Confessions of a Bikini Competitor

I have neglected this blog for way too long. So first let me apologize. I plan to be more consistent. Now let me explain why I “fell off the bandwagon”.

For the last 5 or 6 years I have been a “fitness nut”. Since I began I would say I have consistently averaged 5-6 days a week in the gym and have had a healthy diet. It started out as a means to save money from eating out. Quickly working out became my sanity and it saved me from the stress and emotional upset of my full time therapy job. About 3 years ago working out became my part-time job when I started teaching group fitness classes. It was during this time that working out became not just a hobby but a passion of mine. Working out and eating well was fun for me. Over the course of time I found I wanted to challenge myself in the sport of bodybuilding.

I was always happy with the way I looked and felt very comfortable and confident with my body but I wanted to see how my body could change with discipline and focus. So in March 2014 I started prepping for my first bikini bodybuilding competition. With my excellent coach and my motivation to be successful I walked on stage July 5th, 2014 and placed 6th. I felt very proud of what I accomplished. The road to the stage was fun. It is exciting to watch your body become lean and vascular. My body really became a fat burning, muscle building machine. I am a competitor at heart and can honestly say I feel accomplished with my performance in my first competition. I believe that others found inspiration in my progress and dedication, and my accomplishment really does show that with hard-work and discipline anything is possible.

However over time I stopped enjoying eating well and working out because these things were now a chore. Most days I dreaded going to the gym but went because “I had too”. When I wasn’t in the gym I was obsessing about working out. I literally laid in bed at night and visioned myself doing the next days workout and cardio. Images of food and meal prepping consumed my every thought. The food I ate no longer tasted enjoyable because it was solely fuel. When I wasn’t eating, I was starving and literally counting down until I could eat again. I was exhausted mentally and emotionally.

As my contest drew closer I hired and worked with a posing coach (one of the best in my opinion). So every Saturday after my workout, rather than spend time with family and friends I drove close to 2 hours (one way) to practice my posing. I spent money I could have been saving for a retirement or starting a new business for me and my husband on supplements. I thought my food bill would decrease as I just ate the same thing daily, but our grocery bill doubled and I was spending over $200 a month on supplements. The food is not only expensive but it is also costly to compete. There is a fee to join the Federation, there is a fee for each contest, tanning costs about $300 dollars, there is the cost of hair and makeup, plus the cost of a hotel stay and travel. Alas, the bikinis the girls in the bikini division wear are gorgeous. They are also very expensive. Yet I choose to once again spend HUNDREDS of dollars on a bikini instead of saving, investing, or bettering my families future.

Sure my waist and my body fat decreased but so did my wallet and my self-esteem. Suddenly it became about being a certain standard and fitting into a mold. I prefer to stand out, be different, and quite enjoy not always fitting in. Yet consuming myself with working out and competing I found I wanted to be like other competitors and fitness professionals. On contest day I saw myself with my tan, my hair and make up done, my beautiful bikini, and did not recognize myself. I was no longer Stephanie, but rather some obsessed meat head.

I spent the weeks following my show thinking about my next show. I was now obsessed with not “getting fat” (whatever that means). So I continued to obsess about going to the gym and counting calories and macros. Still working out and eating well was not fun. As I began to gain normal fat back I felt self-conscious and disgusting. This is about the time I stopped writing and stopped trying to help, motivate, and encourage others. I was so over working out that I stopped teaching at my gym, and this was something I love to do. Was I depressed? Not clinically but I think I was in a dark place. I had become something and someone I did not want to be.

You see, I had found balance in my life. Working out and eating well was fun because it did not control my life. I made it fit my lifestyle. I took it to the extreme of restricting calories, food, and WINE! I was working out to an extreme. When all you can talk about, think about, and dream about is working out and eating vegetables and lean protein you can be sure you are off balance. I remember a few meals following my show I literally had anxiety about eating. I ruined a surprise my husband had planned for me because I was so anxious and worried about what the meal would entail. Because I had become so obsessed with working out, eating, gaining fat, and staying lean, I was no longer able to enjoy friends and time with family. I felt embarrassed and insure to be at the gym. The gym was once a place where I felt confident and in control. But after my show it was as if I was a beginner again just walking into a gym for the first time. I was lost. I even kept my coach and had a plan but found I was not able to follow through. I withdrew from family and friends and wanted to spend my free time doing nothing and resting rather than being active and outgoing. I became lazy! I stopped feeling motivated to work on my career. I gained weight and body fat back but my confidence was destroyed. I felt I did not deserve to teach others. I felt I was not good enough to inspire and motivate.

