Is clutter in your space preventing you from living a healthy lifestyle? Believe it or not, disorganization can do more than just make it hard to find daily things. Spring cleaning can actually help you live more healthfully.
Set a goal to declutter
This spring, set a health goal for yourself to start decluttering little parts of your life one at a time. You can use my “non-resolution” method from previous posts if you don’t have a favorite goal-setting method.
Remember to be specific with your decluttering goal, just like any health goal you have set. Here are some examples:
1) Organize your container cabinet.
You want to set a goal to take your lunch to work twice a week (or once a week or every day—tailor your goal to your life) but your Tupperware® or plastic container cabinet is a mess. Decluttering this space will make it more feasible to pack and take a lunch to work. Once this cabinet is tidy, packing leftovers directly from the dinner table into containers in the fridge is easy. Lunch for the next day is ready to go!
2) Organize your pantry.
Do you ever find yourself overbuying food because you can’t remember what you have in stock? Pull everything out of your cabinets, wipe down the shelves and strategically organize your food. You may be surprised how much you have, and this may be a good time to take a box or can to your local food bank. Put items that are due to expire in the front and work them into your meal plans.
3) Organize your refrigerator.
Your refrigerator can get dirty very quickly, so it’s time to deep clean it. Go through everything: I bet half of those condiments are expired! Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.
Declutter for better health
Add decluttering to the goals you already have to be healthy in order to make them easier to obtain and maintain. After you have met your goal for a significant amount of time, make sure you reward yourself (NOT with food!) to help you keep going. Happy First Day of Spring and spring cleaning!
Imagine you are driving home from work. You are replaying the day, as usual. You think about that conversation that you had with your boss, a project you hurried to finish at work, an argument you had with your spouse through text. You think about what happened last week, last month or years ago and you make judgements about all of it. You think to yourself, “I didn’t handle that well. I didn’t do my best. I should have… I could have…”
Or you are thinking about all of the things you need to accomplish when you get home. You think about the dishes that need done, the laundry that has piled up, what to prepare for dinner, or how you will address that argument with your spouse when you see them. And of course, you make more judgements. “I’ll probably not get it all done. Why did I let this pile up? I’m such a procrastinator. I’m a bad partner.” All of this causes one thing: stress. Suddenly you get home and it dawns on you… you don’t remember the drive. (Or worse, you’ve driven to the wrong place!)
Have you ever been on autopilot before?
Sound familiar? Why does this happen to so many of us? It’s called being an “autopilot.” For those who practice something called mindfulness meditation, it’s something you can strive to avoid by being more present within your day. Being more present within the day can give our minds a break from all worrying about all those future and past events, when in reality those things aren’t even real, and they certainly aren’t here now!
How does mindfulness work?
So how do we practice being present? One of the easiest ways to practice mindfulness is to “check in” with your five senses or “ground yourself” throughout the day. Zoning out while you’re in the shower? Think about how the water feels, how the soaps smell, how the rushing water sounds and tastes, and how a loofah feels on your skin. Suddenly you can take a mundane task, where you typically might feel more stressed afterwards, and make that task a more genuinely relaxing experience.
Give your busy mind a much-needed break. Try this technique a few times a day, or better yet, specifically when you are doing tasks on “autopilot.” This strategy is a great way to incorporate self-care into your busy day. So sit back and enjoy the ride!
A frequent first response for dealing with anxiety is to try to get rid of it. This resistance, however, will often lead to someone simply being anxious about being anxious. What if rather than trying to immediately eliminate our anxiety, we were to first look at anxiety as a messenger, prodding us to look at something that needs our attention?
Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard explained anxiety as a natural condition: “a cognitive emotion that reveals truths that we would prefer to hide, but that we need for our greater health.”
Confirming this idea, clinical psychologist Dr. Leslie Carr defines anxiety as “ thoughts and feelings that we are not paying attention to, refusing to be ignored.” She points out that the best explanation she has ever heard of for a panic attack is that it is a “ton of suppressed feelings rising to the surface of our experience, simultaneously and in full force.”
What are the first steps to treating anxiety as a friend?
When we are struggling with anxiety, it can be helpful to at first simply admit to and then accept the fact that we are anxious. In some cases, this is all we can do, for example when facing a dental procedure or another uncomfortable situation. This acceptance alone will often decrease the anxiety a bit.
But during times that we cannot pinpoint the reason for our anxiety, the next step would be to ask what the anxiety is trying to point out. This can be difficult, especially if we are at all avoiding the issue needing to be addressed.
