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Why being 'too emotional' is awesome for your health

Charlotte Hilton Andersen is the author of the book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything and runs the popular health and fitness website of the same name, where she tries out a new workout every month, specializing...

People often tell women the key to strength is suppressing big emotions — they are wrong

For every woman who's ever been told, "you're too sensitive" — this one's for you.

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands! If you're happy and you know it, then your hands should surely show it...

We all know the primary school song. But, it turns out, there's some serious wisdom in between all the foot stomping and hand clapping: Having big emotions — and showing them — is actually really good for you, according to a slew of recent studies.

More: What Inside Out got right about emotional intelligence

Women are often told to stifle their emotions, particularly in the workplace, as things like public crying or belly laughing are seen as unprofessional at best, idiotic at worst. And heaven help the woman who dares to show her anger because while men are allowed some righteous indignation, angry ladies are just seen as bitter bitches. In fact, we are even seen as incompetent and incapable of doing some jobs just because of all our lady feels, a point that was recently made by rapper T.I., of all people.

"Not to be sexist, I can't vote for the leader of the free world to be a woman," T.I. said to a reporter who asked him about the upcoming presidential election. He explained that women are "too emotional" and might "set off a nuke" in a fit of uncontrolled rage. "I think you might be able to get the Loch Ness monster elected before you could (a woman)," he added for good measure.

Because male rappers are never known for doing stupid things as the result of big emotions, amirite? (See: The entire body of T.I., 50 Cent and Eminem's collected, super-calm and rational works.)

More: The busy woman's guide to making time for emotions

But, is the stereotype true? Is it really bad to be emotional? Consider these scientific studies:

1. Talking about your feelings reduces depression and anxiety

In a University of California, Los Angeles, study, researchers used brain imaging technology to look at how people's brains react to scary or sad images and they found that when the people talked about their feelings, the power of the feeling was lessened. They said that simply telling yourself to stop feeling bad is a form of self-deception and our brains aren't buying it. Instead, labeling your feelings and accepting them was the key to reducing depression and anxiety.

2. Ignoring your feelings may make you eat them instead

People who pushed back negative emotions were more likely to binge eat than those who identified what they were feeling, either verbally or in writing.

3. Suppressing emotion can make you look dishonest and even dumb

In a study published in Emotion, researchers found that women who paused before speaking and then took their time to answer in an unemotional manner were perceived as being unsure and even fake. This isn't exactly a win for women, as men didn't experience the same assumptions, but it does show that reining it in isn't doing you any favors.

4. Paying attention to bad feelings helps you catch illnesses earlier

Bad feelings can be vital clues that a health issue, relationship or other important matter needs attention, said psychologist Jonathan M. Adler in an interview about his research into emotions with Scientific American. "Remember, one of the primary reasons we have emotions in the first place is to help us evaluate our experiences," he said, adding that suppressing those emotions invalidates those experiences, stopping us from learning valuable insights.

The truth is, everyone feels emotions — sometimes we feel really powerful emotions — and pretending we don't hurts us professionally, emotionally and physically. Emotions can be a source of power because they help us realize what's really important at that moment. And who knows? Maybe we'll soon have a woman president to prove it.

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