Think about the last time you were grappling with a problem. There’s a good chance that you called a friend or loved one to talk through your dilemma. And for good reason: Opening up to others is a great way to work through an issue and settle on the best path forward. The same rules apply to your emotional experiences and mental health.
“There’s something about verbalizing a thought or feeling that allows a person to have a different perspective on it, or to gain access to their internal experience,” says Nicholas Del Pesco, MA, a psychotherapist and licensed professional counselor in the Philadelphia area. “So many times, I’ve been working with a patient where they’ll say something out loud, and they’ll stop and say they just realized something they hadn’t before.”
People have a natural inclination to talk with others when they’re experiencing positive or negative emotions, and sharing these feelings strengthens social bonds and helps the sharer feel better, according to researchers from Boston University.
“We’re social creatures, and we’re wired to communicate with one another,” Del Pesco says.
Here are some reasons to talk with someone—a family member, friend, or clinician—about your mental health. Plus, tips on how and when to open up.
It Lowers Your Stress
Sharing what you’re feeling with a sympathetic listener naturally lowers stress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Everyone experiences stress, and stress is not always bad. If you sense immediate danger, acute stress triggers your body’s natural fight or flight response. In true emergencies, this survival mode could save your life.
But chronic stress isn’t something to underestimate. That’s because the body isn’t meant to stay in fight or flight mode, which causes chemical and physical changes in the body. Chronic stress can lead to upset stomach, headaches, poor sleep, and sadness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
It Softens Negative Emotions
Research has found that sharing your feelings helps relieve negative emotions. How so? One possible explanation, according to a study in Psychological Science, is that when you put your feelings into words, you activate a region in your brain that’s associated with emotional processing.
In turn, this may diminish the response of the amygdala, a structure in the brain often linked to fear.
Another way to think of it: When you identify your feelings, you literally change what is happening in your brain—and you feel better because of it.
It Helps Your Brain Make Sense of Things
Taking time to talk with someone about what you’re feeling helps carve out space for your brain to come to terms with your emotional experience.
“A lot of us are living a lifestyle where we’re busy and jumping from one thing to the next, and there aren’t these natural breaks where we can reflect and express emotional experiences,” Del Pesco says.
Because those natural breaks are hard to find, try to schedule some in. Whether it’s a phone or video chat with a friend or a standing appointment with your clinician, make it a priority, and add it to your calendar.
It Helps You Move Through Trauma
Whether it’s a natural disaster, a scary diagnosis, abuse, or another highly stressful event, trauma can have long-lasting effects on both physical and emotional health. Talking about it with someone can be helpful.
Just a 30-minute conversation can help someone experience “post-traumatic growth,” such as finding meaning, seeing new possibilities, or improving relationships, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.
That said, if you’ve experienced trauma, and months go by and you’re still having flashbacks, bad dreams, or intrusive thoughts, you might be dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). See if you’re at risk for PTSD here.
It Keeps You Connected
Social connections are important to good physical and mental health. In fact, a lack of social connections is as dangerous to your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, according to research from Brigham Young University.
There are many reasons someone might experience social isolation. It can happen if you’ve moved recently and you don’t know anyone in your new community. It can be a function of age. Many adults 50 and older are socially isolated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Withdrawal from loved ones or people in general can also be a sign of depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or social anxiety disorder.
No matter the reason you might be losing touch with people, it’s vital to make and maintain healthy relationships as much as you can. Even short conversations and interactions can help you stay connected.
How and When to Open Up
If you have people in your life you’re used to talking with about personal matters, great. Keep talking with them. If you don’t, choose a trusted person in your circle, someone you can be honest with and yet feel safe.
Consider the time and place. Talking about emotions can be draining, so make sure you both have the energy for it.
When talking, focus on the positive too. Sure, you want to talk about what’s bothering you, but balance is key for personal relationships. If you can, share some good experiences. That not only makes the conversation more uplifting, but it also helps you break out of negative thought patterns.
It’s important to keep in mind that certain disclosures may garner reactions that you weren’t expecting—especially if the things you’re talking about involve your listener. In these situations, talking with a therapist or mental health clinician may be preferable.
Unlike a spouse or best friend, a therapist is less likely to misinterpret or react to what you’re saying. Also, not everyone is good at listening and offering emotional support. Therapists are trained to do both.
Is It Time for Mental Health Medication?
In some cases, if you have depression, anxiety, or another mental health condition, talk therapy and social support may not be enough to manage your symptoms. If that’s the case, your clinician may recommend medication.
The type of medication will depend on your diagnosis, medical history, current symptoms, lifestyle, and other factors. Now’s a good time to ask your clinician if pharmacogenetic (PGx) testing can help personalize your treatment plan based on your genes.
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The Genomind PGx test requires a prescription. Wondering if it can help you? Learn more about Genomind here.
Does Your Medication Work for You?
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