Questions to approach anxiety
Here are some things to consider when experiencing anxiety or panic attacks seemingly out of nowhere:
Am I procrastinating or outright avoiding some action I should be taking? Have I been avoiding this for a long period of time?
Am I ignoring my feelings? Have I made this a habit?
Am I taking on more than I am able to handle? Again, has this become a habit?
Am I resisting a needed confrontation or refusing to see my part in a conflict?
Anxiety doesn’t need to be the enemy
These are only a few possibilities, but the main idea is to ask ourselves what we are resisting. As the old saying goes, “What we resist, persists.” Once we are able to spot the source of our anxiety, it then becomes possible to address it.
Anxiety does not arrive with the solution to the problem though. It is only there to direct our focus to the problem, such as when pain lets you know that you have overexerted or when a headache is pointing out that you have gone too long without eating. The rest is up to us.
Many people feel bad about themselves from time to time. These feelings of low self-esteem are triggered by outside events or comments as well as by internal thoughts about oneself. Have you ever not done something for fear of being rejected or abandoned? Have you ever lost out on an experience or opportunity for fear of failure? Have you ever thought that you are not worthy of a promotion, relationship, friendship or even good health because you are not good enough? Have you ever sabotaged yourself when things seemed to be going well?
Low self-esteem is a constant companion for many people, and it interferes with the ability to achieve goals, move forward in life, enjoy relationships, make positive memories and do the things that you would like to do. Everyone deserves the right to feel good about themselves, but this can be difficult for those who struggle with depression, anxiety, stress, illness or disability. However, there are ways to improve your self-esteem and increase your personal feelings of value.
The Problem: The negative INNER CRITIC
Your inner critic is that voice that tells you negative things about yourself such as: You are not good enough, You are going to fail, Nobody really likes you, You are uglier or worse than someone else, You are the one to blame.
Talk back to this voice when negative thoughts come up. Say “No, I’m not going to think like that now,” or, “Stop!”
Replace the negative thought with a positive thought. Instead of “I totally messed that up,” tell yourself, “I tried my best, and it didn’t go the way I had planned. I can just try harder next time.” Instead of “I can’t believe I did that, I am so stupid,” change it to, “I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes; I at least learned what not to do.”
The Problem: Not taking care of yourself
Basic self-care is paramount to feeling better about yourself. People at times neglect themselves in an effort to distract how they really feel. People also neglect to take care of themselves because they are so busy taking care of others. Recognize that you are worthy of feeling good and accomplish some self-care tasks.
Dress in clothes that make you feel good, tend to hygiene on a regular basis, eat more fruits and vegetables, drink plenty of water, get a little bit of exercise, follow up with doctor and dentist appointments, take a day off, get plenty of rest, engage in a hobby, spend time with people you care about, take the long way home through the park.
Accomplish some tasks that you have been putting off, such as balancing the checkbook, cleaning a closet, dropping a note in the mail to a friend, painting the living room, washing the car or donating old clothes. Having a feeling of accomplishment puts you in a better mood and allows you to see that you do have the ability to follow through. Additionally, this reduces your stress.
The Problem: Negativity in your life
Negativity has a profound way of making its way into our lives, and once it is there, it tends to feed off itself. Sources of negativity can be people, places, situations and, as stated earlier, our own thoughts. When we are able to start systematically placing distance between those negative sources and ourselves, feeling better about ourselves becomes easier.
Begin to identify those persons, places or things that start to put you in a negative mood and then remove them. Does the news always depress you? Tired of people airing their business on social media? Does that one co-worker always have something negative to say about others? Remove those things from your life.
Set boundaries with the negativity as well. Let people know that you are not interested in hearing all of the bad things, but you will be supportive in listening to the positive. Surround yourself with people and things that bring you happiness, light scented candles, keep your work space clean, keep your house tidy, pet your dog and remember to have fun!
Feel free to print of the quotes below for inspiration and encouragement!
We are all looking for more, chasing something, wanting something—a promotion, a new car, a bigger house or relationship. This drive lends to the beliefs that “When I get a promotion, then my life will be better. When I get a significant other, then I will be happy.” It is true that these things will make us happy at first— but that happiness is fleeting.
There is a mistaken notion that major life events dictate your happiness or sadness. This is very common and referred to as impact bias. Impact bias is our tendency to overestimate our emotional response to future events. This is in essence the “when…then” that people are stuck in that prevents them from being truly happy in the present.
Happiness that lasts is honed through habits. Genuinely happy people have positive ways of navigating through life’s difficulties. Try some of the habits of happy people and see how they work for you.
Appreciate the small things.
