You always hear that you shouldn't keep your emotions "bottled up," that it's "bad for your health." What you don't hear a lot about is what to do instead. What do you do if you can't express your feelings in a given situation because it's not the right time or place? What if you're so angry that expressing that anger might unleash a violent storm with negative consequences for yourself or the people around you? What if leeting another person know how you feel would do more harm than good?
I am fully convinced that "bottling up" emotions is not healthy. I believe that emotions usually -- but not always -- need to be expressed in order to keep them from hanging around only to reveal themselves at inappropriate times or in inappropriate ways. If, however, it is not possible to express an emotion for whatever reason, at the very least it should be acknowledged. Ignoring or suppressing emotions won't make them go away. They will inevitably return, although they may manifest themselves in different ways (perhaps as an unexpected angry or violent outburst or maybe as physical pain such as headaches, ulcers, or stomach problems). Acknowledging a feeling brings it into your conscious awareness. Once it's there you can make a decision about what (if anything) to do with it. If an emotion is not acknowledged it remains unconscious. It is still there but you no longer have control over what it does. (I think that one of the reasons people reach a point where they have no control over their emotions - or where their emotions are in control of them - is because they've suppressed, repressed, or otherwise kept their emotions from consciousness for so long that they've accumulated, grown, and joined forces until they've become a powerful and destructive force).
In terms of expressing emotion - while it may not be appropriate to express an emotion at a given time, in a given place, or to a given person, you can at least take a moment to recognize how you are feeling, choose to keep that feeling to yourself for the time being, and return to it later when you are able to express it.
Expression does not always have to be verbal, although verbally identifying an emotion has been shown to make that emotion more manageable (and sometimes less intense). Art, music, or physical activity are also potential conduits for emotional release. Still, humans are social creatures by nature; perhaps that is why - at least in terms of the most intense or troubling emotional experiences - we seem to benefit most from finding someone supportive to share them with. Studies have shown that after a distressing experience people tend to seek out others to share their emotions with. People with diagnosable depression, however, do not show this tendency. This suggests that not sharing such emotions with others contributes to, exacerbates, or serves to maintain depressive symptoms. In addition, avoiding emotions related to a distressing experience or experiences is a factor that has been shown to contribute to both the development and the maintenance of symptoms of PTSD and other anxiety disorders.
I realize that I have repeatedly warned of the perils of emotional avoidance. Still, I don't think it's possible to over-emphasize this. If we are to lead a psychologically healthy and emotionally fulfilling life we have to find ways of expressing - and sharing - our feelings. This will probably be uncomfortable at times but in life what is good for us is not always comfortable. Maybe we don't want to get immunizations because we don't like needles but we do it because it prevents us from getting life-threatening diseases. We might not enjoy a colonoscopy but at age 50 we go get one because it could prevent us from getting colon cancer. And women - we may not enjoy our yearly female exam but we get it done because we want to make sure we stay healthy. When you look at it this way there is absolutely no reason not to engage in healthy emotional expression. Yes, it may be uncomfortable to share you feelings at times; however, rarely is it as bad as getting a colonoscopy. Keep that in mind next time you have the urge to bottle up your emotions.