What is one thing you could give up right now that would infinitely increase your health, happiness and improve the overall experience of your life?
Nope. It’s guilt. And you need to give it up NOW because it’s not only robbing your joy, but it’s slowing your bodies healing and destroying your health.
Here is how it’s helped me and how you can do it too.
Things I should have (or have not) done
First thing to understand is that guilt is a LEARNED habit.
Guilt was a habit for me too.
If I even THOUGHT about taking time for myself–either spending money for a massage, taking time to paint my nails, go to the gym or meet some of my friends for a night out, I would have an (almost) automatic feeling of guilt and the following sort of thoughts:
“Oh, I shouldn’t take time away from the kids”.
“Hmm…I could be spending this money on my daughter’s swim lessons.”
“My husband has been working all day, I really can’t leave him at home tonight with the kids. I’ll do girls night out some other time.”
“I have an hour to sit down and read BUT I should be working/doing laundry/tiding the house.”
I know I am not the only one with these sort of thoughts. Almost every female friend and patient of mine has told me some version of the above.
It is these sort of thoughts that were ROBBING me of joy and vitality. Not only does feeling guilty suck (after all, no crime was committed) BUT I was not allowing myself to relax, have down-time or enjoy my life!!
Like any well-ingrained habit, I couldn’t just stop it, but I knew that I needed to. I felt “high-strung” or “wound-up” and I knew I needed to slow down. I knew I needed to relax in order to feel energetic again. But the guilt was preventing me from relaxing. It was preventing me from having fun. It was preventing me from taking the time to care for myself in a way that would recharge me-mentally and physically.
This is one of the primary reasons women end up seeing me as a patient. We expect to be superwoman and get it all done. We expect to be “ON” 100% of the time. We are all go-go-go and never slow-slow-slow.
We are like my son’s Thomas the Train engine that has been left on all night long. By the time morning comes, he’s barely inching along the track and his headlight has burnt out. BUT, give him a rest and a fresh battery—Thomas is fast again and can even pull cars!
Once I began taking more regular breaks (guilt-free), I was able to feel alive again. I had been living in a constant state of stress for so long that I had forgotten how good it feels to be light, relaxed and joyous! When I was “ON” I was really able to be 100% ON—just as long as I had my 100% off time. My “batteries” were full, so I could laugh with my kids (instead of yell), I could really connect with my husband (not just go through the motions), I was fresh and sharp for my time with my patients and it just felt good to know I was taking care of my needs.
We need the down-time. We need the rest. I felt the difference for myself. So, I thought all I would have to do is tell my super-woman patients to “take time every day” for themselves and they would be able to do it. They knew that they needed to do it.
Yet, they would come back to me two weeks later and I would ask about how their bubble bath, or 30 minutes of reading before bed went and they would inevitably tell me they didn’t do it.
I realized that unless I tackled the GUILT that was underneath the reason we don’t take time to refresh and renew ourselves, nothing would change.
I think most of us KNOW we need the time. Most women who come to me as a patient are at that point were they are ready to take action. Even just booking an appointment with me is a huge action and declaration of self-worth. I’m assuming if you are reading this, that you know you are worth it, that you need it, and you are ready for it.
If we know we need to take time to relax and recharge, but we aren’t doing it because of our guilt-habit, how do we get from here to there?
Here’s how I tackled my GUILT habit and how you can too.
Catch and Release
This change doesn’t happen overnight. This is a well-worn pathway in your brain, formed by repeated thoughts of guilt, day after day.
Who knows how it started. Honestly, it doesn’t matter. All I know, is that I’ve felt guilty so often, that I don’t even see that there are other choices I could make or other ways I could feel.
Imagine a trail in the woods that has been walked down so many times, plants don’t even grow there anymore. It is the clear and obvious (easy) choice. However, there are side-paths available, but because you have not walked down them often enough, they are overgrown and you can’t even see that they are there.
The first thing I had to do was tune and CATCH the thoughts right as they were happening. At first, it would be the next morning that I would realize I am still re-hashing all the guilt for going out (or not) with my girlfriends. Then, as I got better at listening in to my mental-chatter, I could hear the guilt-thoughts right as they were happening. This is the “CATCH”.
Next is the RELEASE.
I made an effort that every time I heard myself saying “you should have done this” or “You shouldn’t have done that”, I would calmly remind myself that I’m not doing guilt anymore and then focus my thoughts back to whatever I am doing in the present. As a BONUS, I would find one thing that I could be grateful for in the moment. Studies show cultivating gratitude can dramatically increase our happiness and well-being.
I remember driving to yoga one day. The place that offered this specific type of yoga was an hour away and a 1 1/2 hour class. All in all, it took about 5 hours to go to this class. I was mentally calculating the gas, the expense, the time that I was taking away from my kids and my husband and started to feel guilty.
I nearly turned around.
Luckily, I was able to tune in and catch these thoughts, bring myself back to present, and release them. I reminded myself of how LUCKY I am that I have the resources to do this. I reminded myself of how good I feel afterwards and how much better of a mother and wife I am when I do this.
Catch and release is a very simple process, but it takes practice and time.
As you get better at tuning in to your thoughts, you will be able to release them sooner. Eventually as you start to find other ways to feel, your “guilty trail” through the woods will become less obvious and your “gratitude paths” will grow. Soon enough, you will be able to take time to relax and enjoy yourself without the guilt, which will lead to more health and more happiness and who doesn’t want that?
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I’d love to hear your thoughts, struggles or triumphs over guilt for taking care of yourself. Leave a comment below and let me know where you are with this stuff!