blueberries and raspberries

Imagine you’re picking berries. If the berries are not ready to be picked, they resist. Similarly, emotions, when not ready to be expressed, will resist being shared. No matter how much you try to coax someone into revealing their feelings, if they’re not prepared, they won’t open up. Pushing too hard can lead to the person shutting down even more. 

Patience and Readiness 

Just as berries need time to ripen, emotions need time to be processed. Forcing someone to talk about their feelings before they’re ready can backfire, leading to more resistance and emotional shutdown. Research supports this, indicating that emotional readiness is crucial for effective communication and emotional health. Gross and John (2003) explored two key emotion regulation processes—cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression—and found that individuals who engage in cognitive reappraisal, which involves changing the way one thinks about a situation to alter its emotional impact, experience more positive emotions and better interpersonal functioning compared to those who suppress their emotions. 

Consider a scenario where a friend has experienced a loss. Immediately pushing them to talk about their grief might cause them to withdraw further. Instead, giving them space and time to process their emotions before they are ready to share can be more supportive. This approach aligns with findings in grief counseling, which emphasize the importance of timing in emotional disclosure. Bonanno et al. (2002) conducted a longitudinal study examining resilience to loss and found that individuals who showed a natural trajectory of grief and did not rush the grieving process had better long-term mental health outcomes. 

Overwhelming Emotions 

Sometimes, when berries are ripe, they might all come off the bush at once, leaving you overwhelmed with more than you can handle. Emotions can behave similarly. When feelings are finally released, they can come in a rush, leading to emotional overload. This can be overwhelming and difficult to manage without the right coping strategies. Lazarus (1993) discussed the importance of coping mechanisms and how different strategies can help manage emotional overload effectively. His work emphasizes problem-focused coping, where individuals address the cause of stress directly, and emotion-focused coping, where they try to reduce the emotional distress associated with the problem. 

For example, someone who has been holding back anger might suddenly express it in a burst, which can be overwhelming for both them and those around them. It’s essential to have strategies in place to manage such emotional floods, like deep breathing exercises, physical activities, or creative outlets such as drawing or writing. 

The Shelf Life of Emotions 

Once berries are picked, they don’t last forever. If left on the counter too long, they start to decay. Emotions are similar. Ignoring or pushing aside emotions for too long can lead to negative consequences. Suppressed emotions can resurface in unhealthy ways, potentially leading to anxiety and depression. Wegner and Zanakos (1994) found that chronic thought suppression increases the frequency of suppressed thoughts and heightens stress and anxiety. 

The Art of Timing 

The key is to give yourself a little time to process your emotions without letting them sit too long. Giving berries, and emotions, a day to settle is ideal. Beyond that, they can start to decay and become harder to deal with. In psychological terms, this aligns with the concept of emotional regulation, where it’s important to acknowledge and address emotions in a timely manner to prevent them from festering. Gross (2002) highlighted that timely emotional regulation can prevent negative long-term psychological outcomes and promote better overall mental health. 

For instance, consider the stress of a demanding job. Ignoring that stress for too long can lead to burnout, a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged stress. Recognizing early signs of stress and addressing them through relaxation techniques, time management, or seeking support can prevent more severe consequences. Maslach and Leiter (2016) emphasized the importance of recognizing burnout early and using effective strategies to manage stress, which can include organizational changes and individual stress management techniques. 

Practical Tips for Emotional Processing 

Acknowledge Your Feelings: Recognize and name your emotions. This is the first step in processing them. Journaling can be a helpful tool in this regard. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can provide clarity and a sense of relief. 


Give Yourself Time: Allow yourself a day to sit with your feelings without acting on them immediately. This can help in gaining clarity. Mindfulness meditation is a technique that can help you stay present with your emotions without judgment. 


Find Healthy Outlets: Engage in activities that help you process your emotions, such as journaling, talking to a friend, or engaging in creative pursuits. Physical activities like yoga or running can also help release pent-up emotions. 


Seek Professional Help if Needed: If emotions become too overwhelming or persistent, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore and understand your emotions. Betterhelp is a personal favorite – you can talk to someone via text or video from wherever you are. 


The Role of Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional intelligence (EI) plays a crucial role in how we handle our emotions. EI involves the ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. Salovey and Mayer (1990) introduced the concept of emotional intelligence, highlighting its importance in personal and professional settings. High emotional intelligence can help us navigate the complexities of our feelings and relationships more effectively. 

Components of Emotional Intelligence 

Self-awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your own emotions. Self-aware individuals are better equipped to handle their emotions because they understand what they’re feeling and why. 


Self-regulation: The ability to manage your emotions in healthy ways. This includes being able to delay gratification, control impulses, and cope with stress. 


Motivation: A passion for work that goes beyond money and status. It’s an inner drive to pursue goals with energy and persistence. 


Empathy: The ability to understand the emotions of others. Empathetic individuals can better navigate social complexities and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. 


Social Skills: The ability to manage relationships to move people in desired directions. This includes being able to communicate effectively, manage conflicts, and build strong interpersonal connections.  


