From heartache to heart disease
As if the heartache of a failing friendship or broken romance isn’t enough, unexpressed feelings can have a measurable impact on the beating of the heart. “When we don’t express certain toxic feelings, like anger and resentment,” says Sahukhan, “this can lead to emotional trauma, but also physiological effects.”
In particular, stress caused by pent-up emotion leads to increased blood pressure, accelerated heart rate, and arousal of the sympathetic nervous system, which controls heart function. Initial efforts to suppress emotion also increase the response of the cardiovascular system to later stressful events.
Simple steps to better communication
Effective communication is a learned skill. A professional psychological counsellor can help refine your technique. Sahukhan looks for physical signs of emotion, helping people translate these into words. In addition, he encourages nonverbal communication at home, for example, holding hands while going for a walk.
When we are ready to talk, reframing sentences involves removing blame from a statement and shifting the focus to the self. For example, we might be inclined to say, “You don’t love me,” but a less threatening statement is “I feel unloved.” These are simple tasks that can be attempted at home.
Social networking has become a frequent platform for expressing our thoughts and feelings. Is this a help or a hindrance to our emotional well-being? Sahukhan believes social media “may lead to more efficient and speedy communication between people,” but warns that “there is a lot of liability as well, and there are challenges in the sense that we don’t get a chance to fully and deeply express ourselves through these means.”
Misunderstanding is even more likely without body language and facial expressions. We should recognize the limitations of social media, particularly when sharing complex emotions. A face-to-face conversation might require more effort, but it is the only way that intimacy will flourish.
A lifelong process
We begin to recognize emotions in infancy, through body language and mimicry, for instance, when a baby learns to smile back at you. Eventually, children link facial expressions and gestures to emotions. We smile when we are happy.
While these formative years lay the groundwork for our emotional traits and tendencies, self-expression is an ongoing developmental process that spans the lifetime. Although this means we may never fully master the art of expressing and decoding emotions, at least we can be sure there is always opportunity for improvement.
Tips for better communication
- Hold hands or hug to transfer emotions through body language.
- Reframe statements by removing blame or threat.
- Determine if your feelings are in line with what is actually happening.
- If you’re not ready to talk, put your feelings down in writing.
- Enrol in assertiveness training to enhance functional communication.
- Seek advice from a registered professional counsellor.