“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.”

I hear this particular quote on occasion and it consistently resonates with me for a number of reasons.

Of course, being aware of other people’s feelings and taking them into consideration is always encouraged, but to me this quote goes even deeper. It makes me think about all of the battles that I, and the billions of other people out there, face on a daily basis that nobody knows about.

I’m sure you’re asked a few times a day, “How are you?”, but I don’t think anyone really expects an answer other than “Good” or “Fine thanks. How are you?” Even when we feel like crying, we reply with “I’m okay.”

Over time as a society we’ve learned to comply with social norms that encourage us to put on the “I’m fine” mask in public and suppress our emotions. Why? Great question- I wish I knew the answer. Maybe someday that will be it’s own post.

Aside from being uncomfortable and sometimes downright awkward, research shows that this now-natural suppression of our feelings takes a toll on our cognitive control, as well as our physical, and mental health.

Over the past few months I’ve had the incredible opportunity of working in the Rutgers Behavioral Dynamics Laboratory as a research assistant for Jessica Benson, a Doctoral Candidate for the Department of Psychology. Although not yet complete, it is hypothesized that after completing an expressive writing task, people who have experienced a discriminatory or general negative event will see an increase in their cognitive capacity.

Think about it: All of the time you spend internalizing these battles, whether they seem minuscule or monumental, takes up space in your brain. Putting your body under a lot of unnecessary stress.

The Dangers of Hoarding Emotions

To put it simply- hoarding your emotions makes your body work harder than it has to.

Ultimately, this leads to slower performance during cognitive tasks, poorer functioning of the immune system, and higher instances of depression, lower self-esteem, and even increases your susceptibility to major complications like heart disease and certain types of cancer.

Serious stuff.

Luckily in just 20 minutes a day, you can counteract years of emotional build-up and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Can you spare 20 minutes out of your day to improve your life?

If you answered yes, great!

If you answered no, prepare to rethink your answer.

No Time to Spare Until We Decide Otherwise

recent study shows that on average we spend 4.7 hours, almost a third of the time we spend awake- on our smart phones. Wow.

So for all of the naysayer’s out there claiming that absolutely all of your time is occupied, I’m sure you can utilize 20 minutes out of those 4.7 hours.

I’ve never been good at math, but this equation is simple: If suppressing emotions = negative impact on overall health, then expressing emotions = positive impact on overall health.

Makes sense.

The 20-Minute Expressive Writing Challenge

The assignment: 

  • For the next four days, write continuously for 20 minutes about a topic that is near and dear to you– hint: the more personal the topic, the greater the result!
  • Don’t stop writing- throw out anything you know about spelling or punctuation or grammar. The important thing is to write about how you feel.
  • Be selfish- write with you as your first priority. After all, this assignment is for you and you only.  You are not encouraged (or even expected) to share the information with anyone else.
  • Take a deep breath- it’s okay to feel emotional when you’ve finished writing, in fact it means you’re doing it right!

Let us know how you feel when you’re done.