By developing emotional intelligence, we can improve our ability to process and express our emotions healthily. For instance, a study by Zeidner, Matthews, and Roberts (2012) found that individuals with high EI are better at managing stress and have better overall mental health. They reported lower levels of anxiety, depression, and burnout compared to those with lower EI. 

Healthy Ways to Express Emotions 

Verbal Communication: Discussing your feelings with someone you trust can provide relief and perspective, while also strengthening relationships by fostering understanding and connection. 


Artistic Expression: Engaging in creative activities like painting, drawing, music, or writing can effectively express emotions that are hard to verbalize. 


Physical Activity: Exercise can alleviate built-up tension and stress, with activities like dancing, running, or yoga being especially effective. 


Mindfulness and Meditation: Mindfulness practices that cultivate present-moment awareness can enhance emotional connection and improve the expression of feelings. 

The Benefits of Emotional Processing 

Properly processing emotions can lead to numerous benefits, including: 

Improved Mental Health: Processing emotions reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression while enhancing overall mental health. Nolen-Hoeksema, Wisco, and Lyubomirsky (2008) emphasize the link between adaptive emotional processing and improved mental health outcomes, stressing the importance of acknowledging, understanding, and expressing emotions for long-term emotional well-being. Whereas suppressing emotions is associated with higher levels of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues, which can exacerbate existing conditions. Gross and Levenson (1997) demonstrated in their study that participants who suppressed their emotions exhibited heightened physiological arousal, potentially contributing to long-term health problems. 


Better Physical Health: Suppressing emotions can lead to chronic stress, as described by Sapolsky (1994) in “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” where chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease and weaken immune function. Effectively managing emotions can reduce stress and its detrimental impact on physical health. Studies in psychoneuroimmunology, such as those reviewed by Kiecolt-Glaser et al. (2002), demonstrate that individuals who manage their emotions well often exhibit lower blood pressure, enhanced immune function, and reduced susceptibility to chronic illnesses. 


Enhanced Relationships: Suppressing emotions can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and diminished intimacy in relationships, creating a barrier to authentic connection and mutual understanding. Research by Richards, Butler, and Gross (2003) suggests that couples who suppress their emotions during conflicts often experience reduced relationship satisfaction and encounter greater difficulties in resolving disputes. Open and honest emotional expression strengthens relationships by fostering trust and understanding, fostering more meaningful and supportive connections with others. 


Greater Self-Awareness: Processing emotions involves recognizing and understanding one’s feelings, which deepens self-awareness by revealing underlying motivations and reactions. This awareness enables individuals to gain insights into their behaviors and thought patterns, fostering personal growth. Engaging with emotions actively helps cultivate a deeper understanding of oneself and emotional experiences. 


Just as berries need the right timing and care, so do our emotions. By understanding and respecting this process, we can foster better emotional health and well-being. Recognize that emotions, like berries, need the right conditions to thrive. Allow yourself the time and space to process your feelings, find healthy outlets for expression, and seek support when needed. By doing so, you can navigate the complexities of your emotional landscape with greater ease and resilience. 


  1. Bonanno, G. A., Wortman, C. B., Lehman, D. R., Tweed, R. G., Haring, M., Sonnega, J., Carr, D., & Nesse, R. M. (2002). Resilience to loss and chronic grief: A prospective study from preloss to 18-months postlossJournal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(5), 1150–1164. 

  1. Gross, J. J. (2002). Emotion regulation: Affective, cognitive, and social consequences. Psychophysiology, 39(3), 281-291.  

  1. Gross, J. J., & John, O. P. (2003). Individual differences in two emotion regulation processes: Implications for affect, relationships, and well-being. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85(2), 348.  

  1. Gross, J. J., & Levenson, R. W. (1997). Hiding feelings: The acute effects of inhibiting negative and positive emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 106(1), 95.  

  1. Kiecolt-Glaser, J. K., McGuire, L., Robles, T. F., & Glaser, R. (2002). Emotions, morbidity, and mortality: new perspectives from psychoneuroimmunology. Annual Review of Psychology, 53(1), 83-107.  

  1. Lazarus, R. S. (1993). Coping theory and research: Past, present, and future. Psychosomatic Medicine, 55(3), 234-247.  

  1. Maslach, C., & Leiter, M. P. (2016). Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry, 15(2), 103-111.  

  1. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B. E., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400-424.  

  1. Richards, J. M., Butler, E. A., & Gross, J. J. (2003). Emotion regulation in romantic relationships: The cognitive consequences of concealing feelings. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 20(5), 599-620.  

  1. Salovey, P., & Mayer, J. D. (1990). Emotional intelligence. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 9(3), 185-211. 

  1. Sapolsky, R. M. (1994). Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: A Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping. New York: W.H. Freeman. 

  1. Wegner, D. M., & Zanakos, S. (1994). Chronic thought suppression. Journal of Personality, 62(4), 615-640.  

  1. Zeidner, M., Roberts, R. D., & Matthews, G. (2008). The science of emotional intelligence: Current consensus and controversies. European Psychologist, 13(1), 64–78. 

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