I had to find balance again. I wanted so badly to enjoy working out and eating well and not worry about my body if I did not do things 100%. I am not sure when things started to come back together for me. I can say it did take about 6 months to feel like myself again. I am enjoying working out again. I can eat well but I can also not eat well and not freak out. I can eat out with friends and family and not binge. (A cheat meal used to contain well over 3600 calories). I am teaching again and I love it! And I am finally feeling motivated and passionate about writing again and finding ways to help others live well lives.

So many fitness professionals preach balance. But I caution you and warn you, they are professionals. Their living is spent in the gym working out. It is their job to stay lean and we only see their professional self. We do not see the other parts of their life that involves family, friends, and fun. Your job is not to be a workout professional. (I don’t think this is a bad profession, it is a needed and valuable profession, but not one that everyone should seek). Your job is to live a healthy, fit, and happy lifestyle. Life should never include obsessing about what to eat, when to eat it, and when to get to the gym. I do think life is about making healthy eating and working out a priority. When we make time for what is important we find health, fitness, and happiness.
I saw this quote and thought it perfectly expressed what happens when we compete or take diet and exercise to the extreme.

“You begin to change your food, your friendships, your sleep habits… you change what you talk about, the stuff you buy, and what you think about… and it all happens without effort – like it was meant to happen. You just find yourself consumed. Then, after awhile, you grow perspective. Regular life comes back and you enter the maturity stage, where all the fitness and training stuff still interests you, but just doesn’t engulf your mind”.

Let fitness and health fit into your life rather than trying to fit into a life of fitness. Fitness is something you do, not who you are. I eventually noticed that many competitors are so consumed with competing and looking and staying lean it becomes what defines them. Seeking to obtain a certain physique is an accomplishment and should be a source of pride. However it should not be something that is sought forever. Yes I obtained about 10% body fat, yes I had abs, I was vascular in my legs and arms, but those things did not make me happier or more fulfilled.

When we all die and face Judgement we will not be judged on our weight, body fat, abs, hamstrings, or glutes. We will be judged by what we do and how we positively benefit the lives of others. Fitness can do that. Fitness truly does save lives. Eating well and working out gives us the energy to do good deeds and live meaningful lives. Many fitness professionals help so many people find health and even balance, but so many also comply with the stereotypes and cause insecurities and doubt. Don’t let a picture of legs, butts, or abs on social media be your motivation. That is a false world and the consequences of that world can be worse than what is described above. Let us be fulfilled by spending time with family and friends, traveling, and trying new things. Find what makes you happy, find what makes you fulfilled. That is what determines your worth. Not how you look in a mirror or how you look to others.

When Eating Becomes Normal

“Normal” eating really is a challenging issue for most. First of all, I do not like the term “normal” because everyone is so different. With so much variety there is no normal. Being unique and individual opposes the term “normal”.  Yet most want a way to eat. Most are looking for a plan, a way, or a method and often fail to consider their individual needs, desires, and goals. Sticking to a diet denies us from being individual, unique, and special. Eating a meal plan based on what another says or does makes us more like that person, and less like ourselves.

“Normal” earing is a challenge secondly because there is a barrage of healthy eating theories, philosophies,  and practices. For the average person how to eat “healthy” or “normal” is confusing. We wonder if we should eat “clean”, “paleo”, “Atkins”, “weight watchers”, etc.  It is hard to decide which “diet” is best. Each boasts impressive weight loss stories and claims it is evidence based to give the best results. And we all probably know someone telling us to eat a certain way because that is worked best for that person. And everytime we try the “diet” we are left unsatisfied, hungry, and confused.

For most the issue is emotional eating. Anyone can follow a meal plan or a diet, for the most part. These plans become a problem when we feel sad, bored, stresed, overwhelmed,  excited, lonely, angry, or tired. Scientifically we eat to fill psychological needs and no diet can help us plan or manage that. We need to eat according to our individual needs, desires, and wants.

