Sometimes it feels like whatever you do, there’s a reason to feel guilty about it. Found a bargain T-shirt? Uh-oh, maybe it was made in a sweatshop. Had two glasses of wine last night? That’s now officially classed as a binge. It’s no surprise that 96 percent of women say they feel guilty daily. For many of us, low-level guilt has become our default state – even if we don’t always know why. ‘It’s partly because women are more tuned into emotions and pressure themselves to conform to a certain type of behaviour than men are,’ says psychotherapist Rachel Shattock Dawson.
Even low-level feelings of guilt can take a toll on your health, says psychotherapist Sophie Boss, co-author of Beyond Temptation. ‘It’s a stress-inducing emotion, and ongoing stress depletes physical and emotional energy,’ she says. In fact, left unchecked, ongoing guilt can lead to depression, according to a University of Manchester study. Here’s how to get a grip on today’s common guilt traps.
Here are six simple tricks to becoming a glass-is-overflowing kinda girl, stat!
Guilt trap 1: ‘I’m a bad friend’
There’s a whole lot of friendship guilt that applies only to women, says counsellor Susan Carrell. ‘Women feel bad about forgetting birthdays, texting rather than calling, and cancelling nights out.’ But it’s important to remember that you don’t have to take responsibility for the other person’s happiness.
Work out how you really feel. Sometimes guilt can mask other feelings – underneath your guilt about not picking up a call from your friends, you could be feeling exasperated about how often she leans on you. This will help you tune into your real feelings so you can deal with them.
Do the time warp. Say you’ve just cancelled a night out because you’re knackered, first, ask yourself how bad you consider your behaviour to be right now. Now imagine yourself looking back at your decision five years from now – how bad does it look now? Hello, perspective!
Be kind to yourself ‘If you’ve forgotten a birthday stop to think why you forgot,’ says psychologist Emma Kenny. ‘Often the real issue is you’re feeling tired or overwhelmed. Apologise, then take time out for yourself and look at how you can ease the burden.’
Guilt trap 2: ‘I’m not super-fit’
‘It’s great that looking strong and fit is considered sexier than the waif look, but it takes more work,’ says trainer Lucy Hoffman-Whiley. So it’s not surprising you beat yourself up if you miss one spin class.
Flip your focus. ‘Don’t skip a workout because you’ve only got 10 minutes – work out because you have 10 minutes,’ says psychologist Cecilia d’Felice. ‘Walk around the block or roll out your yoga mat. You kill guilt, plus get into a habit.’
Start over. ‘If you don’t make it to your gym class, don’t write off the rest of the week,’ says d’Felice. ‘Accept that life sometimes gets in the way, and start again tomorrow.’
Think 2:1:1 Mix up high-intensity workouts with holistic ones and you won’t feel guilty on low-energy days.
Yep, science has found legit strategies that make you feel damn good…
Guilt trap 3: ‘My food choices are all wrong’
Whether you’re stressing about overdoing the ice-cream or fretting over food miles, we’ve never had more pressure to eat right.
Enjoy every mouthful. ‘Eating guilt-free is about knowing you’re eating right 80 percent of the time so treats are just that – treats,’ says d’Felice. ‘Savouring every mouthful will eliminate guilt because you’re not bingeing then feeling bad.’
Spot your red flags. Write down everything you eat and how you felt afterwards. ‘Be curious not critical,’ says Boss. ‘Ask, ‘What’s going on? Why does this happen?’’
Set realistic ethical goals. ‘We can cut food waste,’ says dietitian Hala El-Shafie. ‘Taking leftovers to work for lunch, making unused veg into soup and thinking before you bulk-buy can ease our conscience.’