Monday, December 27, 2010

Please Stow Your Baggage Away--Permanently

Not long ago I was at the grocery store picking up a few odds and ends. It was one of those hurried I’ve-got-to-get-this-done-right-now-no-matter-what kind of trips to the grocery store because I was providing end-of-life care for my dad, and I had to get back to him as quickly as possible.

Making my way to the check out lane, I saw a friend…and I immediately ducked into a different aisle so I didn’t have to see her (I told myself it was because I was in a hurry, and maybe that was partially true…but I think in reality I didn’t want her to see me in my disheveled state).

Of course she saw me (isn’t that the way it always works?!).

She approached me and before I even had a chance to say hi she said, “Oh my God, Kelly. What. Is. Going. On? You look terrible. Talk to me, something is wrong.”

[Okay. I know I was tired, but I didn’t think I looked that bad.]

Anyway, I told her that my dad was ill and didn’t have much longer to live…and she didn’t buy it. She knew me well enough to know that there was a whole lot more going on than I was telling her.

So she pushed further (like good friends do) and said, “Look, I don’t know what’s going on. But I’m telling you this right now: This is the kind of stress that will bring your cancer back. You either find a way to deal with it, or you won’t live to see your grandbabies.

I can’t write here what my immediate thoughts were because the thoughts included some very sailor-like language.

But I let her words soak in for a few seconds.

And she was right. My dad’s illness was just the tip of the iceberg. I was dealing with a lot of emotional baggage. A lot.

Trapped emotions—baggage—are emotionally charged events from the past that still haunt you. And, just like trying to schlep a too-heavy bag through the airport weighs you down and slows you down, so do these trapped emotions.

Trapped emotions create lots of problems.


Emotional: Overreactions. Misinterpretations. Wrong assumptions. Depression. Anxiety. Fear. Loneliness. Separation. Self-sabotage. Relationship problems. Short-circuiting. 

The list could go on and on and on.

Trapped emotions cause us to view the world in inaccurate ways…when you have trapped emotions you almost always use these emotions as a lens to view everyone’s behaviors.

You personalize everything that’s said or done. You frame the issues in such a way that they become personal attacks against you—even when that’s probably not the case at all. 

You react—you don’t respond. You don’t trust. You don’t share.

And ultimately, you destroy the intimacy in your relationship. You sabotage your relationship.

Physical: Trapped emotions can eventually manifest as physical pain—headaches, cramps, backaches, joint pain, stomachaches, the inability to sleep or eat, the inability to keep food in or swallow, sinus infections, weight gain, fatigue….the list is endless.

The human body emits a stress hormone—cortisol—when under stress. It’s a survival mechanism designed for the “fight or flight” instinct.

When cortisol is released, the body initiates the Alarm Reaction, which immediately triggers the body to deal with the stress in emotional, neurological, and physiological ways.

Most especially, your body’s immune system goes on High Alert so you can remain strong and ward off disease during the “fight or flight” period of stress.

The problem is, you weren’t designed to undergo long-term stress. The burst of cortisol was intended to give you enough energy to get through whatever short-term stressor you were facing. Then back to normal.

Today, almost all of us are under constant stress because of school, work, family, or life in general. And almost all of us carry trapped emotions.

It gets worse: Your body doesn’t know the difference between physical stress and emotional stress—to your body, stress is stress, and cortisol is released no matter what.

Trapped emotions cause your body to undergo consistent stress and to consistently release cortisol.

Over time, because your immune system has remained on High Alert for so long, your immune system begins to weaken, placing you at greater risk for becoming ill.

Scientists refer to this as the Exhaustion stage in the stress response cycle. In this stage, your body has depleted every resource it has…and this is what causes chronic and repeated illnesses.

This is what my friend was referring to when she told me that I needed to deal with my stressors—my trapped emotions, my baggage—or my cancer would undoubtedly return because of a weakened immune system.

Emotional baggage. We all carry it. And it sucks.

Jot down 5 things that are stressing you out right now. Jot down 5 trapped emotions that you have.

Come back in a couple of days, and I’ll show you how to work through these so you can DUMP THE BAGGAGE once and for all!

Photo Credit: Noel Zia Lee (

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