Our thoughts, feelings, and instincts help guide us through the day — from how we make decisions to how well we connect with people in our lives. But sharing these emotions comes more naturally to some than it does to others.
Women are often able to tap into their emotions more easily than men. And research backs up this claim: scientists have found that women process, recall, and respond to emotional content differently than men. These differences may help explain why women find it easier to share their emotions with partners, friends, and family.
Research also suggests that sharing emotions has a positive impact on one’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. One study found that suppressing emotions can seriously affect a man's health. Men who are hesitant to share their emotions are more likely to experience accelerated aging, acne, erectile dysfunction, headaches, and increased risk of diabetes and heart disease. They can also suffer from sore muscles, stomach issues, and a weakened immune system.
These physical symptoms don't include the strain that suppressed emotions can have on relationships. Connecting openly and honestly and sharing experiences is a foundation of strong and healthy relationships.
Bottling up emotions can also affect one’s mental and spiritual health. Men who hold back their feelings are more likely to be stressed, anxious, and depressed. They’re also less likely to seek support from others and prioritize their own care.
Improve Emotional Fluency, Improve Your Whole Health
Your emotions are like any other language — one you can teach yourself to understand and speak at any age or stage of life. Emotional fluency refers to your ability to express your emotions easily and comfortably with others.
Improving your emotional fluency translates directly into improving your physical, mental, and spiritual health.
Approach emotional fluency as you would learning any new language. Test it out. Try to identify the emotion you’re experiencing, and more importantly, share it with your partner.
Next time you experience an upsetting or frustrating situation, talk it out with someone you trust. Keep in mind that you don’t need to provide an answer yourself or even get one from someone else. Simply explain the situation and how it makes you feel.
The more you speak the language, the more comfortable the words and expressions become. Best of all, it will forge a bond between you and your loved ones that strengthens with each shared experience.
Pay Attention to How Situations Make You Act and Feel
We all have triggers that make us react a certain way or experience a specific emotion. That could be a feeling of happiness and nostalgia when talking about college or an old friend. It could be stress and anxiety as you walk into a doctor’s office or workplace.
The more you try to identify your feelings and their physical symptoms, the better you’ll be able to discover emotional triggers. Understanding how and why situations make you feel a certain way is an important part of improving your emotional fluency — helping you better cope with experiences and share your worries with someone else — instead of bottling them up inside.
Take Care of Yourself
Self-care is a hot topic right now. Your own wife, sister, or mother may be quick to tell you about how they’re indulging themselves with a massage, a new book, or some alone time.
But self-care isn't just for women — it can be just as effective in improving men's physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. And the best part of self-care is that it's all about you. So, focus on what makes you feel best. That may include spending time outdoors, joining a men’s Bible study group or a recreational sports league with your friends, reading a new book, or going for a run. It can also imply trying out a new recipe, visiting a new place, or watching a favorite movie.
Give Yourself a Break
At the end of the day, you can’t help how you feel. The heart and the head are two distinct drivers of how we process the world around us. Next time you’re feeling an intense (or not-so-intense) emotion, give yourself a break.
Let yourself experience the emotion. Most importantly, don’t judge yourself for how you feel. Experiencing an emotion isn’t stupid or weak. It’s a sign of great strength to be able to recognize how you feel and share that feeling with others.
Connect With Emotions, Improve Your Health
Emotional fluency is a key part of your whole health. When you express how you feel, you're strengthening your body, mind, and spirit. If you're experiencing troubling emotions or are struggling to share how you feel, talk to your primary care provider. Your doctor can connect you with the resources and support you need to put you on the path to whole health.
The original version of this post appeared on the AdventHealth blog.