Spring Clean your Mental Health

Happy (almost) Spring! As the final chill of winter thaws behind us, the sun is peeking out more, we are looking ahead to bright, long summer days, fresh flowers, ripe stone-fruit, sun hats… I’m getting carried away. It’s safe to say we’re ready!

Our mental health takes a serious blow during the winter months. We’ve talked about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)and how research demonstrates that less sunlight can impact our body’s “feel good” hormone serotonin. This leaves us feeling lethargic, sluggish, and can dampen our moods significantly.

Why is mental health so important?

Mental health is a significant part of our overall health. But unlike our heart and kidneys, it supports us in times of stress, it impacts our interactions with others, how we make decisions, and how we navigate our day-to-day.

Since Spring brings a sense of renewal, rebirth, and regrowth there’s no better time to evaluate our mental health and reflect on the practices that are no longer serving us. What’s been gathering in your head? What can you shake off and air out?!

Whether you struggle with a mental illness, or just need a mental boost, here are some tips on how to spring clean your mental health:

1.Acknowledge + Be Honest:

First thing’s first, we need to notice what isn’t working and be honest with ourselves. This can be really obvious to some of us, and it might feel overwhelming. But this practice can also be challenging, confronting, or sometimes, we might not even know what isn’t working! Be patient and gentle. But, be truthful.

2.Exercise:

The winter traps us inside, and we’re less motivated to hold ourselves accountable. But endorphins provide a great mental boost and can supercharge our mood. Sweat is a powerful restorative. Think of it like rinsing your pores with salt water!

With the weather more suitable, try to get outside! We’re very lucky to live in a beautiful valley with endless hikes and leisurely walkways. Biking is also a great low-impact activity. Find one of your favourite people to hold you accountable by going for a long walk or signing up for a fitness class together.

Try this shower meditation, too: after a cleansing sweat, hop in the shower and take a few deep breaths. Concentrate on the feeling of the water on your skin. Visualize the negative thoughts and emotions cascading off your body and rinsing down the drain. Feel what you feel, and imagine the power of the water washing it off.

3. Take a breather + Cleanse your spirit:

This can simply mean being more mindful of your breath during the day, or taking up a yoga practice, or learning how to meditate. I really like “Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics” by Dan Harris. Meditation can be really intimidating, but this book has great tips for casually introducing mindfulness into your day-to-day without going full-blown Tibetan monk.

Ready to start now? Try this easy breathing practice that you can do anywhere when you need to take a breather. Sit calmly and comfortably. Close your eyes if you like. Empty all your breath. Then, slowly breathe in through your nose for 1, 2, 3. Then hold your lungs full for 1, 2, 3. Then, slowly breath out through your mouth for 1, 2, 3. Hold yourself empty for 1, 2, 3. And repeat for 5-10 cycles of breath. This is called Box Breathing. It is often used in meditation practices to calm the mind.

Or, if you struggle with negative thoughts creeping into your day, try this to let them go:

Close your eyes and breathe in and out steadily. You’re somewhere comfortable and safe. The air around you is warm. Imagine clouds above you. See your negative thought inside that cloud. As the cloud drifts away, so does your negative thought. Take note on how you feel as this negative thought drifts away.

Do you have a flair for the dramatic? Try a social media detox, or a whole day without a digital screen. Or, if you like, try a whole mental health week where you take these strategies into a neutral environment and leave all your screens behind.

4. Journal:

Journaling is a great tool. All the cool people are doing it. It can help us decompress after a long day, offload a difficult conversation, express gratitude, organize your thoughts, almost anything. If you don’t have a regular journaling practice, now is a great time to start!

In keeping with the theme of Spring and renewal and rebirth, here are my favourite journaling strategies for tidying up your mind:

Stream of consciousness (or, I call it a “brain dump”.)

This is where you sit down with your journal and a pen and just write. No direction, no end goal, just a purpose of emptying your mind. When there is a thought, write it down. You might discover something new; you might write nonsense; you might write the same sentence over and over again. There’s no right or wrong way to do it! Just turn the taps on and let it flow. Whatever needs to get out will get out.

Write a letter (don’t send it!)

This is a great exercise if you have a thought that is sticking around in your mind and still causing you some emotional friction. Or, if you had a difficult conversation and wish you said something different, this practice can help.

Write a letter to the person, the situation, or even to yourself. Draft the letter over again. Re-write it. In as much detail as you possibly can. Get your emotions out on the page exactly right. Then, rather than sending it, you leave it in your journal. Or, I like to burn it. The negative thoughts were in my mind, then they were on the page, then I destroyed them. Powerful.

Express Gratitude

We focus a lot on negativity and negative thoughts, but it is just as useful to remind ourselves of the positive things around us. The things you have, the people in your life, small things, big things. The air we breathe, your favourite people, mobility and heart. If I’m ever struggling to feel grateful, I think of my fridge. (Seriously!) What an incredible advent. The ability to store food safely, to have food, to have the food stay fresh and free of deadly pathogens, I’m very grateful for my fridge. I digress.

Above all, my favourite journaling tip? Write to yourself as if you are speaking to someone you love. What would you tell your best friend? How would you speak to them? Keep the words tender and soft.

5. Spring clean for real!

Calling Marie Kondo! Clutter can make our space feel more stimulating. A stimulating environment can increase anxiety. Start with the space you spend most of your time. For a lot of us, that’s our home office or our living room. Assess your space and figure out what the space needs – a desk, a chair, etc. – then the rest has to pass the Marie Kondo “spark joy” test. Hold the item, and if it sparks joy, keep it. The ones that don’t spark joy: donate what could be useful to someone else, and throw away the rest. Be honest, and be ruthless. Tidy your space to tidy your mind!

We love spring! And, we love mental health. As the flowers start blooming and we emerge from our winter caves, let’s Spring forward into some healthy habits and mental restoration!

Yay!

Written By: Sarah J Hunter, B.A. (Psych)
Part-time volunteer, full-time hugger, MACP Student

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