Practicing gratitude for what we have is key to being happy. We get daily reminders of how wonderful life can be and paying attention to those can change how you view things dramatically. A good meal, the warm sunshine, a laughing baby, the smell of coffee in the morning and the love from a pet are all things that we can enjoy. Appreciating these little things can really help put into perspective what we really need to be happy.
Surround yourself with happy people
Happiness is contagious. Being around happy people can stimulate your creativity, build confidence, and just put you in a better mood. Being around negative people has the opposite effect. Do you want to surround yourself with people that are having pity parties? Remember that misery loves company and negative people will only bring you down with them.
Bad things happen to everyone— including happy people. Happy people do not dwell on the negative; instead, they find a silver lining, create meaning, learn a lesson, grow from the experience and find some gratitude.
You have to work the weekend. At least you will get overtime and can pay off some debt. Your daughter totaled the car. Be grateful that she is safe and you have insurance.
Practice kindness and help others
Taking time to help other people not only helps other, but also helps you too. In a Harvard study, employees who helped others were 10x more likely to be focused at work and 40% more likely to get a promotion. The same study showed that people who consistently provided social support were the most likely to be happy during times of high stress. Small random acts of kindness can make a big difference. Saying “thank you” to the cashier, opening the door, returning a grocery cart for someone, smiling, offering a compliment are all ways to practice kindness.
Happy people know that happiness and substance go hand in hand. They have deep conversations and avoid gossip, small talk and judging others. They focus on meaningful interactions and engage people on a deeper level to build emotional connections.
Make an effort to be happy
Not everyone wakes up feeling cheerful and blessed every day, and happy people are no different. They make a concerted effort to adjust their moods. They work at being happy despite some of the pitfalls in life that happen. Happy people are evaluating what they can do to make themselves feel better emotionally instead of getting in the “poor me” rut when things do not go as planned.
Have growth in mind
People that have growth in mind believe that they can improve with effort, learn from past mistakes, embrace and make changes. People that do not have growth in mind feel that you are whom you are and cannot be changed— can’t teach an old dog new tricks. Happy people believe in learning new things about themselves and are able to utilize that to solve problems.
Happy people know how to prioritize what is important in life. People sometimes get so caught up in making a living that they forget to have a life. Happy people make time for what makes them happy such as family, friends, self-care, vacation, sleep, etc. In the quest for success, it is important to know and be aware of what can make us achieve true happiness.
Author Annie Dillard stated, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Happiness is not something that we stumble upon or find; it is something that we manifest. It is an internal reward and we can tap into it anytime that we want. It is not something external that we can pursue, not if we want it to last. Happiness can be achieved with the right habits and even investing in just a few of them can make a big difference in your mood and outlook.
Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD., the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health, Care, and Society, defined it as “paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The Center believes that Mindfulness is “consciously and systematically working with your own pain, stress, illness, and the challenges of everyday life.”
So, what does all of that really mean? When you are being mindful, you are not letting your life pass you by, you are living in the present, allowing your thoughts and feelings to come to you, but not judging them as either good or bad.
How can Mindfulness help me?
Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the MIND:
Lower levels of psychological distress, including less anxiety, less depression, anger, and worry
Reduced ruminative thinking
Greater sense of well-being
Feeling less stressed, more joyful, inspired, grateful, hopeful, content, vital, and satisfied with life
Research on mindful meditation’s effect of the BRAIN:
Helps to influence areas of the brain involved in regulating attention, awareness, and emotion
Significantly improved the efficiency of executive attention during a computerized attention test (good news for ADHD)
Increased grey matter density in the hippocampus which is important for learning and memory
Decreased grey matter density in the amygdala which plays a role in anxiety and stress; activated regions of the brain that are associated with positive feelings towards others
Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the BODY:
There is scientific evidence to support the therapeutic effect off mindfulness meditation training on stress-related medical conditions including- psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain
Reduces symptoms of stress and negative mood states and increases emotional well-being and quality of life, among persons with chronic illness
Research on mindful meditation on BEHAVIOR:
Better ability to quit smoking, decrease in binge eating, improved sleeping quality, and reduced alcohol and illicit substance use.
How do I do Mindfulness?
Here are some examples to get you started:
Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.
Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Notice the cool air that enters, and the hot air that exits. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s ok. Notice your thoughts and feelings as
if you are an outside observer watching what’s happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return to your breathing. Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That’s fine–these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan an upcoming weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what’s happening. When you realize your mind wandering, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings.
The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses.
What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.
What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.
What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.
What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either: maybe there’s an overflowing trashcan or sewer.
What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.
The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.