When we leave the house we often carry a bag to put things in – our gym bag, briefcase, holiday suitcase or shopping bags. These bags make items easier to carry, especially if our hands are full. Our minds can feel quite full too, so we also have bags for our emotions. Most of the time, our thoughts and feelings are tucked away in something small and compact – I like to think of mine as a small and sparkly clutch bag. But when things start to get the better of us, it can often feel that we are lugging our troubles around in a full set of matching emotional luggage.
Carrying too much emotional baggage around is not good for you. Just like a heavy rucksack can rub your shoulders, emotional baggage weighs heavy on your mind resulting in negative impacts on other areas of your life such as family, friendships or your career. In this blog, we are going to look at some different types of emotional ‘luggage’ and share tips on how to ditch that excess baggage. In the words of Frozen, we shall help you to discover your inner Elsa and ‘let it go’ …
We can feel regret about something we did or didn’t do, such as sending a text when we are angry or not buying a lottery ticket. Regret is there to remind us to think carefully about the choices we made or the actions we took, helping us not to repeat the same mistakes in the future, and can present itself as a feeling of sorrow, disappointment, frustration or anxiety.
There is no point fretting over regrets as any you have will be connected to something in the past, and unless you have a time machine, there is nothing you can do about it. So stop right there, stop chastising yourself, acknowledge how you feel and show yourself a bit of kindness. In most cases, without a crystal ball, you wouldn’t have known what the outcome was going to be, otherwise we hazard a guess that you probably wouldn’t have done that dreadful deed in the first place.
If it’s appropriate, look to see if you can learn from your mistake, maybe try and repair any damage you might have caused, but also put some new goals or plans in place to help you respond differently in the future so you can make better choices with more positive outcomes. Most importantly, remember that nobody is perfect!
Guilt can trigger all kinds of feelings, such as headaches, tearfulness or even an upset tummy to name but a few. It can also manifest in the mind as we experience conflict about something we did or didn’t do – we can be extremely hard on ourselves when we are in breach of our own moral codes.
Healthy, appropriate guilt, like not sharing your crisps or taking the last biscuit from a plate are not a bad thing – this is just your conscience having a quick word in your ear. However, there is also irrational guilt where you try and assume responsibility for something totally irrational like the England football team losing to Italy because you didn’t wear your lucky pants. Joking aside, excessive irrational guilt can be a real issue and has been linked to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression amongst others.
Manage feelings of guilt by learning to let go of those negative thoughts or simply things that you think you ‘should’ be doing. Be more conscious of the decisions you make and allow yourself the time you need to do what you want to do instead of focusing on what you think you should be doing, Most importantly, if you don’t get round to that thing you promised or ate that last biscuit, then just forgive yourself and move on in a more positive direction.
Fear is instinctive. Fear helps us to survive by alerting us to danger so we can prepare ourselves for dealing with it. Some of us love the adrenaline rush caused by fear, such as those crazy people that will queue for hours to scare themselves silly on a roller-coaster at a theme park.
Fear makes us feel alive – it pushes our blood away from our heart and into our arms and legs so we can punch and run. But it can also stop us from thinking clearly by preventing us from making good decisions. It can also get out of control and grow into something more irrational such as a phobia.
Sometimes fear is good and leaves us with a feeling of euphoria, but when it gets out of hand, take a step back from the situation. Take control back of your breath and slow things down, then look at the situation. Is it really as bad as you think it is? Ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen and try and put things into perspective. Your dentist isn’t really a scary person and that thunderstorm is not going to harm you – tell your dentist about your fears or track that storm on an app and see if you can predict when the next rumble of thunder will be. By taking control of your fears you learn to counter them.
We’ve all got an inner-critic – that nagging voice in our heads that questions everything we do and tries to undermine every decision we make. The inner-critic isn’t always a bad thing, as sometimes we all need someone to keep us in check, and at least our inner-critic keeps our conversations private! So don’t try and silence them completely.
When our inner-critic is kind to us, they are like that best friend that will stop you from doing or saying something that you will later regret. However, our inner-critic can also be cruel and harmful, telling us we are fat, ugly, worthless or stupid. Most of the time your inner-critic is completely wrong – let them tell you those shoes are going to make your feet hurt, or eating that whole chili is really not the best idea you’ve had today as that’s useful advice.
If, however, your inner-critic is being a negative cretin and telling you that you will not lose weight, get that dream job or make any friends, then you can definitely tell it to take a hike! Ignore these thoughts and prevent them from becoming a reality. Don’t allow yourself to be a victim of your own verbal abuse.
Silence your inner-critic with distractions – walk the dog, clear out a cupboard or call a friend for a chat. Respond to your inner-critic by talking to them and reminding them that you are fabulous and actually more than capable of achieving all of the things it’s telling you aren’t possible. What do they know? As you talk back to your inner-critic you will quickly silence them and win the battle.
Shame makes you feel used, rejected and unappreciated. It can also make you feel overly worried about how others think of you. We can feel shame for a number of reasons, such as when we don’t know something and ask for help, or if we think we have done something wrong.
Shame can leave us with mixed emotions – sometimes we just want to curl up and hide, but other times it can make us feel angry or even heap blame onto ourselves. It’s a proper little ride on the negativity bus and a very powerful negative emotion.
When we bottle up our shame, it can build up to become an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment or disgrace. Deal with it by no longer making it a secret. You like a KitKat with your breakfast? Fine! You ate half a left-over birthday cake to yourself after cleaning up a kids party? You deserved it! You put a splash of gin in your mug to get you through your 10-zillionth Zoom meeting in lockdown? Didn’t we all?
Fight your feelings of shame before they stop you living your life – you are not flawed, you are not bad. You are good enough!
Worries & Stress
Worries happen in our minds, whereas stress affects our bodies. Combine these two emotions and you are not going to be feeling that great. You could be worried about passing your driving test or feeling nervous about a big presentation at work – take us outside of our comfort zones and we will be sweating, shaking, clenching our teeth and tensing our muscles.
Worries and stress are natural parts of our day-to-day lives, but when they become persistent and uncontrollable they can start to cause us harm. They can leave us tired and unable to make good decisions, they can cloud our judgement and we can even take it out on the people we love.
Allow yourself time to worry and never bottle things up. Make parts of your day worry free by choosing to deal with your concerns on your own terms. You’ll soon be able to identify the issues you can deal with and the ones you need help with – just make sure you ask for help. You are not a superhero (well, you could be, but you can’t tell us and maybe that’s why you are feeling stressed) and nobody expects you to have all the answers!
Don’t let your emotional baggage become a problem. Sometimes we all need to carry a little excess and that’s fine – that’s what teaches us how to cope with the challenges life presents to us. We all prefer a heavy suitcase to be on wheels as it makes it far easier to carry, but if you regularly unload that baggage, with some clever packing you might be able to reduce it all down to a small sparkly clutch of your own.