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Clear your mental clutter with a spring clean for the mind

Cher McGillivray

As the weather begins to change and the flowers blossom, many of us look forward to warmer weather and to better days.

Spring cleaning signals it's time for a fresh start. Whether that's going through your wardrobe and discarding any clothes you no longer wear, or giving your home a deep clean, it usually means performing a physical clear out - but what about your mental space? 

A well-organised kitchen or redecorated bedroom might help your brain make the shift that you're entering a new phase of the year. It’s also an opportunity for self-care.  

There is evidence that decluttering your home may improve your emotional health as well as your physical health. 

September marks the start of spring-cleaning season, and 78 percent of Australians intend to declutter their homes this year. 

Spring cleaning is an example of a ‘temporal landmark’ - moments in time that signify transition, like a new semester at school or finishing school, separation, the birth of a new baby, moving away, a new relationship or the death of a loved one. 

These events or markers can act as a signal for change and an opportunity for renewal. 

But change can be hard. 

Pressures of life can cause us to feel broken, that we have been cracked from the outside like an egg into a pan. But it’s important to remember that that when an eggshell breaks from the inside, that’s when new life begins. Spring is a new beginning. 

Here are some ways you can undertake a mental spring clean. 

  1.  Get some quiet time 

Although we all have busy schedules, if you can carve out even half an hour of time to do a relaxing activity, this can have a great impact on your mental health. This might involve being mindful practising yoga or going for a long walk in nature. This can help you modulate stress response systems in the mind and reduce physical symptoms of stress by helping to lower blood pressure and ease your breathing. 

  1. Write down how you feel 

Start a journal or a diary where you can write down your thoughts. Journaling not only gives you the chance to organise your ideas and feelings, it can be a way of reducing stress. The act of writing down your thoughts and worries allows you to visualise them more clearly, helping your mind to solve any problems and put things into perspective. You can set goals, explore your thoughts and feelings so you can better map your current mental state. 

It’s important to remember that 85 percent of the things we worry about never happen and we tend to cope better than we expect with the 15 percent that do, even gaining a sense of worth from them. This means that essentially, 97 percent of what we worry over is little more than a fearful mind exaggerating misperceptions. 

  1. Face your thoughts 

It's likely that everyone is holding on to some emotional baggage. Perhaps someone has done something to upset you and you can't stop thinking about it, or maybe you've always wanted to tell someone how you feel but can't strike up the courage. Holding on to these feelings is likely to clog up your mind with emotions and, if you don't do anything to change this, you might lose considerable time without making any progress. Bottling up feelings has been scientifically proven to cause us to live out of alignment with our core values - when we say something that our brain does not believe, trying to be someone or do things others expect of us, yet at our core we feel that we don’t measure up. This imbalance can damage your mental health. Taking action to focus on your truth, what is right for you, can help you resume living in a state of ease.  

  1. Ask for help 

Everyone needs mental support, and asking for help is an easy way to reduce stress, vent your feelings and get the backup you need. Services like the Black Dog Institute, Lifeline and Beyond Blue can help, as can talking to your GP. Men may be less inclined to seek help and support, so checking in with your mates and engaging with men’s mental health conversations, through podcasts, for example, can be helpful.   

  1. Refresh yourself 

Much like clearing out your wardrobe can give you a sense of satisfaction, a spring clean for your mind can work wonders too. By practising self care, letting go of stress and focusing on your future you can ready your mind for whatever comes next.  

Don’t let transitions break you, let them be your breakthrough with a Spring clean for the mind. 

Dr Cher McGillivray is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bond University’s Faculty of Society and Design. 

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