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Release ‘Emotional Baggage’

Release ‘Emotional Baggage’

How to Get Rid of ‘Emotional Baggage’
and the Tension It Causes

“Emotional baggage” is a term you’ve probably heard before.

It’s a term that’s occasionally used to explain the phenomena of carrying prior trauma or “bad experiences” into one’s life, relationships, or job.

You could notice this in someone’s posture as if they’re bearing an unpleasant burden. It could even impede them from progressing in life.

To some extent, everyone carries unprocessed emotions from their past experiences. Unresolved emotions, on the other hand, do not simply vanish.

They can influence:

  • The way you perceive yourself
  • The way you handle stress
  • Your physical wellbeing
  • Your relationships with other people

After all, emotional baggage does have a name, doesn’t it?

Let’s peel back the layers of how and where emotions become lodged so you may let go of what’s holding you back.

What does it mean to have emotions that are “trapped”?

Perhaps you’ve heard of people crying during yoga, massage, or acupuncture sessions because of a vulnerable place that, when activated, causes an emotional release.

Though some people talk about trauma being “stored” or “imprisoned” in the body, this isn’t a scientific term.

Traumatic stress symptoms, on the other hand, might appear physically.

This could be because the brain subconsciously identifies this region with a certain memory.

According to Pure Medical’s Dr John Howe, PhD, activating certain parts of the body may awaken these memories.

“Emotions are constantly generated – subconsciously or consciously — in response to the reactivation of memories or unmet aspirations,” adds Dr Howe. “A simple touch to the X area is a reliable stimulus for reconstructing the pattern associated with that traumatic event.”

Touch can evoke emotions, or a memory can trigger sensations in a specific body part. While this is normally linked to a physical location, Olson believes it all takes place in the brain.

Others, on the other hand, think that trauma and painful emotions can become lodged energy in the body, despite scientific proof to the contrary.

Resonance occurs when stored emotional vibrations induce adjacent tissues to resonate at the same frequency, according to Dr Anna Davidsson.

“Each repressed emotion exists in a specific area in the body, pulsating at its own special frequency,” Dr Davidsson says states.

She believes that this will cause you to attract more of that feeling, resulting in a build-up or blockage. Dr Davidsson’s position, however, remains speculative until more investigation can be done.

What causes emotions to become trapped?

However, studies dating back to 1992, as well as more recent research, back up the mind-body connection, or the idea that a person’s mental and emotional wellness affects their physical health.

Fear is a famous illustration of this.

When you’re terrified, your body activates the fight-flight-freeze response.

When we experience an emotion, three things happen, according to Dr Davidsson.

  1. We become emotionally charged.
  2. We are aware of the feeling, as well as any connected thoughts or physical sensations. This is where the connectivity of the mind and body come into play.
  3. We digest the feeling to move on from it.

Emotional processing takes place in the limbic areas of the brain, according to Howe and other research.

We’re continually taking in information, which triggers autonomic nervous system responses that are unconscious. This activates the matching feeling by sending a signal to the body.

In other words, your “feeling” is based on information from your nerve system.

When the second or third step, as indicated above, is disrupted, the emotion’s energy becomes stuck in the body, according to Howe. You may have muscle tension, soreness, or other symptoms as a result.

The more intense your emotions are, the more prone you are to become imprisoned.

“The term ‘trapped emotions’ usually refers to the genuine self’s desire to express something that the false self does not want us to,” Dr Howe explains. “In psychology, we think of the genuine self as the part of us that is born open, curious, and trusting, whereas the false self arises as a set of adaptive methods to deal with suffering and loss,” says the author.

This repressed negative emotional energy can manifest in the following ways:

  • Resentment
  • Poor decision-making
  • Self-sabotage
  • Overreaction
  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue

Dr Howe compares lugging a huge rucksack around with repressed emotions. It makes us feel heavy, affects our mood, and saps our energy.

It can also harm biological tissues and inhibit regular organ and gland functions, according to her.

“It’s like a huge motorway gridlock,” Howe explains. “It’s difficult for energy to flow freely.”

Lab tests

If a doctor suspects an infection or inflammation, they may order blood tests and possibly an arthrocentesis. A procedure will be performed in which a small amount of fluid is removed from within your knee joint with a needle and sent to a laboratory for analysis.

Trauma and trapped emotions

It’s impossible to talk about repressed emotions without talking about trauma, especially how the brain reacts to it.

Trauma affects nearly everyone at some point in their lives.

