6 Ways To Lighten The Weight Of Guilt

07/18/2014 08:22 am ET | Updated Jul 18, 2014
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It's a simple truth that we're prone to making mistakes. While we'd all like to avoid that sinking feeling we get when we've dropped the ball, we're only human -- and every human being slips up now and then.

When we screw up, guilt can settle on our souls like a heavy brick: Research has found that guilt can make us feel physically weighed down. But that doesn't mean we deserve to dwell on our own negative thoughts; there are ways we can lighten the load of shame we place on ourselves. When guilt-ridden emotions start to creep in, try one of these tricks to help lift yourself up. After all, mistakes happen -- it's how we respond to them that really matters.

Indulge in a good laugh. laughing

Studies have shown that giggling releases endorphins and makes us feel giddy, making it the perfect antidote to the weight of guilt.

Tapping into your sense of humor can also be a way to heal yourself from the self-loathing caused by shame, explains clinical psychologist Seth C. Kadish. "[L]aughter and humor about oneself is a wonderful healing tool," he wrote in a HuffPost blog. "Instead of calling yourself 'a clumsy idiot' when you stumble or make a mistake, try laughing instead. Our ego hates to feel embarrassed, and yet accepting our foibles and errors without self-recrimination is a climb up the ladder of humility. It feels good."

Toss it out. paper garbage can

If you're bogged down by negative, shameful thoughts, try tossing them in the trash. A 2013 study revealed that by scribbling on paper what's worrying us and physically throwing that paper away, we're capable of clearing our minds and feeling better about ourselves. Take that, guilt.

Or talk it out. talking

There's nothing like a good vent session -- and research supports it. A 2007 UCLA study found that articulating what's going on in our minds produces therapeutic effects in the brain. Whether you talk with a friend, a family member or a therapist, verbalizing your guilt can make the pain less severe -- and as a result, you'll feel the weight lifting off your shoulders.

Show a little kindness. holding heart

Especially to yourself. Loving-Kindness Meditation, a form of meditation growing in popularity, can help you block out mental distress and worry by allowing you to treat yourself with the mindful care you deserve. Additionally, research has found that practicing LKM can create feelings of social connection, which in turn can improve resilience. All it takes is a positive, self-affirming mantra and a little time (try something like, "May I be happy" or "May I be forgiven.") Need more help? These tips can you get started.

Tackle your tasks. writing list

One way we build up the taxing emotion of guilt is through putting off even the smallest of assignments or necessities: that phone call to your family, that on-going work project, the ever-growing pile in the laundry basket. It's this habit of procrastination that fosters our underlying guilt -- but the simple act of doing is enough to make it disappear. As Timothy Pychyl, an associate professor of psychology at Carleton University, writes, sometimes we need that reminder to make ourselves feel lighter:

I'm not advocating that having guilt is a good thing. Far from it. That said, the fact that we experience guilt when we procrastinate reveals something very important about needless delay. [...] However, when we know what we ought to do, and we fail to move from intention to action -- what we commonly know as procrastination -- we experience guilt. Why? It's because we recognize the true utility of sticking to our intentions, but we feel unable to do so. We are unable to muster the willpower or exert the self-control to move from intention to action.

Channel your feelings into something positive. positive

Studies have found that guilt-ridden people tend to perform better at work and engage in more positive social behavior -- and while a guilt-laden lifestyle is far from beneficial, there are ways to repurpose or reframe those thoughts into something more positive.

In a 2013 interview with Oprah Winfrey, author and University of Houston professor Brené Brown explained that we can not only overcome feelings of guilt and shame, we can use them as a catalyst for compassion -- for yourself and others. "Shame depends on me buying into the belief that I'm alone," she said. "It cannot survive empathy."

Volunteering or simply being there for a friend may therefore prompt you to examine the bright side of life. Adopting an optimistic mentality can also boost your mood, making you feel happier and lighter overall. All it takes is a little shift in your outlook.

This GPS Guide is part of a series of posts designed to bring you back to balance when you're feeling off course.

GPS Guides are our way of showing you what has relieved others' stress in the hopes that you will be able to identify solutions that work for you. We all have de-stressing "secret weapons" that we pull out in times of tension or anxiety, whether they be photos that relax us or make us smile, songs that bring us back to our heart, quotes or poems that create a feeling of harmony or meditative exercises that help us find a sense of silence and calm. We encourage you to visit our other GPS Guides here, and share with us your own personal tips for finding peace, balance and tranquility.

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