Know it is OK to eat. Eat fun food. Eat healthy food. Eat food with carbs and fat. Eat something that makes you feel good. Eat to feel full. It is important to eat healthy fruits, vegetables, and proteins, but it is also important to eat a treat. Identify how you feel before, during, and after eating certain foods by writing it down, if necessary. This can help you learn which foods satisify, avoid, reward, or derail you. It is normal to eat. If you are curious on what to eat for your body to achieve certain goals, or if you need guidance on how much to eat, consult a professional. Be sure to find someone that is qualified, just because someone is fit or appears healthy does not mean they are qualified to tell you how to eat. Every one is different just like every body is different. Therefore we will all have different nutritional needs. Consult your physician, dietician, and your body to discover what is best for you.

The morale of this story is, eat. Eat well, enjoy food, and fuel your body.

Striving for Ordinary

I believe that every single person on this planet has a great purpose.  I believe that all humans are on Earth to do wonderful things and touch lives.   As humans we have a basic need to connect with others and to develop a healthy self-esteem we need a sense of community and belonging.  According to Abraham Maslow (1954) in order for a person to  reach their full potential and live a fulfilled life, a person must first find love and belonging.  To consider that love and belonging is a more essential human need than self-fulfillment means that as humans our purpose is to connect to others.

Many may struggle with the notion of “serving a purpose” or many may struggle to understand their purpose.  I think this idea seems overwhelming because as a Capitalist society we are programmed to see “purpose” as something large, powerful, and meaningful.  It seems that “purpose” means more money, more success, more fame, and more power.  I know I once believed that.  For years I believed I needed to touch and dramatically change the lives of thousands.  I believed I had to do huge things to serve my purpose.

However we do not need to move mountains, save and impact the lives of thousands, or accomplish fame and fortune to serve a purpose.  We can impact the world simply by being ordinary.  In my early attempts to be “great” and live my purpose I spent a great deal of time and energy thinking globally.  This caused me to neglect the people  immediate world and I lost time doubting myself.  I failed to see how I could impact the lives of my clients, my co-workers, my friends, and my family.  I felt I needed to reach more, do more, and be more to serve my purpose.  Rather than finding fulfillment and joy in my interactions with others, I started to feel burned out and tired.

I do believe that anyone at any time can impact the world and reach to positively change the lives of others.  However when this becomes our focus we fail to see how powerful we are in our everyday lives.  We do not need to be extraordinary to change the world.  Your ordinary self has the power to impact another and change a life.

You impact the lives of people every single day.  How you interact with people has power.  What you say to a person leaves a legacy.  In your small world you have great power.  You can set in motion a positive or a negative experience for others, and ultimately yourself.   Stop doubting your skills.  Stop seeking extraordinary.  You have the potential to do extraordinary things today in your ordinary life.  The extra things you do to better your life or the life of a loved one is what makes your ordinary extraordinary.  As you strive to create love, joy, and positivity in your life and the lives of others around you, you will be able to look back and see your ordinary life has become extraordinary.

You Don’t Have to Always Hustle to Be Successful

I read a blog this morning about the behaviors of emotionally strong individuals.  Initially I asked, “what is emotional strength?”  Emotional strength is the ability to experience positive feelings.  There are some studies to suggest that certain personality traits are linked to greater emotional stability, an indicator for emotional strength (Guswell & Ruch, 2012). A particular study by Guswell and Ruch (2012) suggested there are innate characteristics that can either support or hinder a person’s ability to manage emotions.  In other words some personalities have an easier time managing emotions and remaining positive.  Although research claims it may be easier for some more than others it is not likely that only certain individuals with certain personality traits are allowed happiness.  All people are allowed happiness and all individuals can have a happy disposition despite character, experience, or previous thought patterns.

Individuals can learn emotional strength.  If you struggle with something in life you can learn to improve; you can learn to emotionally improve, as well. Your emotions do not control you.  Your thinking does not control you.  (It seems that way most of the time because turning “off” thinking and emotions is challenging).  The source behind the thinking and the emotions is YOU and the one in control of you is YOU!  I understand my posts talk a lot about choosing to be happy positive and I understand this can be very frustrating to most.  But, that truly is the issue; choice.  How you think and how you feel is up to you!  It is that simple.  The hard part is applying the skills, tools, and techniques to make that choice stick.

There are lots of tools and behaviors one can apply to increase emotional strength.  One behavior that stood out to me as a read the blog on emotional strength was ,”They (emotionally strong people) are not afraid of slowing down”.  This really stuck with me and caused me to ponder.

