Surrendering Your Emotional Baggage: How to Pack Light During the Holidays

If you’re still checking a suitcase for a five-day holiday, think again. Go back to square one and get a grasp on your emotional travel baggage and holiday stress. This is the time to get it under wraps!

However, if you’re doing everything right—the checklist, the carry-on bag, eating well, sleeping enough—and you still feel moody, stressed and out of sorts, you may be carrying a different kind of baggage. Also known as ’emotional travel baggage.’

According to Stacy Kaiser, there are two main kinds of emotional baggage: what you can see and are aware of—which she calls “excess” baggage. And what you don’t see and aren’t aware of, “hidden” baggage.

Both weigh us down in different ways. Yet, they have the same nasty effects on our mental health.

Here’s how to start letting go of emotional travel baggage:

Dropping excess baggage

“The actual issue is how the baggage is handled and what the behavior is when it comes to handling the baggage.” — Health coach Robin Hoffman

Excess baggage can burden us not only from its weight but also because of the guilt that we carry. We “shouldn’t” dread Christmas with so-and-so; we “shouldn’t” still feel angry toward insert-name-here, and we “shouldn’t” be stressed out over something so small.

However, our guilt is an emotional scapegoat. Instead of dealing with the baggage itself, we find ourselves repeatedly dealing with the guilt, trying to overcome that we feel that way at all.

Emotional baggage isn’t trash; it isn’t “too much emotion.” It’s a valuable teacher and an uncommon insight into what’s going on inside our brains.

This article is your permission to drop the guilt and the “shoulds”—right now. Once we do that, we just have this thing that happened or still happens, but it doesn’t have all the emotional drama attached to it. It doesn’t define us. It’s free from self-hatred. And it’s, therefore, free to dissolve in its own time.

Once we drop the guilt and the narrative around our baggage, we are open and able to assess it for what it really is. This may not cure it, but so often, the horrific monsters in our dark closets are just mice when we turn on the light.

Claiming hidden baggage

Hidden emotional baggage can manifest as insecurity, jealousy, worthlessness, negativity, self-sabotage, and anxiety. We often have a pervasive sense of things being wrong, but we can’t pinpoint what.

To identify baggage that’s holding you back and making you unhappy, consider making a stress list—where you freely associate everything that’s stressing you out even a little on paper. Don’t judge, just take note. Do it quickly and without much thought. Then go back through the list and see which items tighten your chest or bring up an emotional reaction.

Cross out the ones that don’t and circle the ones that do. Then put away your list and live your life. You’ll remember what you circled, and each time that item appears, you’ll become more aware of it. The new information you gather about it can ultimately form your resolution of it.

It’s as if you were watching your luggage go around and around on the baggage carousel. Each time you see it, you notice something new about it; you learn from it. Eventually, you can claim that the bag is yours, but it doesn’t become you. Someday, you may decide you don’t need it at all, but don’t rush that process. We all carry a bag or two.

With the holiday season in full swing, you may not be able to surrender all of your emotional travel baggage before taking flight.

But you can cultivate an increased awareness and appreciation of it. Because it has an oft-unacknowledged upside: when we start dealing with our baggage, we become more authentic, kind people. When we admit our baggage, we’re humbled and less likely to judge others.

We find ourselves more compassionate to the barista and grocery cashier, more grateful when things go right. We’re more patient, more personable. Your emotional baggage, then, doesn’t scare you—even if you’re still unable to shake it. It makes you human with a larger, more profound capacity for empathy and self-awareness.

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