How to talk about your emotions (and why you should be)

Jun 24, 2019

We've all heard the old cliché that a problem shared is a problem halved. And it's a cliché for a reason. Talking about how we feel isn't always easy, but it's often the first step towards taking control of your wellbeing. 

Why do we find it difficult to talk about our emotions?

There are many reasons why we might struggle to open up about how we feel. Often we worry about upsetting the people we care about or causing them concern. At other times it's a fear of being judged or seen as weak that prevents us from being honest about how we feel. We might struggle to know how to articulate our emotions or who to talk to. Sometimes it's a combination of all of these things. No wonder many of us are hesitant to talk about our emotions. 

What happens when you don't open up?

Choosing to keep things bottled up may seem easier in the short term, but it can have negative consequences for your emotional and physical health. 

Having something going round and round in your head makes it difficult to be present with the people around you. You're likely to withdraw from situations or conversations that might touch on whatever's causing you to feel the way you do. This creates a distance and misunderstanding between you and your friends, family and colleagues, which can weaken those important relationships.  

Similarly, when you're overwhelmed and pre-occupied by your emotions, it's hard to focus and concentrate on other areas of your life such as work or study. You may find that your productivity or quality of work begins to suffer.

All of this can lead to an increased level of stress, which can manifest in both behavioural and physical symptoms.

Opening up to someone you trust could break this cycle.

Why does talking help?

Talking things through with someone else can help you see things from a different perspective.  Having to articulate your feelings to someone forces you to take a step back, helping you to see things more clearly. You'll be able to see patterns and have a better understanding of exactly what it is that's bothering you, and what you can do about it.

Reaching out to someone you trust and asking them for help will strengthen your relationship with that person as you problem solve together. Even the simple act of being listened to will help you feel supported and less alone. These feelings of connection are essential to our sense of wellbeing.

How do I start talking about my emotions?

Even if you choose to open up to a close friend or family member, it can still feel awkward at first. Here are a few tips that could help.

Pick the right time

If you're feeling particularly angry about a situation, it's a good idea to wait until you feel calmer and initial feelings of anger have dissipated. This will make it easier to talk about the real issues clearly, rather than simply venting and lashing out, which can push people away and make you feel worse.

If you're feeling nervous about opening up, it can also help to try talking when you're doing something else with that person, such as washing the dishes or walking the dog. This can make it seem less awkward and less of a 'big deal.'

Find the right words

Use a simple, neutral statement to start such as 'I feel...' or 'My concern is...'. This is less accusatory than saying 'You make me feel...'. It empowers you to take responsibility for your feelings and invites the other person to contribute constructively to the conversation, rather than being defensive.

Talk about the positives too

Talking about your feelings doesn't have to mean talking about negative things. Try talking to your friends and family about the positive feelings you have; when you're proud of them, grateful or want to share your success with them. Think of it as practice. The more open you are about your positive feelings with the people around you, the easier it will be to talk to them when you're not feeling as good. In addition, taking a moment to recognise the things that make you feel happy or are going well will boost your overall wellbeing, and help to strengthen your relationships.

Reach out

If you don't feel comfortable talking to a loved one, then talking to someone professional could help. Talking therapies or counselling provide you with a safe space in which to talk through your thoughts and feelings with someone independent and impartial. Counsellors are trained to help you process and explore your feelings and find practical ways of managing them.

Counselling involves you being honest, open and participating in the conversation. Ultimately this is empowering although it can seem daunting at first. But there's no rush. The number of sessions you have will depend on your individual circumstances, and your counsellor will work with you to find the best path for you.

Article reproduced with the kind permission of CABA, the organisation providing lifelong support to ICAEW members, ACA students and their close family around the world.