Emotional strength equals success.  Early research clearly demonstrated that people with an ability to evaluate their emotions, identify their emotions, and rationally handle their emotions are better able to reach and achieve goals (Allport & Allport, 1921).  To consider that emotionally strong people can slow down and relax challenged the belief that successful people are “go-getters” and “busy-bees”. Success coincides with work.  So many of us are chasing dreams, aspirations, and goals.  Motivation is inspired and we are challenged to keep going, keep pushing, and work daily to achieve success.  Then why is slowing down a sign of success and emotional strength?  How does rest and slowing down accomplish goals?

When we slow down we can LIVE.  It is so easy to be caught up in pursuing goals and achieving success and to lose sight of daily life and the little miracles that occur.  I am no exception.  My goals and aspirations in life require me to have daily goals and a daily plan.  The drive to be successful causes me to become acutely aware of my daily goals and I can spend minutes of my day, hours of my day planning, working, building, doing, and analyzing.  What happens if I just stop?  What happens if I just slow down and approach the day as it comes?

When we can slow down we are left with seconds, minutes, hours, even days for freedom and to live.

  • Slowing down means we can be content with our present moment and our present blessings.
  • Slowing down means we can be thankful for what we have.
  •  Slowing down allows us to experience love and support of family and friends.
  • Slowing down means taking a break.
  • Slow down means we have time to do something else (perhaps read a book, talk with a friend, or sit in silence).

Today I challenge you to stop!  Stop planning and stop working.  Take time away from your “to-do” list and do something else.  You do not need to always be working on something and you do not need to always be focusing on your goals.  I challenge you to take a step back, slow down, and enjoy the moment and the people you are with.  When you slow down to live you will restore your heart, your brain, and your soul.  This renewal of mind, body, and spirit will help you achieve goals, accomplish tasks, and lead you to success.

 

 

References:

Allport, F. H., & Allport, G. W.  (1921). Personality traits: Their classification and measurement. The Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 16(1), 6-40.

Guswell, A. & Ruch, W. (2012).  Are only emotional strengths emotional?  Character strength and disposition to positive emotions.  Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, 4(2), 218-239.

Burn Calories All Day with This Leg Workout

Happy Friday y’all! I hope it has been a great one.  What muscle group did you train today?  This morning I trained legs.  It was intense!  I was drenched in sweat because it kept my heart rate up, my breathing rate was increased, and it challenged me. As a result of my workout this morning I have been STARVING all day.  I am generally always hungry (life of being a bikini fitness competitor) but it is more so today.

My metabolism was increased today because this leg workout not only worked out a large muscle group but the high intensity kept my body working hard.  Try this workout below to keep burning calories all day long.

The key is to keep moving.  You want no rest between exercises and little rest between sets. I just rested long enough to catch my breath, motivate myself, and set up for the exercise.

Try a challenging and heavy weight, however do not sacrifice form.  You want the weight challenging enough to make the set difficult but light enough to complete the set safely.  For example I could have squatted heavier but because I wanted to go for higher reps I kept my weight a bit lower.  No need to be a super hero – you will feel like a warrior when you are done, though! My advice – start out lighter, you can always add weight as you go.

Set 1

Lying Leg Extension

Leg Extension

Split Squat (12 reps each leg)

5 sets with 15 reps

Set 2

Barbell Squats (first 2 sets I completed 15 reps) – (I increased weight on barbell every couple of sets – the last set was heaviest and I could get in 10 reps)

Single Leg Hack Squat

Glute Push-Down

5 sets with 12 reps each

Set 3

Stiff Leg Deadlift (I increased weight after 2 sets)

Lying Leg Press – feet high and wide

Lying Leg Press – feet high and narrow

Seated Calf Raises

5 sets with 15 reps each

By the end of this workout you will be hungry and you can be sure your metabolism will have a burst to burn extra calories throughout the day.  Don’t use that as an excuse to overindulge, so be careful with hunger cravings.  Be sure to eat a small meal every couple of hours that includes a protein, a fat, and a carb.  I expect some Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) the next couple of days because this workout gave a great burn!

