Not talking about feelings can lead to physical, psychological, social and financial costs. These four types of costs can compound to affect our quality of life seriously. Usually one or more of the four will be our slip road onto the highway to ill health.

Participants in The Helpful Clinic impactathon 2020

This is the conclusion a group of 18 health activists came to at our recent impactathon. In this blog we show how one cost can lead to another and share the group’s further findings …

In January, a group of 18 people who care about wellbeing came together volunteering their time, expertise and focus to answer three questions:

  • What are the costs of not talking about feelings?
  • What are the benefits of talking about feelings?
  • How can we talk about feelings?

Sharing stories and identifying patterns and themes, we came to some very helpful conclusions. Here we focus on our answers to the first question before sharing our new infographic, which answers all three.

We share the lived experience of one person, who we will call Ben, to illustrate how one cost can lead to the next. We do so as a cautionary measure. Of course, one cost does not always lead to another. All too often though, it does.

Not talking about our feelings can lead to physical costs that do not go away

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

When we do not talk about our physical or emotional feelings, we can suffer with physical symptoms that do not go away.

Ben was worrying about work. This may or may not have been causing the constant headaches he was suffering from. Talking about it might have been helpful. Talking was not his way though, so he began taking ibuprofen to ease the pain. The headaches did not go away. He began to suffer from stomach pain too, possibly due to the physical effect of the prolonged use of an over the counter drug.

Not talking about feelings can lead to psychological symptoms and behaviours that are not helpful

We’ve all turned to something to help numb physical and emotional pain at some point. Cigarettes, alcohol, drugs (prescription and non-prescription), food and sex are typical ‘go to’ places for people feeling physical or psychological pain.

All too often we can end up reverting to unhelpful behaviours too, acting out our pain. We can inadvertently punish those we are closest to, shouting at them, blaming them or even retreating and isolating ourselves. This can leave our loved ones feeling confused and excluded.

Ben’s physical symptoms became worse with the addition of a racing heart and breathing difficulties. These are are common physical symptoms that are triggered by emotions and anxiety. Such feelings are helpful if we listen to them and are able to take appropriate action.

Ben did take action in the form of self-medication but it was not appropriate. It led to more physical pain and cost him unnecessarily in terms of his physical, mental and emotional health.

Not talking about feelings can lead to issues with family, friends and colleagues

When we keep feelings bottled up, it impacts our relationships and can cause other social problems including divorce, family breakups, and the loss of friends.

Ben became so anxious that going out with his wife and friends began to feel overwhelming. Rather than explaining this to them, he just withdrew and become more and more isolated. His wife didn’t understand what was going on and they kept arguing to the point where the marriage was at risk. The isolation also led to arguments and strains on his friendships and in his contact with colleagues and his boss, meaning further unnecessary costs.

Not talking about feelings can actually cost you money

From slipping into expensive habits to numb our feelings, to failing to see obstacles ahead, not talking about our feelings can lead to financial disaster.

It nearly cost Ben him his job and his marriage. It’s easy to see how this would have led to the loss of his home too. Luckily, he listened to reason and was able to take a more active role in terms of his health and wellbeing. He learnt about feelings and how to talk about them and reach out for help in the form of talking therapy.

Other activists at our impactathon shared stories of the crippling costs of medication and therapy. Unnecessarily cancelling non-refundable holidays was a cost that we are normally aware of but this was flagged at the impactathon as more common than we had realised.

Even more shocking though, was the picture we began to build of the costs to the NHS and the wider economy of people not talking about feelings :

  • One in four adults is inappropriately using prescription medicine for pain and mood
  • 8 in 10 people have experienced poor mental health in the last 12 months
  • Up to 45 % of all GP visits are due to unexplained pain and fatigue (this includes conditions like ME/CFS, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Burnout) 
  • Unexplained pain and fatigue cost the NHS an estimated £3.25 billion a year, equivalent to a cost of around £700 per person
  • Absence from work associated with unexplained pain and fatigue costs the economy an estimated £5.9 billion a year 
  • Absenteeism and presenteeism (that means illnesses meaning time off work or reduced performance in work) cost British businesses £1.4billion in 2019

Next steps?

If you can relate to Ben’s story, we really encourage you to practice talking about your feelings.

To help, here is our new infographic, the result of our impactathon. We wish to thank everyone involved (you know who you are).

Please help us to spread the word

Want to be helpful? If you can help us spread the word by putting these posters up in your area, well, that would be helpful!

Email us and they’re yours…