That little voice in your head can be important. But don’t confuse having a conscience with guilt! Your conscience guides your sense of right and wrong. Guilt, on the other hand, is when you criticise and blame yourself, and even feel responsible for events beyond your control.
It’s especially easy for women to succumb to feelings of guilt. Women are conventionally taught to be carers and nurturers, but many women mistakenly believe this means they should put their own needs last. We tend to say ‘no’ to ourselves far more often than we need to.
Reassessing what aspects of your daily routine are genuinely important can help you to stop feeling guilty about issues that are either not important or are beyond your control. Here’s what to consider:
• Whose issues? Are your must-do’s and must-nots values you truly believe in, or are they what others think? For instance, is it grandma’s belief that your children watch too much television, or your friend’s opinion that all laundry should be ironed?
• Rethink your views. Separate out those niggling issues into ones you agree with and ones you don’t. Consider too why you think the way you do. For example, is there actually a certain time in the week when a little more downtime in front of the TV would be fine for your kids?
• Prioritise your needs. Ask yourself what’s important right now. For example, is having more money (for repairs, holidays etc) more important than time at home? Should you increase your hours at work? Sometimes the reverse is the case. Situations change, depending on how old the kids are, if you need to spend more time with elderly parents and so on, so it’s good to re-assess personal priorities regularly.
Don’t let the chores and important tasks overshadow everyday life.
• Get organised. Create a plan with designated slots for all your important activities – checking the household budget, paying bills, health checks.
• Stay organised. Stick to your plan then you don’t have to worry about these things the rest of the time – they will get done when your schedule says they will!
• Maximise your time. If you work, don’t overcompensate with your children because you feel guilty. Enjoy the time you do spend together and try to make the time they’re in after-school clubs or with a childminder as good as it can be so you don’t worry about it while you’re at work.
Get into the habit of saying to yourself ‘What now?’ instead of ‘I wish I had done that’ so you stop agonising over what’s in the past. Take positive steps forward. Remember that just because you feel guilty it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong.
• Let it go. Make a list of the things you feel guilty about and consider how you can forgive yourself and let go. Compare your list with your values (above) to remind yourself what’s genuinely important.
• Talk to a friend. Their perspective might help to improve your perception of the situation.
• Make a list. Pin up a list of your priorities and the next time you get that niggling feeling, check the list. If it doesn’t make the top three, stop worrying about it.
Look after yourself and you’ll be in a much better position to look after the people you love. Check out our tips for Listening to your body for signs of stress.