 

Which “Diet” Is Right For You

There are various types of diets individuals swear by in the health and fitness industry. Each one claims to help people lose weight, maintain weight, experience satisfaction, and promote health. With all the diets out there it can become overwhelming and confusing to decide which is best to live by.

I want to be clear about something here. I am not a nutrionist, nor am I a dietician. I am an expert in behavior and health, however. This post is not to claim that one diet is better than the other or to report an opinion about each diet. The purpose of this post is to identify a few types of popular diets today and explore the eating behavior associated with each. This post is to help you decide which diet supports how you want to live your life.

Why is eating behavior important to explore?

What you eat will impact your entire being. Eating, it goes without saying, will influence your body composition. What you eat will impact your waist line, your weight, and how your clothes feel. Thats why those in the fitness world often exclaim, “You cannot out train a bad diet”. Food not only impacts your physical body but food also will impact how you behave and interact with others.

Clearly research indicates food can impact mood. Researchers have found the stomach contains a hormone called ghrelin, and ghrelin travels directly to the brain and triggers the feeling of hunger. Researchers at University of Texas found ghrelin was associated with decreased stress and anxiety. THIS hormone reacts in the brain similarly to an antidepressant. What this research suggests is that eating can cure depression.

Think about how you feel after eating a nice healthy salad. The answer to this question could vary. On one hand eating a healthy salad can make someone feel satisfied and healthy. On the the other hand a person may feel bored and neglected after eating a salad. Now think about how you feel after eating a piece of chocolate cake. Again the answer could vary. A person may feel satisfied and relieved to have a craving satisfied, or a person may feel guilty and shame. The feelings associated with eating are related to eating behaviors. People that restrict may feel bored with eating foods, and people that binge may feel guilty for enjoying foods. In this regard diets that require restriction and eliminating foods could be difficult for some people. Not only is restriction difficult for emotional health but food restriction can harm your relational health.

Consider how many events, gatherings, and meetings involve food. Culturally we relate with others, express love, build relationships, and discuss ideas with others over food. Food is comforting. Food is enjoyable. Food is relaxing; so it makes sense why so many social interactions involve eating. Your eating behavior can improve your relationships with others. Eating behavior can also harm relationships when a person feels their diet prevents them from attending social engagements. It is possible a diet can cause increased isolation and withdrawal.

I love eating out and trying different restaurants. It is one of my most favorite things. My husband and I re-connect each weekend over dinner at a restaurant and we fellowship with friends with dinner and drinks. While on prep for my last bikini fitness competition I was not able to eat out for part of my plan. This made meals out with friends and family awkward. Although I was OK with my decision others I joined at restaurants felt uncomfortable as I ate in tupperware. My dad said he felt guilty for eating a big meal in front of me while I ate out of my Tupperware. Our eating behavior is impacted by the eating behaviors of others! Ultimately I started to decline invitations to eat out and the invitations to eat and fellowship with others stopped. Because of my “diet” I missed time with friends and family.

Are you now convinced that food is more than just fuel for your body? Food and our behaviors associated with food influences how we function on a daily basis. It is easy to see why millions struggle with food, either eating too much, eating too little, or uncertainty about what to eat.

So with all the diets that claim to be effective how do you decide which is best for you and your lifestyle?

The Gluten-Free Diet may be necessary for people with specific diseases and food allergies, however many others report restricting gluten in the diet will help shed pounds. Gluten is found in foods with wheat, barley and rye (such as pasta and traditional baked goods). The key for gluten free diet is to eat foods marked as gluten free on the package and to eat whole foods like meat, fruits, and vegetables.
This diet is helpful to keep people from eating processed foods which can contain dangerous chemicals and contain increased amounts of sodium, sugar, and fats. In that regard a Gluten free diet is healthy.
The problem with Gluten free is that packages marked “Gluten free” are still processed and contain increased sugar and fat. These are needed to maintain flavor. Lastly refraining from eating certain foods that may contain gluten does not allow the body to receive necessary and vital nutrients.

A clean eating diet is similar to gluten free. However individuals that claim to eat clean do not eat ANY processed foods. Clean eating involves eating whole foods that have minimal ingredients added. The key with clean eating is to eat the food in the most natural state as possible.
Clearly eating involves eating whole foods like meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. These foods are beneficial for the body and for life. These foods will provide the body with the nutrients necessary to function well.
The problem with clean eating is that many treats, cheats, and indulgences are eliminated. Oreos are not consumed on a clean eating diet.