According to a 2015 poll of nearly 69,000 adults conducted across six continents, over 70% of respondents had experienced a traumatic event, with 30.5% having experienced four or more.

Trauma can be caused by a variety of life events, including:

  • a breakup
  • a major life change
  • the death of a loved one
  • infidelity in a relationship
  • loss of a job
  • an experience of violence, discrimination, or racism

Trauma can affect cognitive functions.

It has a particularly negative impact on memory processing and the ability to retain facts, or explicit memory. As a result, the painful memory or experience is not correctly “recorded” in the brain.

“The brain encodes traumatic memories as pictures or physical sensations when it comes to an exceptionally overpowering encounter, such as a trauma,” Dr Howe explains.

When the brain is triggered, it may become detached from reality or recreate the traumatic event as a flashback.

Dissociation, or psychological disconnect, is the term for this.

These sensory pieces linger in the mind, interfering with the brain’s normal recuperation process.

Traumatic memories, according to Dr Howe, act like a virus in our encoding system, causing our mental and physical processes to fail.

Trauma that isn’t processed or addressed on its own might linger long after the event.

This is common in people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition that develops when a person has experienced frightening or life-threatening situations.

According to studies, people with present PTSD have a smaller hippocampus, the brain’s emotional and memory centre.

Stress causes the hormone cortisol to be released, which is part of the fight-flight-freeze response.

Long-term stress affects the hippocampus, according to 2011 research, which might manifest as aberrant blood flow or shrinkage. As a result, even if you’re not consciously recalling the horrific event, your body may stay hypervigilant.

What is the location of trapped emotions in the body?

Have you ever felt a tightness in your chest when you’re in a stressful situation? Or do you find that stretching your hips feels pleasant after an emotionally draining day?

Where one individual experiences tension or sensitivity in their body may differ from where another perceives it.

Some research, on the other hand, establishes a baseline for how people generally feel. However, further research is required before solid conclusions may be drawn.

A 2013 study led by a group of Finnish biomedical engineers tried to explain where emotions are perceived in the body.

They used colour to map physical reactions to emotions in roughly 700 people, asking them to colour in areas where they felt reactions were rising or decreasing in response to diverse stimuli.

They discovered that distinct emotions were linked to diverse physiological experiences that were consistent across all participants.

Anger, fear, and anxiety, for example, were associated with greater activity in the chest and upper torso.

This could explain how phrases like “hot-headed” and “bearing the weight of the world on your shoulders” came to be.

These emotions can also activate the sympathetic nervous system, causing the body to react quickly. When you become nervous or stressed, you may notice your heart pumping or your muscles contracting.

The study includes a chart that shows where these feelings were felt in the body. Here’s a quick rundown:

Where Emotions are felt in the body

Emotions in the body Key



Across the entire body



There is some activity in the legs and feet, as well as the upper half of the body and arms.



Excluding the arms, and the upper part of the body there is also some foot stimulation.



Arms and upper half of the body



The head and chest. The activation of the arms, legs, and feet is reduced.



The chest and head, with a decrease in head activation



Increased activation above the pelvis, with the exception of the arms, and decreased activation in the arms, legs, and feet



Across the body, with the exception of the legs



Lower body activity is reduced.



The head and hands are more active, while the pelvis and leg areas are less active.



Head, arms and torso



Arms, legs, and feet are less active than the thorax and head.



The chest and head are more active, while the legs are less active.

In a follow-up investigation, the same researchers discovered that the intensity of a feeling was directly tied to the intensity of bodily and mental sensations.

They divided feelings into five categories:

  • Unpleasant emotions like worry, rage, and shame
  • Pleasant emotions such as joy, love, and pride
  • Attention and perception are examples of cognition.
  • Internal homeostasis, or a balanced, regulated state
  • Diseases and somatic conditions

Feelings change all the time, thus this study could be useful for people who have problems comprehending their emotions.

Unresolved feelings

Unresolved emotions may be held in your unconscious, affecting your body posture.

“When you’re confident, your head is in a different posture than when you’re puzzled,” Dr Howe explains. “When you’re defeated or successful, your spine takes on a different shape.”

People may unconsciously revert to specific postures that inhibit their awareness of painful experiences, according to Dr Howe.

He explains that “muscle tension occurs to generate and sustain postures that keep oneself secure or oblivious of unpleasant feelings.”

Certain postures and gestures also have emotional and social implications. Consider the difference between a warm embrace and folded arms.

