Our culture frowns upon emotion. Feeling sad, anxious, or angry is looked at as a sign of weakness. We’re pressured to “hold it together,” giving self-expression a poor reputation. Over time, this can take a toll on mental health and even cancer risk. After all, emotional ups and downs are a normal part of life. Maybe a loved one passed away, or someone said something offensive. Or perhaps you just went through a bad break-up. Regardless of the situation, we all experience negative emotion. And while pushing it aside is easier, doing so can lead to cancer in these four ways.
How Unreleased Negative Emotion Contributes To Cancer
1. Raises Cortisol Levels
When you hold emotions back, cortisol shoots up.1 This stress hormone – which is secreted by the adrenal gland – creates an ideal environment for cancer. At high levels, cortisol hinders the immune system. It doesn’t help that immune function also declines with age. By constantly suppressing emotion, the body will have a harder time fighting cancer.2
2. Increases Inflammation
Almost every chronic disease is fueled by inflammation. Examples include Alzheimer’s, gum disease, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis. Unsurprisingly, cancer is also on the list.
When cortisol increases, proinflammatory cytokines get thrown for a loop. These proteins are a marker of chronic inflammation and a major player in inflammatory disease. In fact, negative emotions can overproduce these cytokines, leading to poor immunity and health.3 Holding in those emotions certainly won’t help!
3. Disrupts Sleep
Those repressed feelings won’t disappear at night. They’re associated with poor sleep, a factor that damages the immune system. Typically, deep sleep stimulates the release of growth hormone, which enhances immunity. If you don’t get enough shut-eye, growth hormone takes a nosedive. Meanwhile, cortisol continues to increase. Even just one night of poor sleep can increase those levels.4 Over time, poor immune function makes it easy for cancer to grow.
4. Promotes Unhealthy Behaviors
Need another reason to let loose? Holding onto negative emotion raises the risk for unhealthy behaviors related to cancer. Unfortunately, in America, we’re prone to coping in not-so-great ways.5
One example is drinking more alcohol. High intake is linked to several cancers, including cancer of the mouth, liver, breast, colon, and rectum.6 Comfort eating is also common, even though poor diet increases cancer risk. Healthy eating, on the other hand, may prevent 30 to 40 percent of all cancers.7 Pent up emotions also gets in the way of exercise. Yet, there’s ample evidence that being more active reduces cancer risk.8
Healthy Ways To Release Negative Emotion
To keep cancer (and arguments) at bay, let it all out in a healthy way. This goes for anger, sadness, and anything in between. It’s the best thing you can do for your body, mind, and relationships.
- Take 5 minutes to practice deep breathing.
- Leave the situation and spend a few minutes alone.
- Stretch. Go for a walk.
- Practice yoga.
- Squeeze a stress ball.
- Cry it out.
- Spend time with a loved one.
- Vent to a friend or family member.
- Zone out with a favorite hobby.
- Play with a pet or child.
- Take up kickboxing. Tackle a punching bag.
- Write in a journal.
- Make sleep a priority.
Tips For Releasing Negative Emotion
Sometimes, stress relief is just one part of the game. Whatever has upset you is probably still around. Instead of throwing it under the rug, consider these tips for facing an issue.
1. Use “I Feel” Statements
Start with “I feel…” to explain how a situation has affected you. This way, the person won’t feel attacked or defensive. It opens up the door for a more empathic discussion.
2. Count To 10 Before Speaking
When you’re feeling an intense emotion, it’s tempting to burst out. However, this can just snowball into trouble. Instead, pause before speaking, and give yourself a chance to collect your thoughts.
3. Don’t Be Afraid Of Apologizing
Saying “I’m sorry” is never easy. But when you’re in the wrong, owning up to a mistake is the best way to show respect to yourself and others. It’ll also strengthen trust and connection of your relationships.
Let’s be real: We all know being emotional isn’t always easy. It can be uncomfortable and scary. Yet, the less you suppress negative feelings, the less you’ll be at risk for cancer.
|↑1||Lam, Suman, Sally S. Dickerson, Peggy M. Zoccola, and Frank Zaldivar. “Emotion regulation and cortisol reactivity to a social-evaluative speech task.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 34, no. 9 (2009): 1355-1362.|
|↑2, ↑3||Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., Lynanne McGuire, Theodore F. Robles, and Ronald Glaser. “Psychoneuroimmunology: psychological influences on immune function and health.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 70, no. 3 (2002): 537.|
|↑4||Kiecolt-Glaser, Janice K., Lynanne McGuire, Theodore F. Robles, and Ronald Glaser. “Psychoneuroimmunology: psychological influences on immune function and health.” Journal of consulting and clinical psychology 70, no. 3 (2002): 537.|
|↑5||Americans Engage in Unhealthy Behaviors to Manage Stress. American Psychological Association.|
|↑6||Alcohol Use and Cancer. American Cancer Society.|
|↑7||Donaldson, Michael S. “Nutrition and cancer: a review of the evidence for an anti-cancer diet.” Nutrition journal 3, no. 1 (2004): 19.|
|↑8||Physical Activity and Cancer. National Cancer Institute.|