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All of us have dealt with a backpack at some point in our lives. Remember loading up that crisp new backpack in fall, with anticipation for another school year. Backpacks are used to pack up emergency supplies, camping gear and are even popular to use as a diaper bag. One backpack we may not realize we carry is an emotional backpack.
In this article, we delve into the idea of the “emotional backpack,” offering practical strategies to lighten our emotional load, build resilience, and foster the self-reliance required to better navigate life’s challenges.
What is an Emotional Backpack?
What is an emotional backpack? Imagine your daily life as if you’re carrying around an invisible backpack, every day, filled with tangible memories and emotions. Inside that backpack are all of your life’s experiences. Some of these items are as feather-light as cherished accomplishments, while others are weightier, negative experiences that linger like burdensome challenges and setbacks.
What is in your backpack and how heavy is it? The weight of your backpack is a particularly important consideration when it comes to self-reliance since a big percentage is mental. This lesson really hits home in one of my favorite survival books, The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes — and Why.
The Weight of Your Backpack
If you picture life as a long journey, your emotional backpack is right there, hanging off the back of your shoulders every day, no matter where you go. Your responsibility is to keep the backpack light enough for you to keep moving and progressing.
Easy enough, right? Not always.
We encounter personal setbacks, illness and death of loved ones, difficult co-workers, rude neighbors, unforeseen disasters and struggles in relationships. These things tend to weigh us down if we don’t handle them when they happen, as my family did a number of years ago when we hit rock bottom.
Yes, it can seem easier to stuff them down in the backpack and worry about them later, but that’s actually unhealthy and potentially dangerous. This maladaptive coping makes our packs heavy and our journey slow and miserable. We aren’t able to help ourselves or others if we are overloaded and miss out on the everyday joys of life. In fact, did you realize that not being emotionally healthy can be a threat to your ability to become self-reliant?
I think we can agree, that’s not where we want to be.
To keep moving and be prepared for anything life throws at you, a light backpack is a must. Let’s look at what you should have in your emotional backpack.
6 Essentials for a Light Emotional Backpack
Building these five components into your life (and into your backpack) can significantly increase your emotional resilience.
1. A good support system
It’s the power of positive connections! Surround yourself with people—friends, a spouse, family, or pastor—that share the same values that you do. These people should be someone you can confide in when needed. Their advice would align with your beliefs and they would have your back in a crisis. If you have a hard time making and keeping friends, this book about how to be a best friend by one of my favorite psychologist authors, John Townsend, may help. Making close friends isn’t an easy thing for most adults.
2. Healthy habits
Fuel your body and your mind! Getting proper sleep and nutrition keeps your body and your mind running in top shape. Find an exercise or activity that you enjoy doing. Some examples could be nature walks, biking or yoga. This will clear your mind and give you energy but are also vital components of being a prepared person. Get as healthy as you can and as quickly as you can before any type of disaster strikes. By the way, a sound night’s sleep is a vastly under-appreciated component of being survival-ready.
3. Uplifting books and music
Feed your mind and your soul! Have some reading that is positive, educational, and enjoyable — not just survival and prepper manuals! Reading can be a healthy escape from the stressors of life. Science has proven that music can alter our moods and brain activity. Upbeat music can give motivation and momentum, tranquil music can calm when anxiety creeps up and the simple act of singing will lower blood pressure, reduce pain and give a boost to the immune system.
4. An attitude of hope
Build a more positive outlook in all things. Life may not work out the way you wanted it to, but it will work out and it will get better. Many find hope in God and through prayer. Go back to the basics of your belief. Lean on your faith. Look at the positive things working around you. Focus on what is going right and the opportunities that are around, then build your hope on that.
One wise pastor said, “When nothing in your life is making sense, go back to what you know for sure.” Is that the love of your husband or wife? The close relationship you have with a friend? The fact that God loves you? Whatever it is, go back to what you DO know for certain and spend time deeply appreciating those facts in order to get grounded so you can move on. Spiritual resiliency is a huge factor in who survives and who doesn’t.
Hobbies are powerfully therapeutic. Whether it is cooking, crocheting, shooting, or fishing, discover an activity that relaxes you and makes you feel a sense of accomplishment. Not only will you have the skill to lean on, but you can teach others. Invite family, friends to do the hobby with you or join a group that participates in the same activity. Read this post for tons of great ideas for hobbies.
6. Personal priorities
Develop a list of personal priorities. Determine what is important to you. Picture yourself on your death bed. What would your thoughts be about? Who or what would you want to be surrounded by? That is your priority list! If something isn’t on your list, it is probably not that significant. This list is a guideline for you and where your priorities are. The items on the list are where you put your time and energy. Don’t spend your effort on things that don’t give enjoyment or benefit back to you. You can modify the priorities chart in this post for personal priorities.
Managing Heavy Items in Your Backpack
You can’t avoid heavy items in your backpack from past, deep hurts, rejection, and traumatic events. They’re a fact of life and will be dropped into your backpack, sometimes when you are least prepared for them. If you do not put them there, someone or something else will. The goal is to not let them stay there. Read this post for strategies to handle the heavy emotional events so they don’t hinder your ability to be resilient.
Remember, this backpack is yours, not anyone else’s. Protect yourself by protecting your pack. Do not allow anyone else to dump their anger or nastiness into it. Handle issues when they first happen. Look to others for help if needed. As you travel through life, if you keep your backpack light and care for it, you will develop self-reliance and a resiliency that will help you with the heavy items that will certainly come along.
How do you care for your emotional well-being?
Build a good support system, incorporate healthy habits, read uplifting books, listen to music that feeds your soul, enjoy hobbies regularly, and establish personal priorities.
Pay attention to physical reactions like tension and note persistent negative thoughts.
If emotional burdens become overwhelming, professional support can provide guidance and relief.
Originally published August 23, 2016.