The Paleo diet is all the rage. Paleo is very similar to clean eating. People on a Paleo diet live like the cavemen do. In other words they eat foods that are either hunted or gathered. Cavemen did not eat processed foods or foods that were cooked. This diet is good for health and the physical body because individuals eat increased lean meat, fruits, and vegetables, and processed foods like sugar, sodium, dairy, and other chemicals are eliminated. Any diet high in lean meats, fruits, and vegetables will benefit health. However this diet can be restrictive as dairy (ice cream, milk, cheese, etc) are eliminated. There are some that say eating increased amount of some meat (red meat) can lead to increased health problems (heart disease, cancer). This diet does not allow people to enjoy some foods for fear of eating food that is “bad”.

Many claim the trick to eat for weight loss is to eat less calories. The idea is to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories a day than one will consume. Honestly this will work, however, it is not necessarily safe and it is not recommended to maintain on this diet. Eventually the body will stop burning fat as calories are restricted. Restricting calories will keep the body from receiving essential nutrients and vitamins and eventually this can cause increased hunger, irritability, agitation, tiredness, and headaches. This diet does encourage an active lifestyle, which is always a benefit. However this diet should not be maintained for long periods of time and it does not teach people how to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Juicing is new trendy diet that many use to shed pounds and detox. Clearly veggies and fruit are good for the body. The body needs the nutrients and minerals in fruits and vegetables. However the body also needs nutrients and minerals in meat, grain, and fats! These foods are not found in juice. Although juicing will promote increased consumption of fruits and vegetables it severely eliminates foods the body needs to function properly. A juicing diet should not be maintaned for any period of time for risk of develop nutritional deficiencies.

Ever heard some say, IIFYM? IIFYM stands for If it Fits Your Macros. You may be asking, “what the heck is a macro?” A macro is a nutrient in food. The three primary macros are protein, carbs, and fat. Food also contains sodium, fiber, sugar, cholesterol, potassium, Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. This micronutrients are also an important component of nutrition and are needed for optimal health. IIFYM is often referred to as “flexible” dieting. This diet promotes eating any food you want. It teaches people to let go of the guilt of eating foods because “bad” foods and “good” foods do not exist with flexible dieting. In other words if you want to eat donuts for breakfast, it is OK as long as it fits your macros. Everyone has different macro demands based on body composition and goals. With IIFYM you eat what you want as long as you consume the right number of protein, carbs, and fat each day. This makes eating more fun and relaxed. However it is also obsessive. Flexible dieting requires daily tracking food. Every meal needs to be weighed to the gram or ounce, measured, and calculated. It is a great way to learn about foods and the different composition of food however IIFYM requires being attached and restricted to a food scale and a calculator. Your life can be consumed by numbers and a need to manipulate portions and foods to fit macros. Flexible dieting is not eating oreos, cake, and donuts all day every day. In order for IIFYM to work a person must eat clean, whole foods most of the day.

One of these diets or none of the diets may appeal to you. You may be currently living by one of the diets and can attest to the benefits and show off your progress. Here is the thing about diet. All diets are “bad”. I do not think we should live a life of “diets”. Rather we need to live a life! We need to live a life where we love, experience, enjoy, challenge, learn, and grow. Food should never consume our time, energy, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The key is to find balance. You will be most benefitted if you eat mostly whole foods, not overindulge or binge, refrain from restricting, and be sure to eat protein, fruits, and vegetables throughout the day. Bottom line, what diet you choose should fit your lifestyle and your goals. It should be one that you can live by every single day for the rest of your life. Finding balance with eating means you eat for health most of the time but know that is OK, acceptable, and appropriate to enjoy foods occasionally. Eating is a behavior and your diet should support your behavior and your lifestyle, not your life and lifestyle support your diet.

Let It Go For Improved Mental and Emotional Health

I am aware that what I am about to talk about is a challenge for most people. However what I am about to say is possible for ALL people.

Feelings of stress, depression, anxiety, worry, fear, anger, and frustration are normal human emotions. These emotions were adaptively necessary to help our early ancestors survive dangerous situations and these emotions help us adapt to our situations. What you feel is 100% OK. Although these feelings are normal and necessary it is not normal and necessary to hold onto these feelings for an extended period of time.

