Is your highlighter poised to mark your annual "Get fit fattie! Go on a diet" dictum as the Number One resolution for 2015? Put your body-bashing tactics on hold. We say you ditch the ice-cream-chocolate calculations and concentrate on getting your emotional calorie balance in order.
Cosmo's agony aunt Irma Kurtz says an overdose of negative feelings like anger, guilt, envy and regret is as bad for your well-being as a su-per-sinful double sundae is lethal for your waistline. "Even though women are concerned with calorie consumption when it comes to food, we can be absolutely reckless about our emotional calories, and hurl ourselves mindlessly into binges without ever counting the cost," she says. Kurtz calls these strong negative emotions "high-calorie" because they're "good for us and life-enhancing, but in moderation—and only part of a varied emotional diet." Which means it's okay to go a bit green over your colleague's promotion if it spurs you to work harder for your own, but it's definitely not good if it makes you feel inadequate or mean enough to do something totally heinous like sabotaging her career.
Besides, you've got to be careful around these tricky mind-messers. Kurtz says indulging in these ill emotions can become a habit. "High-calorie emotions can be habit-forming because, as long as you are consuming them, there is no room left for any other feeling; no room for self respect; for common sense, no room to think."
Motivational speaker Peter Colwell says in his book Spell Success In Your Life that emotions can become obstacles on our road to success. "Whenever we suppress our feelings—or dwell on them for too long—we allow ourselves to collect emotional 'debris', which then gets in the way of our personal growth." So, what's going to be on your bill of fare the coming year? Take our help and cut out these ultra-bad cals from your day-to-day diet.
Emotional calorie overload 1
Anger: This big momma of emotions can give you a bad case of indigestion and we don't mean that as a metaphor. Angry people suffer from hypertension, ulcers and sleep disorders. But wrath is not a completely negative emotion. The trick is knowing how to deal with it. "Managed effectively, anger can both protect and energise us; managed ineffectively, like jealousy, it can seriously damage our physical and mental health and destroy our relationships," says Gael Lindenfield, personal development trainer, in her book The Positive Woman.
Twenty-eight-year-old lawyer Sonal realised this first-hand when she lost her job after a sordid row with the boss' wife. "That woman had taken a dislike to me right away. When I discovered she was spreading lies about me, I confronted her. But it soon turned into a catfight with me calling her an ageing, mean-minded, pathetic bitch," she says.
Cut-down counsel: Getting a hold on your rage is not an impossible task. Delhi-based neuropsychiatrist Dr Avdesh Sharma suggests these tactics: "Identify the triggers that make you mad and remove yourself from those rage-inducing situations or persons. If you're already caught in a crossfire, walk out before it escalates. Or, distract yourself by taking deep breaths, counting to 10 or repeating a mantra."
Emotional calorie overload 2
Envy: As far as negative emotions go, this one's really ewww! What could be worse than feeling sick to your stomach that your best friend got hitched and you didn't? "She who envies does not merely want what the other has but, on a completely unjustifiable (almost superstitious) level, she feels that the other has actually stolen what she has from her," says Kurtz. Besides morphing your normal happy self into a mean monster, envy and jealousy can be really bad for your self-esteem. "They give rise to all sorts of uncomfortable and socially unacceptable emotions. When we are jealous, we can feel humiliated, left out, abandoned, inferior, suspicious, bitter, resentful, angry and unforgiving," says Lindenfield.
Cut-down counsel: "The best way to achieve a good feeling is to pretend to feel it," says Kurtz. Other options: purge your feelings by talking them over with another person. Also, try and understand why you feel the way you do. The reasons could include a low self-esteem problem, an unresolved childhood rivalry or plain dissatisfaction with your life. Lindenfield says assertiveness training, infusing some excitement into your routine and ending negative relationships with people who enjoy making you jealous, will help.
Emotional calorie overload 3
Guilt: Are you going through life with your hand caught in the cookie jar? Get over it, girl. Guilt holds no place in the life of a happening, energetic chica like you. Okay, so you do get caught with your pants down sometimes, but that's no reason to whip yourself over and over again because of it. "Guilt can plague your soul like nothing else can. It causes you to behave out a false sense of obligation. It's your conscience telling you you've been 'bad', and that, therefore, you deserve punishment of some kind. Guilt destroys your self-esteem. It demoralises you and crushes your spirit," says Colwell. Guilt is associated with poor self-image issues. "I am kind of overweight, and every time I take a mouthful, my boyfriend comes up with an insulting wisecrack. So these days I stick to salads in front of him and binge on pizzas and burgers later. But this makes me feel so guilty that sometimes I induce myself to throw up everything I've eaten," says Rina*, 25, journalist.
Cut-down counsel: Don't seek forgiveness from others and stop blaming yourself. "Acknowledge your guilty feelings and determine their causes. Realise how life would be so much better if the burden of guilt were lifted," says Colwell.
Emotional calorie overload 4
Fear: Life's full of possibilities and if you're not going to throw off your fears to take it head-on, you won't even know what you're missing. "I've always been afraid of public speaking, so when my boss asked me to address college students about our new initiative, I nearly died. I looked at the floor, stuttered a little, but said what I had to. Strangely, when I finished, no one was rolling in the aisles like I expected. I had done it," says Anita, 23, reporter. Lindenfield says avoiding fear is pointless. "All change is risky and all risk produces fear—including personal development, however positive the goal."
