Monday 22 August, 2022

The Mental Health Benefits of Talking About Your Feelings During Cancer

Antigone is a Counselling Psychologist at Mindler.

Cancer, like many big life moments, can bring with it a range of feelings and emotions. With 85% of people impacted by cancer reporting feelings of loneliness, being able to share how you’re feeling is vital to maintaining emotional wellbeing both when going through, and after, cancer.

In this article, we’ve partnered with the mental health experts at Mindler to shed a little more light on what our feelings are, how they can affect us and why sharing what you’re going through is such a powerful thing. 

Why do we have feelings? 

We all have feelings for a reason. Feelings are defined as an emotional state or reaction. All feelings serve a purpose and have a function, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant. As humans we have evolved to have emotions and without them we would not have survived. 

Feelings communicate to us whether something is important or something is affecting us.  They motivate us to do things and they aid us in communicating with others, either verbally or non verbally. Feelings can lead to urges and/or physical reactions that in turn impact our thoughts and focus. 

Emotional reactions are made up of physical reactions, thoughts and behaviours. 

Feelings can generate various sensations in the body and vary in severity depending on the emotion. If you’re feeling anxious, you may physically experience a tight chest, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or nausea. If you’re feeling content you may physically feel your breathing relax and your shoulders lower. 

Additionally, how we feel affects how we think. When we are sad we are more inclined to have negative thoughts and perceive things in a negative way. 

Whereas when we are joyful, we are more likely to have positive thoughts and perceive things in a positive way. . 

Feelings provide us with an urge to want to act. Quite often we may display emotion driven behaviours, which is when we react without even thinking about it, like being hypervigilant or changing our route home if we feel fearful. 

Even though feelings are highly valuable they can also be overwhelming. In order to cope better with various emotions it is important to be able to identify them and understand how they affect us.

Is there a function to sharing our feelings? 

We’ve established that feelings serve a purpose but what can be said about sharing our feelings? 

Sharing emotions does not solely entail something outwards, such as telling others what we are feeling, or expressing it with physical queues. It can also involve inward reflection, writing things down and exploring why that feeling has occurred. 

Nevertheless the ability to be aware of, reflect and express our feelings can help us see things through a different perspective, aid in decision making and reduce anxiety. 

Studies have shown that sharing emotions can help with regulating emotions, whilst trying to conceal feelings lead to spikes in blood pressure and distraction. 

Additionally studies examining emotions reported that suppressing emotions had more negative consequences for the individual as well as the people around them, as they felt less positive towards others and were less able to establish a good rapport. Furthermore concealing emotions has been associated with increased anxiety and insomnia.

How do I share my feelings? 

As aforementioned, how we respond to our feelings can affect whether we feel overwhelmed by them. 

Taking a deep breath can be helpful when we are feeling overwhelmed or finding it hard to express or identify what we are feeling. Deep breathing can help improve memory and cognitive function and enable us to ground ourselves so that we can become aware of what is going on for us. 

A large element of sharing emotions is to identify and accept them. Taking time to reflect, in order to identify what it is we are feeling is key to truly feeling our emotions. 

We may do so by asking ourselves what we are thinking or feeling, or paying close attention to any sensations in our body that may indicate what we are feeling. 

Sharing our feelings takes practice and may be uncomfortable at first. With practice, the awkwardness will start to dissipate and your ability to share your feelings will improve. 

You can practice the skill of sharing your feelings either with a professional such as a psychologist or a person that you feel comfortable with such as a friend or a family member. 

Whilst it is only natural to want to describe what you’re feeling, it can sometimes have an adverse impact as we may risk others refuting or invalidating what we have said. 

If you are looking to talk to someone about your feelings it is important to choose a suitable listener at the right time. A good listener is someone who understands you and is able to empathise with you. It is also valuable to choose the right time as even the best listeners can be distracted. 

Another way of sharing your feelings can be writing them down. One study suggested that writing offers similar outcomes as verbally sharing emotions and can aid in decreasing distress and low mood, without the risk of being invalidated by someone. 

When practising writing down your emotions, remember that there is no right or wrong way to do this. Just make sure you have a quiet space where you can think and write down what you are feeling and why you may be feeling that way. If you would like to learn more about understanding and managing emotions you can talk to a Mindler psychologist or can pay for access to the iCBT materials on the topic here.

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