Releasing Your Emotional Valve

Mollie Sugarman opening a shaken bottle of soda

Our society tends to judge tears as weakness. People use phrases like “lost it,” “fell apart” or “had a meltdown” to describe someone who is simply expressing emotions. The breast cancer patients I work with often apologize for crying or feeling angry or frustrated.

Emotions like sadness, anger, and frustration are understandable reactions to receiving a breast cancer diagnosis. That experience is akin to grieving a loss. It is vital to express oneself. I use a well-known example: a shaken bottle of soda. If you don’t release the top a little at a time, it will explode. The same thing can happen if you don’t release your emotions.

Many people make the mistake of trying to ignore negative feelings rather than acknowledging them. The amygdala is the region of the brain that is associated with emotional processing or the brain’s emotional alarm system. When we don’t allow ourselves to identify feelings, it sends an alert to this region and increases the stress response. Conversely, labeling what we’re feeling quiets the amygdala’s alarm system, allowing for greater focus. The Guided Imagery session—offered as one of the components of the Patient Empowerment Program—serves to directly affect the amygdala and the immune session as a whole.

We often hold our emotions back, and the stress can manifest itself in physical responses—headaches, neck and back aches, a general sense of malaise or depression—and all of this can ultimately negatively impact the immune system. Sadly, society has stigmatized the expression of sadness. When someone cries, the reflex is often to make them stop crying. When you respond to tears by saying “Don’t cry” what you are really saying is, “stop expressing your emotion through crying. It’s making me uncomfortable.” When you tell someone that their tears are making you uncomfortable, you also tell them that their emotions are making you uncomfortable. It’s a tough situation for the person who is trying to feel! Relief does not come from comfort, tears, or sympathy from another person. It comes from the act of crying itself.

While it is important to allow yourself to feel, it is also important to stay in touch with yourself. If you find that you are consumed by sadness, unable to feel a range of emotions, and experiencing several of the symptoms below, I encourage you to consider speaking with a therapist and having an assessment. I am available to offer referrals to mental health professionals for evaluation. It demonstrates strength to reach out for assistance.

Symptoms: difficulty concentrating, moodiness and irritability, sleep disturbance, change in appetite with weight gain or loss, inability to perform activities of daily living, fatigue, sense of hopelessness, suicidal ideation, persistent anxiety and sense of sadness.

Give yourself permission to feel what you are feeling! Set a timer, if you so desire, and follow it with something proactive.


Woman walking outside two very large doors. Doors open to empty street.

Re-entering After Isolation: Why Do We Feel Anxious?

May 18, 2021

As excited, free, and hopeful as we may feel about restrictions being loosened, that optimistic excitement may be accompanied by some feelings of anxiety, hesitancy,…