Whether you feel bad about missing your grandma’s birthday party or are eternally kicking yourself for not making the most of your youth, feeling guilty is just part of human nature. But for many people, that feeling isn’t something they’re only occasionally saddled with—it’s a near-constant problem.
Worse yet, feeling guilty can have some serious real-world consequences: research published in the journal Substance Abuse revealed that individuals who frequently experience guilt are more likely to abuse alcohol and certain illicit drugs, while researchers at Princeton University found that people experiencing guilt actually have the sensation that their body is heavier—or literally weighed down—by the metaphorical burden.
The good news? No matter how bad you feel, there’s ample evidence to suggest you should cut yourself some slack. Before you spend another minute feeling burdened by your guilt, discover these 17 little things you should stop feeling so guilty about.
How Your House Looks
So, your dog kicked over its bowl of food, your laundry hasn’t been folded or put away in days, and you can’t remember if you’ve ever dusted a single surface. While you may dream of taking pride in your home, you can stop feeling guilty about those days when your house isn’t shaped up enough to be shot for Elle Decor. Life happens, housekeepers are expensive, and anyone who’d judge you for having a less-than-sparkling abode probably isn’t the kind of company you’d want to keep, anyway.
When You’re Feeling Sad
Despite best efforts, we all get sad from time to time. And whether the emotional response might not exactly appear merited by what triggered it—like a crying jag after Starbucks messes up your order (and name)—it’s okay to have those feelings, no matter how silly they may seem in the moment. Also, remember: sadness isn’t a competition. Your friend can be upset about the passing of a loved one, but it doesn’t make your sadness over a crummy day at work any less valid.
According to therapist Erika Miley, M.Ed, LMHC, many patients experience shame over how they appear to others—especially if they don’t feel like they’re perfect at the moment. “So, whether it’s social media, their work, their diet, their fitness, or how they take care of themselves, they have to keep it all together,” says Miley. “If they ‘don’t have it all together’ then it is a failure.”
The good news? Your body still gets you from place to place every day, it helps you do your job, and, if you’re in a relationship, there’s probably someone who thinks it’s amazing, even if you don’t feel the same way. And even if you consider your current physical state a work in progress, that doesn’t mean you need to feel guilty about the way your body looks or behaves now.
Not Wanting a Relationship
There’s no denying that people are constantly inundated with messages about how being in a relationship is the cure for everything that’s wrong in your life. However, if you haven’t found the right person, or simply don’t find yourself interested in dating, it’s high time you stopped feeling guilty about it. And if you want to make those solo ventures more satisfying, check out these 17 Brilliant Ways to Be Happy Alone.
Saying No to an Invite
Even the biggest social butterflies need some alone time once in a while. While it can feel daunting to turn down a friend’s wedding or even just a casual birthday celebration at your local watering hole, it’s never a bad thing to know your limits and make them clear to others—and you certainly don’t have to feel guilty about doing so.
Making Self-Care a Priority
Whether it’s splurging on a full-blown spa treatment, going for a swim or yoga class when you could be spending time with your significant other, or just sleeping in on Saturday (and Sunday!), self-care is an undeniably important way to keep yourself from burning out. And while you may constantly get the message that self-care is somehow self-indulgent, there’s no reason to feel guilty about treating yourself with some extra kindness when you need it most.
Not Being Invested in Pop Culture
So, you don’t know what a muggle is or why Jon Snow and his supposed lack of knowledge are such cultural touchstones—and you don’t give a hoot about the latest Ariana Grande drama. While these things may seem unbelievably important to your friends and family, there’s no reason to beat yourself up over not being interested in the same pop culture stuff your inner circle is into.
Your Career Trajectory
While it’s nice to imagine that a corner office and six-figure salary would land in your lap by the time you hit 30, that’s hardly the case for most people. Whether you simply found a non-career-track job that you love or have had personal or professional setbacks that contribute to more lateral moves than vertical ones, you can stop feeling guilty about the difference between how your career has worked out and how you intended it to. After all, even mega-stars like Martha Stewart and Morgan Freeman didn’t get their big breaks until after they hit 40.
Ending Bad Friendships
Those friends who borrow money and don’t pay it back, center every conversation around their own issues, or cut you down to make themselves feel better? There’s no reason to feel guilty about ending your relationship with them. After all, if they’re occupying your mental energy and giving you nothing back in return, they’re not worth keeping around.
Taking Your Vacation Days
According to Project Time Off, 52 percent of Americans don’t use all of their vacation days. And while you may feel more productive when you don’t use up that PTO, if your company offers vacation as a benefit, you can stop feeling guilty about using it. After all, if you don’t feel guilty about using your retirement accounts or health insurance, there’s no reason to feel guilty about using another perk they offered you.
Not Being Ruthlessly Ambitious
Even if you once dreamed of landing a seat on the C-suite but have since decided that doing something low-stress was more your speed, there’s no reason to feel guilty not having ambition be your raison d’être. There’s no single career track that works for everyone, and absolutely no reason to assume that those people who end up at the top of the corporate hierarchy feel like they have it all together any more than you do.
Wanting to Spend Time Alone
You may be bombarded with messages that there’s something wrong with not being a social butterfly all the time, but it’s time to stop feeling guilty when you just want to fly solo. Whether you’d rather hit up the movies as your own date or just don’t feel like following up on those plans for drinks with your coworkers, it’s fine to prefer your own company from time to time. In fact, according to researchers at the University of Rochester, being alone can actually reduce negative emotions and calm any antsy feelings, meaning you’ll be a lot more enjoyable to be around when you do choose to socialize.
Going to Sleep When You’re Tired
Few people feel guilty about going to the gym or drinking water, so why is there so much guilt associated with sleeping when you want to? Sleep is essential for your whole-body health, so instead of putting on a brave face and unconvincingly uttering, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead,” once again, hit the hay right after work if it feels right to you—that Netflix cue will always be there in the morning, anyway. And when you want a better night’s rest, check out these 70 Tips for Your Best Sleep Ever.
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