There was a very famous experiment called the “Strange Situation Test.” In this experiment, researchers, put one year-olds in a room with their mothers. After a few moments, their mothers were asked to leave. Some of the toddlers cried, while others didn’t. However, all of the toddlers had the same levels of stress hormones released when their mothers left the room. The ones who didn’t cry had learned from a very young age to bottle up their feelings.
I think this is an important lesson for all human interactions. Often times people do not act upset, however not acting upset does not lessen the emotional impact of an upsetting event. Teens especially will often act like they are not upset, worried or angry, but are very much feeling the stress of an emotion.
What does this mean for us?
I believe that it is another reason for us to become very engaged and comfortable with our emotions. For example, when I am upset about a mean email I try to forget about it. I tell myself it is no big deal and try to ignore my feelings. Inevitaibly, however, these emotions come up again or I find myself in a bad mood for the rest of the day. This is because even though I tried not to think about the stress, my brain and serotonin levels still did.
Now, there is a fine line between encouraging over-emotionality and acknowledging feelings you might be too afraid to feel. I highly encourage you to address emotionally stressful events on a regular basis and accept that processing them makes them go away. After all, feelings buried alive never die.
Sunderland, Margot. Science of Parenting: Practical Guidance on Sleep, Crying, Play, and Building Emotional Well-being for Life. New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2006.