Guilty for Breaking Routines

September 12, 2019

Vanessa Leveille

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I think we all go through those moments when you are high off of your routine. You are rocking it! Every day, you’re on top of your morning rituals… you’re cruising through the workday, just getting ish done. You engage in body movement after work, then head home and fix dinner, engage in your evening ritual, and then you’re in bed by a decent time. During this time, you’re also knocking things off your to-do list, and even when your schedule changes a bit or routines need to shift, you’re able to handle the minor stress and keep it going. We all have these moments, even if they come around only once in a blue moon! Ha! 

But the truth is, for the most part, this is the case. And if you’re a caregiver, like most of my friends, you pretty much live by routines. Doing the same thing every day. I am picking this topic this week because of a comment my sister made a few weeks ago. It’s mid-August and on Tuesday evenings there’s an outdoor reggae concert at a local park. This is her jam, and my sister has missed it most Tuesdays because of her new work schedule and having to get home to get dinner ready for my niece. On this particular Tuesday, while on my evening run, I get a text from her asking if I could keep an eye on my niece while she headed to the concert. I responded with an eye roll emoji and, “Girl bye, and sure”. Now before you go judging me… my niece is 14 years old, and a responsible kid, my sister was less than a mile away so if she needed to get back it would take her 5 minutes, there was plenty of food in the house for my niece to make her own dinner and… AND my sister rarely steals time away for herself. I was more than happy to stay home with my niece while my sister enjoyed her concert, she needed it. It was the guilt and anxiousness that I could sense via text, that sent me responding with an eye roll. When she got back, she let me know how guilty she felt for taking that time to herself, more so because she felt like she broke her routine, especially with cooking dinner. We spent some time talking about this, and her difficulty coping with the guilt. 

While I am not a mother myself (yet…), I can empathize with her feelings of guilt. And if you’re a mom like her, I bet you can too. So, this post is also for you! 

Routines are really helpful; they keep us structured, organized and sane. I feel much more accomplished and crushing adulting when I have a structured life. In fact, I am able to afford myself some freedom and peace when I adhere to a daily routine. I swear by routines, and even encourage everyone I work with to have a Weekly Wellness Routine. As with all things, too much of a good thing can be… Well, too much! Sometimes we can overdo it with the routines, and permit ourselves very little wiggle room. Ever get so caught up in accomplishing everything on your to-do list that you work yourself into a frenzy. 

When our day-to-day routines become stressful, or we don’t feel motivated to do them, our body will begin to signal to us that we are forcing it! Routines shouldn’t be stressful, and when they are, it’s a sign that you need to tweak them, or even better, give yourself a break. And I think you know this, so this post isn’t about giving yourself that break because you are doing it. Moreover, it is about what to do when you give yourself that break and then you feel guilty for it. 

Everyone feels guilty at various points in time; It’s a natural and normal response. Still, there’s a big difference between experiencing guilt when you’ve actually done something wrong versus the guilt you experience when you haven’t done anything wrong. Let’s break that down!

For instance: Feeling guilty because you broke your nightly run routine, didn’t cook dinner because you were too tired and there were leftovers, or scrapped your to-do list and actually made time for yourself. The truth is the guilt comes because we set way too high expectations for ourselves. When we don’t meet those expectations, we feel as though we are letting ourselves down, and letting others down. It’s totally appropriate to have expectations for ourselves, but when they are too high, we have to look at what rules and standards they are born from. Often these rules and standards were formed early in life that was functional rules then when we needed them, but no longer functional today.

Let’s say that as a child you were taught that “Hard work pays off”…” work now, play later”… you know, those kinds of statements about hard work. You saw your caregivers working long hours and it often looked arduous to you as a child. They instilled in you certain values about what hard work affords you, and how valuable you were as a member of society that you worked hard. So you grow up with beliefs about hard work, and of course, did not want to upset your parents, so you did as you were told. As you got older, let’s say, you struggled at some point in college with a class and felt that if you had worked hard enough you wouldn’t have gotten a C. So you reinforce the idea of working hard, and vow to never give less. Then one day as a parent, you decide that you need to take some time off of work because your kids are starting school, and you want to be able to be more hands-on that week to prepare them for back-to-school. However, at the same time, you have all these demands at work, and now you are feeling guilty about letting the ball drop at work and that management may think that you are not a hard worker. And here comes the guilt! In true fashion, guilt is accompanied by automatic negative thoughts that point to what our core beliefs are about that particular issue. 

In this case, the core belief you built was that “Nothing in life comes without hard work and to be valued you must work hard”. You deduce that taking time off from work must mean that you are not a hard worker and that your superiors may think poorly of you. The guilt sits with you and you begin feeling bad. You cannot fully commit yourself to the back-to-school process with your kids because the entire time you are consumed with guilt for what you are doing. 

This is absolutely normal, and guilt isn’t as nasty as its reputation. Guilt is an emotion that is there to show you that something needs some evaluation. Especially, when what you did does not actually warrant guilt. Trip someone intentionally, and they fall down a flight of stairs and bust open their forehead warrants guilt, not taking time off to attend to your children’s’ needs. When you feel guilty, it’s a good time to evaluate why you are feeling guilt, examine the thoughts that come along with it, and then explore what core beliefs they are tied to. Once you have identified the core beliefs, you must begin challenging them to see if they are outdated and no longer help you today. 

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Guilty for Breaking Routines

When you feel guilty, it’s a good time to evaluate why you are feeling guilt, examine the thoughts that come along with it, and then explore what core beliefs they are tied to.

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