Spring-Clean Your Mind

Cami Martin Gatshall, MPH,

There’s something invigorating about the birds chirping, the plants growing, and days lengthening. Springtime is almost like a new year with abundant fresh starts. For many, the season heralds a tradition that dates back thousands of years to the Persians and Israelites: spring-cleaning. Whether deep cleaning carpets, donating unused clothing and household items, or edging the verdant green grass along the sidewalk, spring-cleaning provides the fulfilling opportunity to freshen up your life and get a fresh start. 

So, why not make the most of this opportunity to give your mind a fresh start too? Many of us are still trying to find the strength to admit that it is not selfish to invest in ourselves. Yet, as we experience the healing benefits of contributing to our physical, mental, spiritual, and social well-being bank, we begin to understand why we need to take good care of ourselves.

To get started, think of as many things that are part of the spring season as you can. Highlight the ones you love the most, the ones you’re the most grateful for. I wish we were together to compare lists right now! It’s a sunny blue day in Washington State, where I’m writing from, and my spring gratitude list is bursting. 

And that feeling of gratitude is our first spring-cleaning exercise.

1 | Make a gratitude list for the season you are in right now.

As the icy grip of winter gives way to the new life of spring, we are surrounded with fresh reminders of the gift of life itself. Practicing gratitude is associated with positive mental health benefits, such as higher levels of life satisfaction and happiness and lower levels of depressive symptoms. Whether a couple times a week or every day, reflect on the things you are grateful for, and you will find your mind shifting to dwell more on positive themes. 

2 | Sit in the sun.

Sun is a welcome beacon after a long winter, which is not surprising since it boasts numerous mental health benefits. It is speculated that we feel better sitting in the sun because of an endorphin produced when our keratinocytes (skin cells) are exposed to UV radiation. Vitamin D, also produced by keratinocytes, plays a role in serotonin production, the neurotransmitter involved in mood. 

The latitude where you live dramatically influences your skin’s ability to produce vitamin D. In more northern latitudes, vitamin D can only be produced in the late spring through early fall. Ability to make vitamin D also varies by age, skin pigmentation, and sunscreen use. Be sure to have your vitamin D levels checked, and routinely supplement.

3 | Do spring-cleaning—literally.

Spring-cleaning is not only good for your environment, but it is also good for your mind. Clutter, unfinished projects, and lack of cleanliness at home have been associated with depression and fatigue. Individuals with organized, clean homes report better sleep, greater activity, and improved overall health. 

You don’t have to tackle your workplace, house, and yard all in one day. If you feel overwhelmed or unmotivated with the idea of spring-cleaning, start by taking 10 minutes here and there to tidy up, donate unused items, throw away worn or broken things, work on a project, or clean up. Sometimes having another person present can provide a boost that is hard to achieve alone. Maybe a friend can help you, or you can hire someone to help for a couple hours. Once you’ve done an initial cleaning, it’s easier to maintain.

4 | Increase stress management.

Spring schedules are beginning to fill up, and with increased busyness comes increased stress. You may find that some pressure positively motivates you to grow and accomplish your goals, but other kinds of pressure may bring new waves of anxiety and depression, impaired daily functioning, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and irritability, among other symptoms. 

Try these proven ways to reduce stress: practice deep breathing, challenge negative thoughts, spend time journaling, stop drinking alcohol and caffeine, and find activities that bring you joy and laughter.

5 | Volunteer in your community.

Research shows that “other-oriented” volunteering (in other words, helping others who are in need because of your concern for them) is associated with better mental health. This type of volunteerism helps you build genuine, supportive relationships and increases your sense of meaning, belonging, and self-worth. From serving at a food bank, visiting the nursing home, or sharing hope through a community health program, find something meaningful and commit to giving time to others.

6 | Begin therapy.

Have you pondered reaching out for grief recovery, relationship counseling, anxiety therapy, or some other form of therapy? There is no better time to begin than right now. Therapists are well-trained professionals with empathetic hearts and practical tools. They help real people work through challenges and remind us that we are not alone. Counseling can provide useful support and coping skills. Seeking help is a sign of courage, maturity, and responsibility, and it can be a blessing to you and those around you.

7 | Invest in relationships.

Spending time with loved ones is imperative to boosting your mental health. Finding a green space to walk, bike, or jog with a friend could be just the social boost you need. Pack a picnic and take the family to a park or river for some good, old-fashioned 8 | Get up and get going.fun.

8 | Get up and get going.

Now that the days are getting longer and warmer, it is much easier to get exercise again. If you’re fighting spring rain, remember, “There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing!” Challenges will always be there, so make plans to keep moving despite excuses and obstacles. I recommend planning your activities ahead of time and laying out your clothes and shoes. The effort you put in to exercise will be worth it, as exercise improves mood, sharpens memory, boosts sleep, decreases depressive symptoms, and helps you manage stress.

There’s no better time than right now to embrace change. Pick one thing you can do today to give yourself a mental health boost. You deserve to experience the joy of the season.

Cami Martin Gatshall, MPH, is the health education director for Nedley Health. She is an international health trainer who is passionate about helping people live a mentally healthy lifestyle. This article is reprinted with permission from nedleyhealth.com.

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