This may explain why some people assume that tension in the body is linked to specific locations. Dr Howe, on the other hand, recommends against utilising this to generate broad narratives.

“As they defer to a [list] rather than what they can find within themselves,” he continues, “this imposes a very narrow restriction on how far one can explore.”

How to Get Emotions Out of Your Body

Have you ever been compelled to cry, scream, laugh, punch a pillow, or dance your feelings out?

We’re taught to bury our sorrows and carry on. This can result in repressed emotions, sometimes known as unconscious avoidance, over time.

Emotional repression was associated to lower immune system function in a 2019 study.

Here are some suggestions for releasing repressed emotions:

  • Expressing your emotions
  • Overcoming adversity
  • Experimenting with shadow work
  • Making deliberate movement
  • Stillness practise

Recognise your emotions.

The better you understand your emotional environment, the easier it will be to process your emotions in a healthy manner.

The first stage is to understand and connect with your emotions. People who have repressed emotions may have difficulty identifying their sentiments, which is why speaking with a mental health expert can be beneficial.

A 2007 study, naming your emotions helps reduce their strength.

You can do this by utilising psychological techniques such as the cognitive distortion categories or by attempting to categorise your emotions in order to better understand them.

Working through prior traumatic experiences

Things from our youth are frequently carried around with us for years. Here are some examples of prior trauma:

  • Mental, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse are all examples of abuse.
  • Neglect
  • The death of a loved one
  • Separation from a caregiver or parent
  • Bullying
  • Domestic disorder

Childhood trauma can manifest in a variety of ways, including:

  • Self-blaming
  • Pointing fingers at others
  • Depressed feeling
  • Withholding participation in social activities

Dr Howe believes that grieving over the realisation that you may never get what you desired or deserved years ago is essential to working through trauma.

You can recognise the adaptive technique you evolved as a result once you’ve allowed yourself to grieve.

For example, you might have established an individual coping style that eventually leads to feelings of loneliness. You can believe that people are alienating you if you don’t recognise your plan.

If you understand your isolation is due to your adaptive approach, on the other hand, you can pinpoint the source of the problem and adjust your strategy to better suit your true needs.

Shadow work

Shadow work is similar to analysing childhood trauma in that it allows us to explore different aspects of ourselves that we keep buried, usually out of shame or inadequacy.

People are prone to concealing aspects of themselves that they deem unacceptable.

When you were a kid, were you ever instructed to “cool down” or “stop weeping” because you were upset? This emotional invalidation may cause you to be ashamed of or downplay your emotions.

Shadow work can be done in a variety of methods, however, working with a therapist is generally suggested.

A few shadow work activities can be found here.

Intentional movement

Somatic experience (SE) is a technique for addressing any unprocessed tension or emotion in your body.

To address symptoms, SE takes a body-first approach, with the belief that releasing repressed trauma will help with emotional healing.

According to Vincent, one way to accomplish this is by deliberate movement.

“When we move with intention, we may generate a sense of safety in our bodies that we may not have felt before, especially for people who have accumulated trauma,” Dr Howe explains.

Here are some examples of deliberate movement:

  • Dance
  • Stretching
  • Yoga
  • Shaking
  • Martial arts
  • Qi gong
  • Tai chi
  • Meditative walking
  • Belly breathing exercises

Intentional movement, according to Dr Howe, releases any stored energy while also assisting the brain in distinguishing between stress and relaxation.

Practising stillness

Being still allows us to be present with our thoughts and feelings.

It works by tapping into the brain’s default mode network, which occurs while your brain is briefly inactive. This causes “self-generated cognition,” which includes activities such as daydreaming and letting your thoughts wander.

People can better connect with their inner thoughts, feelings, and aspirations by temporarily disengaging from external stimuli, according to studies.

“We live in a culture where quiet isn’t respected or practised nearly enough,” Dr Howe adds, “yet it can be so beneficial to our brains and bodies.” “It also creates room for emotions to enter… consciousness.”

Here are some ideas for practising stillness:

  • Meditation
  • Exercising your lungs
  • Sitting in the woods
  • Relaxing while listening to music
  • Affirmations repeatedly
  • Muscle relaxation with time


An emotion can become “stuck” in the body if it is not fully digested.

Emotional processing, on the other hand, takes place in the limbic structures of the brain. While some parts of your body may be tense or related to an emotional event, the brain is ultimately responsible for rebuilding the emotion.

You can learn to move on from past traumas and relieve the associated body tension by using ways to work through your emotions, such as counselling, mindful movement, and shadow work.