Not expressing true feelings by self-silencing may be detrimental for mental health and may also lead to a higher risk of stroke. A new study shows how self-silencing (inhibiting one’s self-expression) could cause problems with both physical and mental health.
Self-silencing is not just biting your tongue when fighting with your spouse, experts say. It’s a chronic mindset, a habit of staying quiet and putting your needs second to those of everyone else. Women, in particular, tend to keep quiet and self-silence, and this new research shows just how harmful it can be for health.
The study presented during The North American Menopause Society (NAMS) Annual Meeting has shown an association between self-silencing and a greater carotid plaque build-up, which could lead to stroke and other cardiovascular problems.
Researchers looked to 304 perimenopausal and postmenopausal nonsmoking women to test if self-silencing was associated with carotid atherosclerosis. It was found that greater self-silencing was related to increased odds of plaque independent of socio-demographics, cardiovascular disease risk factors, and depression. The study relied on self-reporting from women on a range of factors, such as how often they expressed anger or put someone else’s needs before their own. To quantify carotid plaque association, ultrasound imaging was used.
Karen Jakubowski, Ph.D., lead author of the study from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh explained the findings, saying, “Given increased public health interest in women’s experiences in intimate relationships, our results suggest that women’s socio-emotional expression may be relevant to their cardiovascular health.”
“Studies like this one are valuable as they highlight the importance of understanding how a woman’s emotional disposition can affect her physical health,” says Dr. Stephanie Faubion, NAMS medical director. “These results should encourage healthcare providers to take into consideration socio-emotional factors when outlining a preventive care plan for their patients.”
Although self-silencing has been linked to worse mental and physical health in women, this is the first study to examine the connection to cardiovascular health. It is known that individuals tend to engage in a range of behaviors to maintain close relationships, but this research shows how it could be costly to their own health.
As self-silencing if often used to avoid conflict or relationship loss, this study shows that women need to find other socio-emotional expressions needs to avoid health issues. So, remember, speak your feelings and don’t bottle it up, your health depends on it!