Where get Emotions Trapped in Your Body and how to Release them

Have you ever heard the term "emotional baggage"? It is sometimes used to define the phenomenon of carrying past trauma or negative experiences in life, career, or relationship. You may notice it in someone’s appearance, as they are obese. It can even stick them at a certain point in their life.

We all have unprocessed emotions from expectations to some degree. However, those that aren't dealt with don't just go away.

These emotions can affect:
  • Your thinking ability
  • Your physical wellbeing
  • How do you manage stress
  • Your relationship with others
Let’s understand how and where emotions get stuck, so you can release what is weighing you down.

What does it Mean to Have Trapped Emotions?

You may probably hear people crying during yoga, massage, or acupuncture treatment because when a tender spot activates, it leads to an emotional release. Though some people may refer to the trauma as being trapped or stored in the body, it isn’t a scientific method to keep it. However, traumatic stress can have physical symptoms. It is because the brain connects this area with a particular memory – often on a subconscious level. According to Mark Olson, activating specific areas of your body may trigger these memories. On the other hand, some people believe that difficult emotions and trauma can store energy in the body, though it isn’t approved scientifically.

How do Emotions get Trapped?

If you’re in a terrific situation, your body produces a physical response to this emotion by activating a fight-flight-freeze response. According to Nelson, three things happen when you experience an emotion:
  • We develop an emotional vibration.
  • We think that emotion and other thoughts or physical sensations are connected with it.
  • We move on from the emotion by processing it.
According to Olson and another research, emotional processing happens in the limbic structures. Simply put, you can say that feelings come from what your nervous system tells you. So, the term trapped emotions mean that the true self wants to express something that the false doesn't want us to express, according to Olson. This repressed negative emotional energy can be expressed as:
  • Overreaction
  • Resentment
  • Fatigue
  • Poor decision making
  • Depression, stress, and anxiety

Trapped Emotions and Trauma

It’s impossible to talk about trapped emotions without exploring trauma. Nearly we all experience trauma at some point in our lives. Trauma can occur through life experiences, such as:
  • Breakup
  • Major life change
  • Death of a loved one
  • Job loss
It affects memory processing and the ability to recall factual information. As a result, the traumatic experience or memory is not logged properly in the brain. When trauma isn't resolved, it may linger far past the actual event. This is often noticed in people with PTSD.

Where Does the Body Store Trapped Emotions?

Have you ever felt tightness in your chest during an anxious situation? Does it feel good to stretch your hips after an emotionally draining day? Remember that where one person feels sensitivity or tension in their body might not be the same for others. A study led by a team of biomedical engineers explains where emotions are felt in the body. They mapped body reactions to emotions in approximately 700 individuals by coloring the regions where they felt reactions increasing or decreasing due to stimuli. For instance, anger, anxiety, and fear showed increased activity in the chest and upper body. They also conducted a follow-up study to find the intensity of a feeling correlated with the intensity of mental and physical sensations. They divided feeling into five sections:
  • Negative – stress, anger, and shame
  • Positive – happiness, love, and pride
  • Cognition – attention, and perception
  • Homeostatic states - regulated internal state
  • Illness and somatic states

How to Release Emotions from Your Body?

Have you ever felt crying, screaming, punching a pillow, laughing, or dancing it out? We're taught to bury our pain and soldier on. It can lead to repressed emotions, also known as unconscious avoidance. Some ways to release repressed emotions include:
  • Practicing stillness
  • Acknowledge your feelings
  • Work through past trauma
  • Trying shadow work

Practicing Stillness

Being still enables you to be with your feelings and thoughts in a present situation. It taps into the brain's default mode network. It triggers self-generated cognition, which includes daydreaming or letting your mind wander. Different ways to practice stillness are:
  • Meditation
  • Breathing exercises
  • Sitting in nature
  • Repeating affirmation
  • Listen to soothing music
  • Progressive muscle relaxation

Acknowledge Your Feelings

The more you understand your emotional world, the more you can have positive feelings. The primary step is to connect with and understand your emotions. People who have repressed emotions may face difficulty in identifying their feelings. It is the right time to seek help from a mental health professional.

Work through Past Trauma

We carry many things for years that stem back to childhood. Past trauma examples are:
  • Abuse, i.e., mental, emotional, sexual, or physical
  • Neglect
  • Death of a loved one
  • Bullying
  • Separation
Unresolved childhood traumas can appear in different ways:
  • Self-blaming
  • Feeling depressed
  • Lack of interest in social activities
To work through trauma, Olson says it's imperative to feel the grief that you may never get what you wanted years ago. Once you've allowed grief, you can acknowledge the adaptive strategy you develop as a result.

Shadow Work

Similar to childhood trauma, shadow work provides another way of exploring various versions of ourselves that we keep hidden due to shame. People usually hide the part of themselves that they think is unacceptable. For instance, were you asked to stop crying or calm down when you were upset in your childhood? This emotional invalidation may cause you to feel guilty about your emotions.

Final Words

Emotions can get stuck in your body when not fully processed. However, it's the brain's limbic structures where emotional processing happens. While some of your body areas hold tension or may be linked with an emotional experience, the brain ultimately rebuilds the emotion. By practicing techniques to work through your emotions, such as therapy, and shadow work, you can move on from past traumas and release the tension associated with them.