When a Good, Long Scream Is a Healthy Way to Clear the Air

Sometimes emotions are best expressed by yelling out loud!

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Posted in , Mar 1, 2022

A good, long scream

The beloved comedian Carol Burnett had this advice for what to do when life feels overwhelming, beyond our ability to articulate in any productive way what’s going on inside. 

“Just scream!” she said. “You vent, and your body just feels good after a good old yell.”

I am fully on board with Burnett’s wise words. There are times when the emotional and physical weight of my day feels jumbled up inside, like a cyclone that’s trapped in my body and mind. In those moments, I am too emotionally congested to journal or meditate or call a friend or watch a funny show—I just need what’s inside to come out. Loudly and formlessly OUT.

My family has done some productive screaming during the pandemic. For awhile, we welcomed Shabbat on Friday nights with a family holler. Other times, when we were caught in a bickering spiral, we dissolved into laughter when someone announced a family scream in 3, 2, 1….

And then there have been some preciously powerful times we’ve shouted into the vastness of nature. We’ve been lucky enough to spend some time by a very quiet beach during the pandemic. With no one around, and with the ocean lapping, rolling or churning seemingly off into infinity, the wind almost pulls the sound—primal and formless—from deep inside. Afterwards, my throat thrumming from the vibration, I feel clear, emptied. Ready to step back into my day with a fresh, clean slate.

A group of mothers in a Boston suburb recently got the memo that a loud, long scream is a healthy way to clear the air. The women gathered in the field of the local high school with no goal of chit-chatting, sharing snacks or telling their war stories of parenting through a pandemic. They simply showed up at the appointed hour to join their voices in a deep, primal scream.

“Letting loose of the pent-up emotion is freeing, like spitting poison out of your mouth,” the clinical psychologist Ryan Howes says. It also has some physiological benefits. “Your body becomes more alert, and you release tension in the muscles caused by bottled-up emotions,” says Dr. Bryan Bruno, the medical director at a New York City-based depression clinic.

But there are obvious limits to the benefits of screaming to release pent-up emotions (and feel-good endorphins). “With catharsis alone, we’ll just spend time periodically yelling in the car without addressing the circumstances that got us there,” said Howes. After a scream-session, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve just let go of. Take in some deep, replenishing breaths. Allow your body to regulate and feel the sense of release. 

And then pour yourself a glass of water or warm mug of herbal tea to soothe yourself back into your day.

Do you ever release pent-up emotions by letting out a loud yell?

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