Cut-down counsel: Get over the jitters by identifying things that scare you and then overcome them in a phased manner. "Experiment with small changes that are not too anxiety-provoking. After rewarding yourself, gradually move on to taking risks, which make you a little more fearful. Take one risk or change at a time and don't look too far ahead," says Lindenfield.
Emotional calorie overload 5
Anxiety: If you're a worrywart, anything can make you sweaty, scared and filled with dread. "Driving brings bile up to my throat, a meeting with the boss sets my heart thumping and even an impending rail journey can make me suffer sleepless nights," says Shilpa, 32, a publishing executive. "Most people experience anxiety as a fear of the unknown and an uncertainty about the future. It often affects our behaviour, thoughts, feelings and physical well-being," says Delhi-based psychiatrist Dr Sanjay Chugh. Typical symptoms: feeling keyed up and irritable. You have difficulty concentrating, suffer headaches, muscle tension or shortness of breath, nausea and abdominal distress.
Cut-down counsel: If anxiety is taking over your life, try these tips from Dr Chugh: "Learn to be positive—see problems as opportunities. Talk things over with someone. Determine what causes your stress and try to eliminate it. Get adequate sleep and rest. Learn relaxation techniques. Know your limits and your symptoms of stress...and how to relieve them. And learn to say 'no' when others place excessive demands on you."
Emotional calorie overload 6
Vanity: Spending hours in front of your mirror is not normal. "Physical vanity can become an unhealthy obsessive concern with appearances," says Kurtz. "Caring about your looks is a good emotion, of course, it shows a degree of self-respect. But never forget that mirrors are only skin-deep. Also, we see with eyes that are looking for wrinkles, flab and flaws—not the whole picture. We never see a true image of ourselves and that is what makes physical vanity such an unsatisfying emotion." The reason why you're so obsessed with your looks could be because you are insecure about your appearance and trying hard to live up to some unattainable ideal of perfect beauty.
Cut-down counsel: "To avoid the vanity trap, you must be able to look away from the mirror to confront your deeper self and feel proud of what you see," says Kurtz. Pinpoint the reason why you're so unhappy with your reflection. Explore to see if you have an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia; forget that childhood taunt and stop trying to fill a void in your life with a preoccupation with beauty.
Emotional calorie overload 7
Regret: "If only..."—chuck these words out of your vocab. Regret is like a bitter aftertaste that reminds you of missed opportunities, wrong decisions and mistakes. "To regret habitually and painfully is to keep feeding and fattening your growing feeling of powerlessness, because regret is locked in the past where absolutely nothing can be changed," says Kurtz. Rinse out this unproductive emotion to prevent it from giving you further heartburn. "I cheated on my boyfriend and I have never forgiven myself for it. We had a great thing going but a single lapse of judgments brought down the entire relationship," says Mini*, 26, research assistant.
Cut-down counsel: You can't bring back those hurtful things you told your mom, you won't get back that fab job offer you refused and your ex-boyfriend won't come back. "To regret constantly and miserably is to prevent yourself from going forward," says Kurtz. Acknowledge the unpleasant incidents for what they were—learning experiences—and move on.
How positive am I?
Is your glass always half-full or is your perennially pessimistic outlook ruining your happiness?
1. When I get up in the morning, most days:
a. I feel excited about the day ahead.
b. I don't feel anything in particular.
c. I have a feeling of dread or anxiety.
2. A friend from long ago is trying to contact you:
a. You're longing to tell her all about your life today and find out about hers.
b. You don't think either of you will have changed but it could be pleasant to talk about the old days.
c. You wonder why she is bothering because you're unlikely to have anything in common, and anyway you are very busy.
3. You are about to go shopping for a new dress:
a. You are excited about new styles.
b. Your mind gets preoccupied with practical issues like parking.
c. You're sure you won't find anything you like or that most won't fit and that you'll either return home without a dress or with one you have been conned into buying.
4. You unexpectedly catch sight of yourself in a shop window:
a. You are pleased with the image you see.
b. You think, "I must do something about my hair and buy a new coat."
c. You quickly avert your eyes.
5. You are given short change in a shop; you complain and the assistant apologises:
a. You accept the apology, thinking it was most likely to have been a mistake.
b. You feel sorry for the assistant, you seem to have upset her so much that you wish you hadn't bothered.
c. You accept the apology very reluctantly, inwardly convinced that it was no accident because they are all "at it" these days.
6. You are glancing through the job advertisements:
a. You notice interesting positions, which start you thinking about possibilities.
b. You think the situation is much the same and you're better off where you are.
c. There is no point applying because the job's either bound to be spoken for, or you wouldn't stand a chance against all those people who are better qualified/more pushy/older/younger/prettier.
7. It's your birthday next week:
a. You can't believe you are that age because you feel so much younger.
b. You don't really want a fuss and would prefer to forget time passing.
c. You know that you'll get presents you don't want from people who are only doing their duty by you—the only good thing is it's an excuse for getting plastered.
What your scores mean:
You have a positive, flexible and energetic outlook. You enjoy life, and value both yourself and your time. You like challenges and are ready and willing to look at ways of changing your life.
You are in a lethargic, bored frame of mind and run the risk of slipping into negativity. You life is stuck in a safe, even peaceful, rut but there is a danger that you will one day realise that life is passing you by.
You have become depressed, cynical and you've lost your energy and enthusiasm for life. You see people as exploitative and are no longer able to trust. You have probably lost contact with your emotions. You are in danger of forgetting what it is like to feel positive.—The Positive Woman by Gael Lindenfield