You eat a healthy diet, exercise daily, and limit saturated fats. But if you’re consumed with guilt, you may have overlooked an important health component.
Feeling guilty taxes the immune system and has been associated with chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and heart disease. “Guilt steals the body’s energy and zaps its immune system,” says Christel Nani, R.N., a medical intuitive and author of “Sacred Choices: Thinking Outside the Tribe to Heal your Spirit” (Harmony).
Research from Emory University suggests that harboring negative feelings — like guilt — puts you at high risk of coronary heart disease and stroke. The study shows negative emotions actually elevate levels of C-reactive protein, which is linked to inflammation that leads to cardiovascular disease.
Another study showed participants who engage in self blame had higher levels of pro-inflammatory cytokine activity, which is critical to immune function. And scientists report immunoglobulin A — a marker of how well the immune system can fend off illness — plummets in people who are racked with guilt.
“Some women have these internal rules. They have to be at every soccer game or dental appointment,” says Kim Feingold, Ph.D., founder and director of the Cardiac Behavioral Medicine Service of the Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute of Northwestern Memorial Hospital and assistant professor of surgery and assistant professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.
They may be fabulous caregivers, since nurturing gives them satisfaction, but it often leads to sacrificing their own best interests. They put off a mammogram, skip a workout with a friend or surrender much needed downtime.
“Good old-fashioned guilt is simply when you are trying to force yourself to follow a rule that is not aligned with your spirit or heart and soul,” says Nani. You only have so much energy. Feeding your guilt rather than your body, mind and spirit can cause anxiety, depression and gastrointestinal upset.
Whether you’re guilty of not giving 100 percent on the job, missing workouts or not spending enough family time, you can recognize and halt the feelings associated with guilt. Here’s how:
Start each day with a guilt-preventing action, like planning an after-work bike ride to snag more quality time with family, or scheduling that long overdue work evaluation meeting. Head off guilt before it crops up.
Change the rules
Nothing is set in stone. Leave the dishes for later and watch a movie with the kids instead. Let a co-worker handle a work crisis while you finish the project. Every sector of life is fair game for a rule do-over. Don’t let rigid mindsets compromise enjoyment, health or work.
Rewrite your personal belief system
Guilt stems from personal beliefs that no longer serve you [“A good mom puts a home-cooked meal on the table every night,” “If I don’t work till I drop, I won’t get ahead”]. Identify and rewrite yours: Good moms sometimes put home-cooked meals on the table. If I work smartly, I’ll get ahead. Think out of the box when you create new beliefs. Repeat yours several times a day or post it on the fridge or the computer.
Put yourself on your to-do list
Schedule exercise, medical appointments or meditation time, and keep these appointments as firmly as you would other important to-do’s.
Practice saying no so you’ll be prepared. You needn’t head up the fundraiser or plant winter vegetables if you’d rather not. Ask yourself if something excites you; does it make you feel good? If not, gently, nicely … just say no — sans the guilt.
Squash the notion that you must do everything; it’s a guilt-producing mantra. Delegating isn’t giving up control, it’s gaining it by having more time and energy, achieving faster results and giving people you spend time with opportunities to share their experience, wisdom and perspective.