Guilt: Healthy Emotion or Not?
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image by Neil Fowler

Guilt is a not always a bad thing. It can spur us to do the things we know we should do or it can bash us over the head, nudging us to make a hard (but right) decision. Yet it is still a rather unpleasant emotion.

I do try to avoid guilt.  For most of the small decisions I make every day, that affect only me, it isn’t a problem. I don’t feel guilty if I drink green tea to late in the day or have a few bites of my husband’s dessert. If I drink extra caffeine only I pay the price when I can’t fall asleep at night. A few bites of chocolate cake are indulgent but certainly nothing to feel bad about.

But then there are the decisions that impact others. For example my decision to “call in” sick a couple of weeks ago.  A perfect storm of ragweed, dairy and a cold rainy football game took my voice that weekend and left me with a chest rattling cough. I sat at my computer, showered and ready for action on a Monday morning, agonizing over the decision of what to do.

  • Option A: I had no fever. I feel pretty drained but otherwise okay. If I suck down a lot of cough medicine and cough drops I should be able to make it through the day. It’s a relatively busy day but with regular breaks. I call this the “Suck It Up” scenario.
  • Option B: I could call, email and text all the clients on my book to tell them of my illness and cancel the session for that day. I could work on the coming Friday, what was supposed to have been a day off to take care of personal business. I could spare my clients any further disruption to their workouts by not sharing whatever it was that I had. I call this the “Nip it in the Bud” option.

Neither option made me feel good. I had sent home 3 clients the week prior for illness. If I show up hacking and coughing, I said to myself, how much credibility am I going to have later?  But Monday is my busiest day. Cancelling meant letting a lot of people down, people whom I hope see me as a dependable fitness professional.

No matter which way I looked, there was plenty of guilt to go around.

As the clock ticked I thought about what I would want a client to do.

  • Listen to your body. I hadn’t done that over the weekend by eating a super cheesy pizza and drinking hot chocolate to keep warm while sitting in the rain.  Dairy is not my friend and I chose to ignore this reality. I shouldn’t continue to ignore what my body was trying to tell me.
  • Give yourself time to heal. I had hoped Sunday would be enough time but it wasn’t. Time is the best cure for most minor illness and injury. This means rest not ignoring the problem and going on as normal. No work, no workouts, just hanging out on the couch. Facebook and Pinterest are negotiable.
  • Put on your mask before assisting others.  We have to take care of ourselves first so we can take of others. I knew from experience if I didn’t take care of the situation now it would only get worse later. I could cancel one day or I could let it drag out for a week. I went to the doctor and got what I needed to feel better.

The guilt of not working that day didn’t win. Instead, the idea of not practicing what I preach and the guilt that would be sure to follow did. It was the hardest thing but, long term, the right thing to do.

Of course, my clients were gracious and understanding. No one complained but wished me well. Even after I gave them homework. Another important lesson I would want my clients to remember: most people who care about us want us to feel good. If we have to say no on occasion and take some time for ourselves they will understand. And that nothing to feel guilty about.

Do you feel guilty for taking care of yourself? Do you think a little guilt can help you do the right thing?

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