Discuss Feelings. The concept of communication and “letting your feelings out” has been so excessively promoted and parodied that it has nearly lost its value as good psychologic advice. Nevertheless, feelings of anger or frustration that are not expressed in an acceptable way may lead to hostility, a sense of helplessness, and Depression.
Expressing feelings does not mean venting frustration on waiters and subordinates, boring friends with emotional minutia, or wallowing in self-pity. In fact, because blood pressure may spike when certain chronically hostile individuals become angry, some therapists strongly advise that just talking, not simply venting anger, is the best approach, especially for these people.
The primary goal is to explain and assert one’s needs to a trusted individual in as positive a way as possible. Direct communication may not even be necessary. Writing in a journal, writing a poem, or composing a letter that is never mailed may be sufficient.
Expressing one’s feelings solves only half of the communication puzzle. Learning to listen, empathize, and respond to others with understanding is just as important for maintaining the strong relationships necessary for emotional fulfillment and reduced stress.
Keep Perspective and Look for the Positive. Reversing negative ideas and learning to focus on positive outcomes helps reduce tension and achieve goals. The following steps using an example of a person who is alarmed at the prospect of giving a speech may be useful:
- First, identify the worst possible outcomes (forgetting the speech, stumbling over words, humiliation, audience contempt).
- Rate the likelihood of these bad outcomes happening (probably very low or that speaker wouldn’t have been selected in the first place).
- Envision a favorable result (a well-rounded, articulate presentation with rewarding applause).
- Develop a specific plan to achieve the positive outcome (preparing in front of a mirror, using a video camera or tape recorder, relaxation exercises).
- Try to recall previous situations that initially seemed negative but ended well.
Revision date: July 4, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD