The Benefits of Spring Cleaning on Your Mental Health

For many, spring means warmer, brighter weather—and that means it’s time to throw open the windows and start spring cleaning!

We’ve discussed before how spring cleaning has health benefits. Opening the windows to let in fresh air can actually improve the humidity and change the oxygen balance in your home. Even sunlight coming in through the windows can help clean the air. But spring cleaning also has associated mental health benefits, including improved mood, decreased stress and heightened creativity. Here are some specific mental health benefits of spring cleaning:

Gets you moving

Spring cleaning is a physical activity, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Cleaning gets the happy chemicals moving around in your brain, propelled by an increased heart and respiratory rate. Spring cleaning can give you some of the same mental health benefits as physical exercise, such as running or biking. What’s more, a disorganized space is associated with less physical activity, while organization and order have been associated with choosing to eat more healthy and taking charge of your general health

Reduces stress

Clutter and stress are related, and we know stress is bad for mental health. For example, piles of paper can create a false image that work is endless, and that even when we finish what we are working on, there is more to be done. Looking at the clutter in your home can bring on the anxiety of incomplete tasks or just make it more difficult to accomplish your daily routine. Many Americans feel that home organization and cleanliness are among their biggest stressors. Women specifically have shown to have chronic levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, if they perceive their homes as cluttered. Attacking that clutter can help reduce that stress.

Invites a fresh start

Sometimes mental health issues seem overwhelming because of their long history. You can fall into a pattern of poor mental health and get stuck there. Spring cleaning makes you feel like you are getting a fresh start. When your house looks different—decluttered and clean—you feel a greater ability to change the state of your mental health as well.

Tips for “spring cleaning” your mental health:

If you’re struggling with your mental health, why not try giving it a fresh start as well? Spring cleaning is not only a deep house cleaning, but an exercise of the mind!

  • Create a targeted, personal to-do list of what you want to achieve emotionally.
  • Divide goals into dream goals as well as short and long-term goals.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Get up at the same time each day to create a better sleep routine.
  • Schedule regular social activity.
  • Nourish your body and mind with a healthy diet.

Grounding Yourself with Mindfulness to Beat Daily Stress

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!

 

Anxiety as a Friend

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.

So, what is your anxiety trying to tell you?

Do you have an anxiety disorder?

Everyone gets nervous, anxious or worried from time to time by things like public speaking, major life changes, financial issues, and difficulties with work or home life. For some people, these worries become so bothersome and intrusive that they can take over their lives.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn't always clear.

So how do you know if your worries have crossed the line into an anxiety disorder? The distinction between what is normal anxiety and what constitutes a diagnosis isn’t always clear. Take a look at 9 common symptoms below. If you experience any of them on a regular basis, it may be worth having a conversation with you primary care physician or make an appointment with someone you can speak to.

  1. Excessive Worry
    Worrying too much about everyday things, both large and small.
  2. Sleep Problems
    Trouble getting and/or staying asleep. Chronically lying awake with racing thoughts about something specific or nothing at all.
  3. Irrational Fears
    Fear becomes overwhelming, disruptive, and/or disproportionate to the actual threat.
  4. Muscle Tension
    Clenching your jaw, balling up your fists, constant tension in neck and shoulders.
  5. Digestive Issues
    Stomachaches, cramping, gas, constipation and/or diarrhea.
  6. Self-Consciousness
    Feeling as if all eyes are on you, difficulties eating/drinking around others.
  7. Panic
    Experiencing sudden feelings of helplessness, pounding heart, sweating, difficulty breathing, tingling or numbness in hands, feelings of being choked.
  8. Perfectionism
    Constantly judging yourself, worrying about making mistakes or falling short of expectations or standards.
  9. Self-Doubt
    Constantly second guessing oneself, problems making decisions asking “What if?”.

Mercedes L. Kent, LCSW

Tips For Keeping Those Pesky Pounds Off

side profile of a mid adult man exercising on the floorThere are hundreds of different meal plans and diets that people follow to lose weight. However, sometimes the more difficult part is keeping the weight off or maintaining a healthy weight. According to the registered participants with the National Weight Control Registry, a data collection project that focuses on how individuals maintain their weight loss efforts, the most common methods reported for maintaining weight loss include:

• 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.

• 78% eat breakfast every day.

• 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.

• 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.
I agree that all of these methods can help individuals stay on track with maintaining their weight loss goals. I am especially delighted to see that almost all participants value daily exercise as a means for leading a healthier life. As we age, and generally become less active, our metabolisms slow down each year. This is exactly why one may notice that they are gaining weight despite not changing their eating habits. Sound familiar? Participating in daily physical activity, especially strength-training exercises can help preserve one’s metabolism as they age. The benefits of exercise also go far beyond the simple means of burning calories such as relieving stress, reducing blood pressure, improving sleep habits and reducing cholesterol levels.

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Personally, I do not weigh myself; however, I do pay close attention to how my clothes are fitting. Always use both tools together, especially if you are working out a lot.Sometimes, with heavy exercise, the number on the scale may not be dropping, but you could be decreasing your body fat % and therefore, losing inches!

Cholesterol Month – Part 3

heartexerciseThe final two factors of cholesterol: physical activity and weight.

Physical Activity

  • Daily physical activity helps reduce the risk of heart disease and can also help with weight management. It can help lower the bad cholesterol (LDL) and additionally boost your good cholesterol levels (HDL). Exercise helps speed up the rate that LDL molecules are sent back to the liver to be turned into bile salts or excreted. Aim for at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most, if not all days. Additional physical activity may be needed for weight loss/weight management. Any exercise is better than no exercise; however, research indicates that exercise performed at higher intensities may be more effective at lowering LDL cholesterol levels and additionally raising the good HDL levels.
  • Find an activity that you love, or even several activities so you can vary up your routine. A combination of strength-training and cardio exercises has shown to be very beneficial for reducing risk factors for heart disease (weight loss, lowering blood pressure and lowering cholesterol levels).
  • Exercise alone cannot guarantee one will not have high cholesterol. Diet and genetics also play very strong roles in determining one’s cholesterol levels. However, additional benefits observed from being physically active include bone strength, mood improvement, stress management and can decrease the risk of diabetes, cancer and stroke.  heartplate

Weight

  • Being overweight/obese is an additional risk factor for heart disease. Weight gain also tends to increase cholesterol levels. Losing weight can help decrease LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol levels and help increase HDL levels.
  • Losing just 5-10% of body weight can show improvements in cholesterol levels. Consuming 500 less calories every day can help you lose 1 pound per week. You can even combine this with exercise by consuming 250 less calories every day additionally to burning 250 calories from exercise. Easy ways to cut down on calories include:
    • Eliminating soda, sweet tea, juice or other sugary-sweetened beverages.
    • Using one slice of bread instead of two.
    • Limiting cheese consumption.
    • Avoid snacking while at the computer/watching TV.
    • Swap your potato chips or pretzels for carrots, bell pepper slices and celery sticks.
    • Choosing a side salad instead of a side of pasta or potatoes.

Sometimes, diet and lifestyle are not enough to lower your cholesterol levels to a safe range. Your doctor may prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication. Always take these medications as prescribed. Additionally, consult with appleheartfruityour physician if you are considering taking an herbal supplement to decrease your cholesterol levels. In many cases, the safety of these supplements has not been proven since their dosage amounts are unregulated.

Click here to see parts 1 & 2 of this blog series.