There’s more to the age-old advice to just “talk it out” than there seems. Here’s some of the evidence that explains why it is so helpful.
When your car breaks down, you either know how to fix it or how to find someone who can. Emotions, on the other hand, are a little harder to fix. There is no wrench you can grab or repair shop you can take your feelings to. But you do have one tool in your kit you can always use: talking about your feelings. Even just speaking about your feelings out loud to another person can help. So why do we avoid it or believe it doesn’t work?
There are a lot of reasons talking about our problems can be difficult. Some people (especially men) are socialized to internalize feelings, rather than give voice to them. Sometimes the very emotions you’re dealing with — like guilt over something you did, or shame about how you think you’re perceived — can feel so overwhelming that you can’t get up the motivation to talk it out.
Regardless of the reason you might keep it in, talking has powerful psychological benefits that might not be obvious. “Talking about it” is a broad phrase, though, so let’s clarify a bit. When we discuss talking about your problems, it can take a few forms.
Venting to a trusted friend. Sometimes you just need to let out how you’re feeling with no real plan for a solution. “I had the worst day at work!” can be the start of a conversation that helps you process the stress of a hard day.
Discussing a conflict with a partner. Fights happen in relationships. But keeping your feelings to yourself can cause issues between you and your partner to fester. While working toward constructive solutions to your relationship problems is always a good thing, just being able to be open about your feelings with your partner can make your communication healthier as well.
Talk therapy with a licensed therapist. There’s a reason people will pay money to talk through problems with a therapist. Whether you need to discuss a mental illness you’re struggling with, are in couples counseling to work on your relationship or just need someone to talk to who knows how to handle stress, a good therapist can help you hash out your emotions.
Being open about your struggles. Sometimes venting to no one in particular can help not just you, but others as well. For example, in 2015 Sammy Nickalls, a writer, started the social media hashtag #TalkingAboutIt to encourage people to be open about their struggles with mental illness. The act of sharing what daily life is like can help you and others with the same struggles realize that you’re not alone and that what feels overwhelming is actually normal.
What all of these forms have in common is that they are conversations specifically designed to examine and express the emotions you are having, rather than building to a specific solution. Figuring out things you can do to improve your situation is certainly good, but just verbalizing how you’re feeling can, itself, be part of the solution as well.
Why does talking about it help?
Getting a new job, breaking up with a bad partner or investing in your own self-improvement are all practical things you can do to solve problems in your life. But what good does just talking about it do? When you’re fighting the exhausting uphill battle against your own negative feelings, it can seem as if talking about it is the least productive thing you can do.
In reality, your brain and body get a lot out of talking.
When you are feeling very intense feelings — especially fear, aggression or anxiety — your amygdala is running the show. This is the part of the brain that, among other things, handles your fight or flight response. It is the job of the amygdala, and your limbic system as a whole, to figure out if something is a threat, devise a response to that threat if necessary, and store the information in your memory so you can recognize the threat later. When you get stressed or overwhelmed, this part of your brain can take control and even override more logical thought processes.
Research from U.C.L.A. suggests that putting your feelings into words — a process called “affect labeling” — can diminish the response of the amygdala when you encounter things that are upsetting. This is how, over time, you can become less stressed over something that bothers you. For example, if you got in a car accident, even being in a car immediately afterward could overwhelm you emotionally. But as you talk through your experience, put your feelings into words and process what happened, you can get back in the car without having the same emotional reaction.
Recovered from www.nytimes.com