Releasing Trapped Emotions: Many people understand that parents can pass down physical toxicity to their children in utero, but what about emotional toxicity? Today we explore the role of emotional toxicity and how to release it to generate vibrant health, particularly in the realm of hormones.
This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD
Hormonal Health and The Stress Bucket
An analogy that is useful to understand all aspects of health is a rain barrel bucket. Although every drop of rain in itself feels insignificant in filling the bucket, the reality is that these single drops add up over time as the bucket begins to fill and eventually overflows. An overflowing bucket is the “perfect storm” that leads to severe and even life-threatening health problems in this metaphor 1.
To maintain hormonal health, it is essential to keep the levels in this proverbial bucket very low. Although humans are resilient to stress, our modern lifestyle simply accumulates too much stress. Stress fills the bucket and falls under three categories: physical, chemical, and mental.
This bucket begins to fill before we are even born into the world. Transgenerational trauma, nutritional deficiencies, and toxicity (just to name a few) are passed down to us in utero 2. Luckily, as much as we are constantly accumulating new stress, we can also empty the bucket. Today’s article will focus on an aspect often dismissed in the conversation: the mental part of stress.
Releasing Trapped Emotions: Perceived Stress with Real Consequences
Your thoughts are more easily dismissed as a cause of ill health because you can’t touch them tangibly. Most people understand that what they do physically with their bodies or expose them to can cause them harm. But since thoughts exist only in the head, ignoring their real consequences on human health is much more common.
Thoughts can drive inflammation, just like too much exercise or a high-sugar diet 3.
Your hormone receptors are on the cell itself, which transmit messages to the cells. However, inflammation effectively blocks the receptors, so your hormonal messages like insulin or estrogen can actually become “dull”4. When these receptors are hindered by inflammation, no amount of hormone present in the blood will properly deliver messaging to the cell.
For example, a doctor may suggest taking a bio-identical estrogen supplement or even eating estrogen-mimicking foods like soy when estrogen levels are low. Although this may improve the blood profile of the hormone, it will not make you feel any better.
Past Trauma and Present Inflammation
Just because something happened in the past does not mean the impact of these events stays in the past. Although people often say that “time heals everything,” the reality is that often we carry our pain on our backs and experience them as if they were still going on.
The brain can not distinguish between thoughts and reality when it perceives stress, mainly when we are in a hypnotic state. This is why we can get physically terrified or cry during a scary or emotional movie. Our bodies often experience perceived thoughts as if they were happening for real, then and there5.
When it comes to earlier life events, many people think that trauma only lingers with conventional PTSD from extreme instances like war. Although such serious events do cause trauma (sometimes known as capital or big T trauma), there is a wide scale of trauma that can have just as debilitating an impact on your present-day life.
With more immense traumas from experiences like warfare, the backfiring of a car can trigger memories of gunfire and cause the body to react as if it was back on the battlefield. These memories can promote severe physiological and psychological impacts on the body, including mental health diagnoses like depression and chronic anxiety 6.
Small t trauma is often ignored, and individuals are encouraged to “toughen up” or simply “get over it.” The problem with these emotional stressors is that even though they may appear less severe than big T trauma, their impact on your health is still very real.
Big T trauma includes:
- Natural disasters or catastrophic events
- Terrorist attacks
- Sexual or physical assault
- Combat or war
- Car or plane accident
Small T trauma includes:
- Conflict with family members
- Witnessing conflict in the household
- Infidelity or divorce
- Conflict with a boss or colleague
- A sudden or extended relocation or move
- Being adopted
- Financial or legal worries in the household
- Being bullied
The experiences of your life are your own, and they are not to be compared to anyone else’s. Your childhood story and how you were made to feel small, unworthy, incapable, or lesser will influence how you navigate the world.
Although we tend to dismiss our pain with distractions and numbing techniques like food, alcohol, or television– only facing them with compassion and healing our childhood wounds will remove this pent-up stress in the body.
No matter what aspects of your life story caused you pain, it’s imperative to do this work to unburden your cells from emotional stress. Dealing with the day-to-day stressors of life poses enough emotional stress on the body that it’s important not to have a backlog from an entire lifetime sitting in the basement of your psyche.
Releasing Trapped Emotions: Release Your Story to Revive Your Hormones
Identifying that your past emotions may still be lingering and impacting your mind and health in the present day is a necessary step on the journey to reclaiming your hormonal health. But most people stop there because they don’t know what to do next. So you know you’ve got some emotional baggage: now what?
1. Pause Moments
It can be challenging to stop and reflect when you’re in the midst of a trauma response. However, cultivating the ability to stop for a moment and reflect on how our past beliefs may be impacting our current state of mind and stress-response begins when times are good. Start practicing “pause moments” throughout the day, and especially when life is not stressful. During a pause moment, you can take a second to ask yourself two questions:
Question 1: “Is this nourishing me?”
The simple question of whether the situation you’re in is nourishing can help you re-directed towards people and opportunities more in alignment. Nourishing could also refer to how you’re showing up or the kinds of relationships that you find yourself in.
Question 2: “Who does this story belong to?”
When we find ourselves in difficult and overwhelming situations, we often play out a story or pattern that does not belong to us. We are constantly picking up belief systems from our familial and social groups, so it’s important to pause to ask if the reaction you are exhibiting may be a learned behavior that does not serve you.