Holding onto grief, sadness, anger, frustration, worry, and fear can harm all areas of your life.

  • Relationships with others can be negatively impacted by holding onto upset feelings.  These feelings can cause isolation and withdrawal, and rather than spending time with loved ones you start to spend time alone.  Feelings like anger and frustration can cause one to yell or lash out at loved ones.  Excessive worry, fear, and anxiety can make others in our lives feel powerless to help.  These issues will limit others desire to spend time with you.
  • Your health will decline if negative feelings control your life.  Feelings not only create an emotional reaction in the body, but a physical one as well.  Upset feelings cause increased muscle tension, increased heart rate, decreased sleep, fatigue, and decrease the bodies ability to fight illness, disease, and infection.
  • Holding on to upset feelings can impact your mental ability.  Prolonged emotional upset causes negative thinking.  It can be difficult to think positive thoughts and challenging to see the “silver lining”.  Emotional upset leads to thinking that becomes distracted, distorted, and unfocused.
  • Decreased mental and cognitive ability can make completing tasks at work or school challenging.  Rather than focusing on what needs to be done in the present moment, upset feelings keeps you thinking about the things that caused the upset.  This causes increased forgetfulness, distraction, difficulty concentrating, and memory problems.
  • Spirituality beliefs can be challenged when upset emotions take over. This becomes a problem because rather then turn to a higher power, moral beliefs, and prayer and meditation to cope one may shy away from these practices.  Upset feelings can cause use to abandon helpful, positive, and effective coping skills.

I think most would agree it is unhealthy to hold onto upset emotions, particularly when these emotions get in the way of enjoying life. However it is not easy to let go of emotional upset. There are numerous reasons why emotions are hard to let go of.

  • Loss of a dear loved one
  • Betrayal
  • Lost trust
  • Emotional hurt from another
  • Physical hurt from another
  • Repeated disappointments in others
  • Limited resources or options available
  • Limited support
  • Conflict with others

This list is not exhaustive. There are other, numerous situations and life events that cause feelings to linger. However in my practice and therapy with others I have found it is most difficult to let go of upset when we feel as though we have been hurt (emotionally), betrayed, and left vulnerable by others.

In those situations we want the wrong done to us to be made right. We want justice. We want karma. We want retribution.  It seems that holding onto the upset is a way of maintaining control over self, others, and the situation. At the end of day the only one being hurt by harboring upset is you!  The other person continues to live their life and go through their day unaware of the upset you have toward them. However when you lie in bed at night you suffer with the thoughts and the upset.

Letting go is for you!  Letting go benefits you!  Letting go does NOT excuse the wrong done to you, nor does it make it OK. You were hurt and wronged and that’s ok. But allowing yourself to let go of some emotional upset helps you live life on your terms. Here are my five suggestions for living life on your terms, letting go of upset, and finding the silver lining daily.

  1. Exercise – beyond the health benefits exercise helps increase happy feelings, lowers stress, and gives you some “you-time”.
  2. Forgive – forgiveness is not forgetting!  Forgiveness is releasing harboring upset so that you can make room to enjoy life.
  3. Spend time everyday doing something you enjoy. I call this vegging out. Find that activity (watching TV, cooking, reading, take a bath, etc) that causes your mind to shift focus and settle down.
  4. Acknowledge how you feel and know the upset emotions are OK!  You are justified for feeling that way. No one can tell you how to feel. You are in control and you can take active steps to change how you feel.
  5. Release those upset emotions. Cry!  Yell!  Whatever you need to do to express the feeling do it. The thing about expressing emotions is that it will eventually stop. You may feel like if you start crying you will cry forever but you won’t. The crying will stop. Expressing emotions is like a coke bottle that has been shaken and opened. Eventually the coke stops exploding from the bottle and it settles. Then you are left with a refreshing beverage. Express your emotions so that once they are released you can enjoy life a little better.

it is not realistic to be happy all the time, but allowing yourself to feel and then release the feeling will create room for more pleasure and enjoyment in your life. You have one life. You have one day, today!  Fill your day with whatever feeling you choose. The good news is, tomorrow you get another chance.

 

* If you are having trouble letting go, it is Ok. Many people struggle with this concept. It can be hard, but extremely beneficial to ask for help. Don’t think that asking for help makes you weak or disabled. Asking for help gives you more power to overcome. If you need help letting go I can help!