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Life brings unavoidable challenges like heartbreak, job loss, or unexpected setbacks. These act like heavy items in your emotional backpack. You can’t avoid them. Deep hurts, rejection, and traumatic events are a fact of life and will be dropped into your backpack, sometimes when you are least prepared for them. If you don’t put them there, someone or something else will. The goal is to not let them stay there.
The Dangers of Not Dealing with Difficult Emotional Events
We talked about what an emotional backpack is and how to use the concept to build emotional resilience here. In this article we want to talk about the more difficult stuff, because avoiding dealing with heavy emotional items in your backpack can have drastic consequences.
When we neglect past hurts or traumatic events, these unresolved emotions accumulate, burdening us over time. This emotional baggage may lead to heightened stress levels, strained relationships, and potential impacts on our mental well-being.
In addition, unaddressed issues can create a cycle of repeated patterns, as similar challenges trigger intensified emotional responses when underlying problems remain unaddressed. It’s crucial to recognize the risks of not dealing with these emotions promptly and directly to ensure emotional well-being and foster resilience.
Now that we understand the importance of not letting heavy emotional items linger, let’s explore practical strategies to actively manage and address those really difficult emotional loads.
5 Strategies for Managing Heavy Items in Your Backpack
- Take any heavy item you are dragging around and analyze it. What do you need to do to make this light? Some things we have control over, others we do not. Be careful to only invest emotion and time in something you have some control over. After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of families moved to other states. Many of these families embraced this move as an opportunity to go back to school, learn a new trade, create a new start or be closer to extended family. In one instance, a refugee from Katrina founded an incredibly successful business in Houston, his new home. While they could not control the hurricane, they could control how they viewed their opportunities. Show kindness to those who offer to help you. Teach your family to look and acknowledge the good that is around.
- Accept and adapt. Be willing to take a look around at your new reality and just accept it for what it is. This is where you are now. How can you make the best of it? Survival Mom liked this saying so much that she created a t-shirt just to remind herself how to handle tough situations!
- Bless and release. There will be people and situations that bog you down because of a past experience. In one case, a former friend suddenly cut off her contact with me. I never knew what had happened; I reached out once or twice but got very curt responses. So, I played and replayed in my head what I wanted to say to her and how I would defend whatever it was that had caused the distance. After a few months, I decided enough was enough. I wrote a short email, wishing her the best and letting her know, nicely, that I was moving on, and guess what? She hasn’t crossed my mind since — until I was writing this article! We can bless and release those in our lives who bring nothing but negativity and pain. We no longer have to be the monkey in their circus.
- Dumping a heavy item might require you to mend a relationship, apologize or forgive someone. The relationship may not be as it was, but you have done your part to make it better. Did you know that unforgiveness is a disease in medical books? Unforgiveness has significant emotional and physical ramifications. Just forgiving a person, even if it is just in your heart, is healing. Sometimes the heavy item that needs to get dumped is a person. Toxic and negative people can be one of the heaviest items you drag behind you. They have little regard for your emotions and their influence on your life. In fact, one author calls them “emotional vampires.” If a person is continually causing emotional turmoil, it may be time to decide if that person should be in your life.
- Bad experiences. We’ve all laid in bed at the end of the day and played out in our minds what we would do or say differently if given another chance. Unfortunately, we cannot go back in time, but we can learn. To lighten your load, take tough experiences and make them your best teacher. Learn everything you can from trials and stumbling blocks. Journal about it, share what you learned with a close friend, glean as much knowledge as you can from the experience. Try to compare it to other times in life where you have been given a lesson and did not learn it the first time. It’s so much easier to learn from the mistakes of others, but if you are going to make your own, and you will, you might as well learn all you can from it. The knowledge you gain will be beneficial in your future, and you can pass it on to your kids. Maybe they’ll listen!!
Recognizing and Managing Stress
We are all subject to stress, it’s the overwhelming stress that does us in. Learn how to recognize it when it shows itself. Note the physical reactions you have and pay attention to the thoughts that go through your mind. Some people carry stress in their lower backs, some in their necks, shoulders, or stomachs. Most daily stress can be worked off at the gym or by other means. It is the larger stressors and circumstances in life that require more effort.
When the big stuff happens, you will need to rely on the positive items in your emotional backpack. They are what is going to get you through. Call a friend that you feel comfortable talking with or read about people that have gone through a similar circumstance. Have your backpack full of “tools” to help you deal with the big pressures of life.
With that, it’s vital to recognize when the burden becomes overwhelming—making seeking professional help a crucial step towards lightening the emotional load.
Seeking Professional Help
While the strategies discussed in this article offer valuable tools for managing your emotional backpack, it’s crucial to recognize when the burden becomes overwhelming, and seeking professional help is essential. Professional support can provide the guidance and expertise needed to navigate challenging emotions and promote mental well-being.
If you or someone you know is struggling, consider reaching out to these national hotlines:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Confidential support for individuals in crisis, available 24/7.
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Helpline: 1-800-950-NAMI (1-800-950-6264). Information, support, and referrals for mental health concerns.
- Crisis Text Line: Text “HOME” to 741741. Connect with a trained crisis counselor via text, offering support and resources.
Remember, facing difficult moments head-on, seeking support when needed, and adopting healthy coping mechanisms are powerful tools for building resilience into our lives.
How do you cope with very difficult emotions and events in a healthy manner?