We all know that keeping thoughts and emotions bottled up inside can cause unnecessary stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health problems.
But did you know staying quiet when you really want to express yourself can actually harm you physically?
A new study presented at the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting found a direct relationship between self-silencing and carotid artery disease, which dramatically increases your risk of stroke.
The connection between self-silencing and strokes
Self-silencing is the technical term for when you shut down your own self-expression. Meaning, you don’t express anger when you’re feeling it. Or you put others’ needs before your own, even though you’re dying for a few hours of quiet restoration in the bathtub or your favorite reading chair.
Carotid artery disease is a buildup of plaque (fatty deposits) that clog the carotid arteries. These are the blood vessels that bring oxygen-rich blood to your head, brain, and face. You can feel these arteries on each side of your neck by gently placing your fingers on either side of your windpipe.
The study presented by NAMS found that among 304 perimenopausal and postmenopausal women, greater self-silencing was related to increased odds of plaque — independent of other factors, including cardiovascular disease risk factors.
Carotid artery disease greatly increases your risk of an ischemic stroke, where the blood supply to your brain is interrupted or seriously reduced. This, in turn, deprives this major organ of oxygen.
When your brain can’t get oxygen, the cells begin to die within minutes. This causes various degrees of damage to the person’s mental health and physical body. Sometimes permanently.
According to Mayo Clinic, strokes are the most common cause of death and the leading cause of permanent disability in the United States.
Why women self-silence
A study about women’s expression of anger published in the journal Health Care for Women International found that women’s decisions about how and where to express anger are most strongly influenced by the anticipated actions of others.
If they think the other person will be overly upset, or her expression will result in being chastised, she’ll likely hold in her feelings to avoid conflict.
Of course, that’s an oversimplification of why someone might choose to hold in their feelings. There are tons of reasons why people choose to stay silent.
Surprising gender differences in self-silencing
While this study was done on women, there’s a reason to believe self-silencing and increased stroke risk affect men as well.
A study published in Psychological Reports found that men actually reported more self-silencing than women. And the positive relationship between self-silencing and depression affects men just as much as women.
If holding in emotions affects both men and women mentally, it’s likely it would affect us all physically.
How to express yourself to lower your risk of stroke
The short answer to lowering stroke risk (and the risk of depression) is to speak your mind when emotions and thoughts arise, no matter how the other person might perceive it.
Easier said than done, right? For some, just the thought of speaking up can cause anxiety, fear, and nausea.
If you’re used to holding your tongue when you should be wagging it, here are a few suggestions to help you start speaking up:
- Start small. Practice speaking your mind about small things, like where you want to go out to eat or what movie you want to see. Participating in these small decisions will help you get comfortable with speaking your mind in more critical situations.
- Think before you speak. Choose your words carefully so you can say what you really feel or think, without scrambling for the right words. Taking the time to say it with consideration for how other people feel can minimize negative reactions to your words as well.
- Keep calm. If, once you get started, you find the conversation getting heated, stay calm and do not raise your voice. Remember, expressing yourself isn’t about beating other people’s opinions into submission. It’s about healthy communication for everyone involved.
- Join a group. Participating in a group of like-minded folks, like one that advocates for a cause you believe in or a shared hobby, puts you in small groups of people with common interests. Force yourself to speak your opinions once or twice a meeting until you get more comfortable speaking your mind all the time.
- Do it in writing. Express your feelings in an email or letter. Or start a journal and write privately about how you feel. This can help clarify your thoughts and feelings so you can speak about them when the time is right.
Now, go forth and speak your mind, knowing you’re keeping your brain healthy.
Editor’s note: If this health issue really matters for you or a loved one… if you want to discover how to slash you risk of stroke… stop sudden cardiac death — and drop heart disease risk by 400 percent, Click here to keep reading!
- Carotid artery disease — Mayo Clinic
- Understanding women’s anger: a description of relational patterns — Health Care for Women International
- Sex Differences in Self-Silencing — Psychological Reports
- 5 ways to speak your mind — SheKnows