Many of us have seasonal rituals like spring cleaning. Emerging from the winter months with short days and long nights, the extra sunlight shines a light into those cobwebbed corners, dusty light fixtures and jam-packed closets full of heavy sweaters, coats and boots. It feels good to roll up our sleeves and make everything bright and shiny again.
This spring might be the perfect time to shine a light internally as well. After a winter of pent-up anxiety and uncertainty for most, our minds could probably benefit from a good spring cleaning, but there could be cobwebs lurking in there that go back well before our world turned upside down from the pandemic. Our mental health is the most important aspect of self-care from my perspective because it’s our thoughts, emotions and beliefs that determine our overall well-being.
We certainly don’t like feeling discomfort, so many of us have past issues that we’ve tamped down or tucked into a corner somewhere and basically ignored for a long time. And that can work for a while. But inevitably, that issue will bubble up and usually when you least expect it. Old hurts fester into wounds that don’t heal by ignoring them. Past unresolved traumas spread their tenacles into many aspects of our lives without us even being consciously aware of them. Ignored fears, real or imagined, manifest in ways we don’t recognize for what they are.
I suspect there’s a correlation between people who say that can’t meditate and people who have past unresolved issues. Sitting quietly for too long allows some of those cobwebs to become visible, which of course causes difficult emotions to rise and can lead to deep anxiety or even panic. You may be getting uncomfortable right now just by my bringing old issues up.
The good news is that mental health seems to have shed its stigma over the past couple of years. We must have hit the tipping point Malcolm Gladwell so eloquently explained to us years ago when it comes to mental conditions once over 70% of the global population reported struggling with anxiety or depression as the pandemic rolled through. So if that was holding you back before, therapy or counseling may now be an appealing option. Resources have also broadened with telehealth options, so you can use all of that zoom experience from the past two years to chat with a professional from the comfort of your own living room. That is amazing to me, how something terrible produced something that can be so beneficial.
You may be telling yourself that you don’t have any gunk that needs to be cleaned out, but I would encourage you to take an honest peak. You don’t have to plunge in with studio lighting and illuminate your entire mind at once but start small, maybe with a pen light. Do you have any self-limiting beliefs? Any feelings of unworthiness? Any fears about trying something new? That old stuff can prevent us from being happy, feeling confident and enjoying healthy relationships. I think we’ve all had a good reminder that life is pretty short, so why not enjoy it fully? As Dr. John Delony said in our recent interview about his book, Own Your Past, Change Your Future, you have to acknowledge and be honest about what has happened to you, things you’ve done, where you are now, and then ask, what’s next? The first step could be a little spring cleaning.
There are a few simple ways to approach mental housekeeping. It’s a good habit to check in with yourself each morning and evening. It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it does take dedication to make it a regular practice. Simply pause for a minute or two and explore your inner workings. How do you feel? If not great, can you identify why? What emotions are you experiencing in this moment? How do those emotions feel in your body? When you take this moment or two to simply check in, you’ll notice an increase in your alertness to how you feel throughout your day. You may discover patterns as well as clues to bigger issues.
For those bigger issues, clues to watch for include events that seem to regularly trigger you in some way. Do you get angry over the same issue repeatedly? Do you avoid certain situations on a regular basis? When you do your evening check in, you might realize that on the days you encounter these triggers, you don’t feel so great at the end of the day. Start a journal and simply jot those scenarios down.
Consider your fears. I’m not talking about being fearful of things that could actually be dangerous because those fears exist to protect us. But think about activities you avoid out of fear, like public speaking or flying in an airplane or meeting new people. Does going back to school or changing jobs invoke anxiety? Keep in mind that trying something new will prompt some stress in all of us, but there is positive and negative stress. Feeling a little nervous about your first trip abroad is normal. It’s positive stress related to excitement and at least a little nervousness because of facing the unknown. Avoiding the trip altogether due to fear is negative stress and that fear prevents us from fully engaging with life.
Once you’ve identified any regular triggers as well as a list of activities that invoke fear, you’ve got your list of spring-cleaning chores. It’s important to remember that you have the choice over what you want to work on and that you’re in control. I do however recommend that you choose one issue at a time. Just like you wouldn’t try to clean out your basement, scrub all of your floors and wash all of your windows in one day, it would probably be overwhelming to try to tackle every area of your mind at once. In fact, you may be surprised at just how much clutter there is to clear out, so take it easy. There’s no rush or deadline.
You may choose to address any issues you discover on your own or you may decide to work with a therapist as you clean out that attic. If you already know or you learn of past traumatic events that are currently affecting you, I strongly suggest you seek support from a professional because re-traumatization can be quite harmful. But if you want to overcome a fear, resolve a painful relationship or learn how invaluable you really are, you may consider a wide variety of tools and techniques that you can work on yourself.
The very act of checking in and exploring your inner workings is a mindful practice. Mindfulness meditation can provide you with calmness and clarity so that you’re better able to hone in on the issues. Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy can be practiced on your own or with a professional and can be used to address a host of issues. Loving Kindness can increase your self-compassion. Practicing self-care can increase your self-esteem. Practicing gratitude can lift your mood, help you feel better about yourself and can decrease depression and anxiety, as does mindfulness. Mindfulness also reduces feelings of loneliness, improves sleep quality, enhances relationships and reduces rumination, while increasing your overall sense of well-being.
You may have to experiment a little, whether self-directed or with a professional to find what resonates for you or what feels like a good fit. You may have to be patient. You didn’t receive a bag full of issues in one day, but accumulated them over a lifetime, so this is not an arena for instant gratification. But it’s so worth it. To wake up feeling great, to find meaning in your days and to go to bed content each night is living life to its fullest. Isn’t that why we’re here?
The most important factor to remember as you navigate through the nooks and crannies of the mind is to be kind to yourself. Be loving, gentle and forgiving. It can be a painful process, but as with any pain, once it’s removed, there’s enormous relief. You deserve that.
Join us for a half-hour lunchtime mindfulness practice starting this Friday or watch the replays we’ll post shortly afterwards. April 15th is Refresh and Stretch Yoga from your Desk, April 22nd is an Energy Reset, April 29th is Journaling for Wellness, and May 6th is Contemplative Practices. Visit our website at amindfulmoment.com for free registration and replays.