ColumnsSmart Health

Spring Cleaning

Time to conquer the clutter—both physical and mental.

Cultures throughout history have practiced the tradition of spring cleaning, the annual ritual of going through our possessions to get rid of clutter and organize things. 

Perhaps we should apply that same spring-cleaning concept to our mental health and wellness. If our bodies are temples, then our minds are also sacred spaces to be cared for and nurtured. How can we use this month as an opportunity to reset and focus on an emotional cleanse?

Inner Peace through Outer Organizing

Organizing your home can work wonders for your mental state. It allows you to establish cognitive pathways and behavioral routines, which then frees up mental energy to devote to other concerns. 

The old adage “A place for everything, and everything in its place” speaks directly to the practice of bringing order to a chaotic space. It’s a goal that can contribute to a feeling of calm, and it can reduce the anxiety of not being able to find things. Properly storing items and reducing clutter throughout your space allows you to concentrate on more important things. Decluttering every week or so could even become a regular mindful and meditative practice. Plus, it feels good to complete an important task and gain that sense of accomplishment.

Start organizing by focusing on “easy” things like keys and your wallet or handbag, which can be placed on hooks or in baskets by the door. Then make it a point to get dirty clothes into a laundry hamper.  

Having a specific home for items will make it much easier to locate them, especially when you’re rushing to get out the door. Consistency is critical. Once you’ve established permanent places to store your most important items, you can move on to other things that tend to collect over time.

For important papers, creating a filing system can be helpful in keeping everything organized. For example, bills and other documents you receive in the mail could go directly into a folder that keeps paperwork together and ready to handle later. Even if you don’t set aside specific days of the month to pay bills, handle correspondence, and shred unneeded paperwork, seeing that folder getting full will remind you that it’s time to take action. 

Drop What No Longer Serves You

In addition to the spring cleaning you give your home, cleaning up problematic behaviors can move you beyond a space of despair and the feeling that things are out of control. For example, after examining your relationship to social media, hookup apps, food, alcohol, or drugs, you may realize that you have behaviors that are working against rather than for you, and that a change (even a brief one) could allow for a mental reset. 

It is important to first examine why it is necessary to consider this change in the first place. Frankly, the internal conversation is sometimes the hardest part. It can be challenging to admit the negative impact that your behavior is having on your relationships, your job, or how you view yourself, but it’s a critical step in the process of creating meaningful change. 

Most of the time, deciding to quit an activity cold-turkey for the rest of your life is not only difficult to achieve, but it can set you up for failure by infusing a covert sense of futility into the effort. Start by setting a realistic and achievable goal that is fair to yourself. Break down your main goal into smaller, more manageable goals. The idea of “one day at a time” is helpful, but if one day feels too long, reduce it to just “one hour at a time.” It is also helpful to establish a system of accountability in order to reach your goals. Are there people or resources such as a clinician or therapist who can be asked to provide support?

Before and After

Not everyone experiences a personal evolution in the same way or at the same rate. It would be wonderful if your own growth and development were in sync with that of close friends or family, but not everyone is running the same race or is even on the same journey. 

As you examine your life and create change, people who were once close friends may not be able to understand or support the decisions you are making to improve your mental health and well-being. They may not be deliberately trying to impede your progress, but subtle negative comments or unsupportive attitudes can undermine your goals. 

Imagine trying to develop new and healthier habits related to your diet or alcohol intake. Those changes can be extremely challenging, particularly when you are dealing with stress caused by your job, family, or relationships. Your friends may struggle with updating their approach to your friendship if you tell them you will no longer be joining them to eat fast-food or have drinks in a bar. While it may be tempting to join them for a night out at the usual places, be aware that continuing to participate in old habits is a surefire way to remain stuck. Instead, you might begin by directly addressing these sorts of challenges within your relationship by inviting others to join you somewhere that’s more enjoyable and that increases your sense of accountability.

Standing firm in your decisions may become the major thrust of your emotional work. This might also extend to challenges you face in your relationship with an intimate partner. Are there ways to more directly address your concerns? If you’re stuck in a pattern or loop, then therapy—either individual or for couples—could be your next best step in cleaning things up. 

Although it can be difficult to let go of people and close relationships, it is reasonable to change the nature of any relationships that no longer serve you. Remember: everyone from your “before” life won’t necessarily make it into your new one. 

Spring is a time of renewal, but it isn’t the only time for re-evaluating what is and is not working. What changes can you make that will help you advance—mentally, physically, and socially—this season? While this process can begin today, consider it as just a first step in a series of steps on your journey. 

This article appears in the April 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Daryl Shorter, MD

Daryl Shorter, MD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is board certified in both general and addiction psychiatry. His clinical practice focuses on veteran care, and he lectures widely on LGBTQ mental health. Dr. Shorter can be reached at [email protected]
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