Taking pause moments throughout the day will help you cultivate the skill of pausing and reflecting, which will serve you when times are tough. Instead of chronically relying on old programming and patterns, a pause moment during a stressful time can help you witness your emotions and pivot before making a decision that will further add to your stress bucket, inflammation, and blunt your hormonal receptors.
2. Set Intentions
Setting intentions is a powerful way to navigate the present moment with a new state of mind. There are so many ways you can set intentions. Firstly, you can place an intention before going into an experience that you know will probably stress you out. This could be going on a first date, giving a presentation, or having difficulty talking with someone. Setting the intention to remain grounded, compassionate, or calm can help usher you into this experience with more mindfulness.
3. Less Noise Less Numbing
When we are looping in childhood pains and patterning, the discomfort can often lead to distractions and numbing habits. Although many people label these behaviors as addictions, re-framing them as coping mechanisms can be more helpful. If you don’t numb from the habits that typically distract you from feeling emotional pain, you will better understand what needs to be healed. Such activities may include alcohol, smoking, television, junk food, gambling, and shopping.
Dwelling in the past will not serve you either; as we have explored, the body does not know if the memories you are reliving through the mind are from the past or present5. That being said, making enough space to sit with what’s real for you emotionally, without numbing or distracting yourself, can allow you to do deep healing work.
4. Inner Child Work
Once you have created enough space to see that old wounds need healing, doing inner child work to rewrite your emotional relationship to the past can begin. Inner child work can look like many things, including talk therapy (like psychotherapy), cognitive behavioral therapy, hypnosis, EMDR, and somatic experiencing 8-10
There are so many tools to use, not to erase the memories but rather reframe them emotionally. The goal is to witness what happened in your life without emotional destabilization.
5. Telling Your Story
The harrowing experiences of your life that trigger unhealthy thoughts and behaviors are typically accompanied by shame. Telling your story to others can quickly dispel the shame surrounding your past and liberate your future, as well as the chronic inflammation and hormonal dysregulation that comes from stress. By sharing your story, you can turn pain into purpose.
Telling your story is a helpful tool no matter what stage of the healing process you are in. Whether you talk to a friend, share your story one-on-one with a therapist, attend group therapy, or blog about it: opening up about the difficulties of your life will diffuse the negative emotions surrounding it.
Choosing a safe space to share is crucial, especially at the beginning of your healing journey when you may be more vulnerable. You want to pick a caring, compassionate audience that will welcome your vulnerability with soft open arms. Group therapy is beneficial because seeing others’ vulnerabilities shows you how helpful and healing it can be.
Everyone having their human experience has a story to tell. Although our hardships are all individual, and some may seem worse than others, your own story is worthy of telling, and it can help someone who is currently struggling similarly to you. When we hide our pain in the shadows of our psyche, they grow. Turning your pain into purpose is liberation for you and everyone around you.
Physical, chemical, and emotional stress generates inflammation in the body. Chronically, this inflammation will begin to dull the hormonal receptors that exist on the cellular membrane. Although taking hormonal supplements may fix the hormonal blood levels, it will not fix the dysfunctional receptors due to inflammation.
Therefore, addressing stress is paramount when addressing hormonal problems. In addition, when it comes to emotional stress, healing from old wounds can help pave the way for a healthier future.
Medical Disclaimer: The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information. This article has been medically reviewed by Dr. Charles Penick, MD, for accuracy of the information provided, but we encourages you to make your own healthcare decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.
- Song, Huan, et al. “Association of Stress-Related Disorders With Subsequent Autoimmune Disease.” Jama, vol. 319, no. 23, 2018, p. 2388., https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2018.7028.
- “Maternal-Fetal Medicine.” UCSF, https://obgyn.ucsf.edu/news/toxic-chemicals-pregnant-women-and-their-newborns.
- Liu, Yun-Zi et al. “Inflammation: The Common Pathway of Stress-Related Diseases.” Frontiers in human neuroscience vol. 11 316. 20 Jun. 2017, doi:10.3389/fnhum.2017.00316
- Straub, Rainer H. “Interaction of the endocrine system with inflammation: a function of energy and volume regulation.” Arthritis research & therapy vol. 16,1 203. 13 Feb. 2014, doi:10.1186/ar4484
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- Flory, Janine D, and Rachel Yehuda. “Comorbidity between post-traumatic stress disorder and major depressive disorder: alternative explanations and treatment considerations.” Dialogues in clinical neuroscience vol. 17,2 (2015): 141-50. doi:10.31887/DCNS.2015.17.2/jflory
- Barbash, Elyssa. “Different Types of Trauma: Small ‘t’ versus Large ‘T.’” Psychology Today, March 13, 2017.
- Brom, Danny et al. “Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study.” Journal of traumatic stress vol. 30,3 (2017): 304-312. doi:10.1002/jts.22189
- Shapiro, Francine. “The role of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy in medicine: Addressing the psychological and physical symptoms stemming from adverse life experiences.” The Permanente journal vol. 18,1 (2014): 71-7. doi:10.7812/TPP/13-098
- “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Treatment of PTSD.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, https://www.apa.org/ptsd-guideline/treatments/cognitive-behavioral-therapy