases the endorphins that are released by your brain.
  • Activate and relieve your stress response. A rollicking laugh fires up and then cools down your stress response, and it can increase and then decrease your heart rate and blood pressure. The result? A good, relaxed feeling.
  • Soothe tension. Laughter can also stimulate circulation and aid muscle relaxation, both of which can help reduce some of the physical symptoms of stress.

Long-term effects

Laughter isn’t just a quick pick-me-up, though. It’s also good for you over the long term. Laughter may:

Improve your immune system. Negative thoughts manifest into chemical reactions that can affect your body by bringing more stress into your system and decreasing your immunity. By contrast, positive thoughts can actually release neuropeptides that help fight stress and potentially more-serious illnesses.

Relieve pain. Laughter may ease pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers.

Increase personal satisfaction. Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations. It also helps you connect with other people.

Improve your mood. Many people experience depression, sometimes due to chronic illnesses. Laughter can help lessen your stress, depression and anxiety and may make you feel happier. It can also improve your self-esteem.

From Medical News Today:

People may try to suppress tears if they see them as a sign of weakness, but science suggests that doing so could mean missing out on a range of benefits. Researchers have found that crying:

1. Has a soothing effect

Self-soothing is when people:

  • regulate their own emotions
  • calm themselves
  • reduce their own distress

2014 studyTrusted Source found that crying may have a direct, self-soothing effect on people. The study explained how crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax.

2. Gets support from others

As well as helping people self-soothe, crying can help people get support from others around them.

As this 2016 studyTrusted Source explains, crying is primarily an attachment behavior, as it rallies support from the people around us. This is known as an interpersonal or social benefit.

3. Helps to relieve pain

Research has foundTrusted Source that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins.

These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being.

4. Enhances mood

Crying may help lift people’s spirits and make them feel better. As well as relieving pain, oxytocin and endorphins can help improve mood. This is why they are often known as “feel good” chemicals.

5. Releases toxins and relieves stress

When humans cry in response to stress, their tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals.

Researchers believe that crying could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, which could, in turn, reduce stress. More research is needed into this area, however, to confirm this.

6. Aids sleep

small study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is yet to be researched.

However, it follows that the calming, mood-enhancing, and pain-relieving effects of crying above may help a person fall asleep more easily.

7. Fights bacteria

Crying helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme.

2011 studyTrusted Source found that lysozyme had such powerful antimicrobial properties that it could even help to reduce risks presented by bioterror agents, such as anthrax.

8. Improves vision

Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help to keep the eyes moist and prevent mucous membranes from drying out.

As the National Eye InstituteTrusted Source explains, the lubricating effect of basal tears helps people to see more clearly. When the membranes dry out, vision can become blurry.

My Thoughts:

We can’t “prove” that finding healthy ways to express emotions rather than repress them will result in people living longer, any more than we can “prove” that a particular diet or supplement will have that effect, because it would take longer than a human lifespan, with control groups who practiced expressing or repressing their emotions for their entire lifetimes, to be sure. But the studies I’ve cited above provide evidence that finding healthy ways to express emotions may correlate with longer lives and better survival odds in people with conditions such as cancer.

This is purely anecdotal, but I learned decades ago that I feel better and function better if I find ways to express emotions. Like many people, I grew up bottling up many of my emotions. Some of my nicest memories are:

  • Laughing with friends
  • Out of control laughint
  • Feeling sad and letting myself cry hard and “cry it out”
  • Sitting with a friend who was “crying things out” and letting them have a good hard cry.

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