Psychological Spring Cleaning: Sweeping Away Inner Turmoil

Portrait of a Woman Mopping FloorWhile spring conjures up beautiful images of tulips, crocuses, and daffodils, it is also a yearly reminder to clean one’s abode. Historically, when people turned to herbs for most of their medicinal needs, spring was associated with rejuvenating the liver by taking the milk thistle for a couple of weeks, or simply adding dandelion greens to a daily salad. Psychologically, it is an opportunity to do an interior sweep of one’s cranium. I’m talking about all those repetitive thoughts that create feelings and catalyze behaviors—some desirable, and some not so welcome.

If you feel stagnant from residual resentments, grudges, perfectionism, negative or self-downing patterns, guilt, anger, depression, worthlessness, anxiety, and so on, spring, with all its symbolism of starting fresh, is a perfect time to practice letting go. While surrendering to What Is can lighten your mental and emotional load, it is often a two-steps-forward-and-one-and-three-quarters-back proposition. Knowing that before you start helps keep your expectations in line with reality. Just as you wouldn’t plan to landscape your entire yard in an hour, you will need to be patient as new cognitive seeds take root. If regularly watered, they will bloom beyond your wildest imagining.

Here are a few basics to get you started: 

  • Allow yourself to hold on to a resentment without self-criticism until you are fully ready to release it. Forcing yourself to forgive, for example, before it feels right is an act of self-sabotage and creates cognitive dissonance. Paradoxically, this ensures your forgiveness, when it comes, will be heartfelt and long lasting. In addition, it paves the way for more compassion toward yourself and others.
  • Practice setting aside preconceived notions about yourself. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.” Give yourself the latitude to change your mind. Just because you have thought something for years doesn’t mean it is helpful now. Take a look at some of your most cherished beliefs and ask yourself if they are serving your current wishes or standing in your way. Imagine thinking something different, and picture how that might change your behavior. Let’s say you have always thought of yourself as uncoordinated or inflexible. If you set aside that belief, you could experiment with a beginner’s yoga class. You might be happily surprised to see how much you enjoy something you thought you would dislike.
  • Shake up your workday. If you always eat the same breakfast, try something new. If you always take the same walk, go in the opposite direction. If you typically shower, try a leisurely bath. Even the littlest differences have the power to shift your perspective on life.
  • Join a meet-up group. Want to revitalize your social life?  Meet-up groups offer people who share similar interests an online connection to others in their city or town. These groups can be wonderfully diverse and fun.
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude. At some point, every day, stop and deeply appreciate your blessings. The practice of simply saying grace, or just taking a moment to be thankful for the food you are about to eat, is a mini-mindfulness practice that can reorient your perspective almost instantly. The yogis say, “What we practice we become.” Focus on your litany of complaints, and you will feel lower than a snake’s wiggle. Attend to everything beautiful in your life, and you will feel more optimistic.
  • Replace self-judgment with self-love. The most important cognitive spring cleaning you can do is sweeping out the inner critic’s litany of harsh, nasty self-judgments and replacing them with supportive, loving self-talk. It is impossible to be too tender with yourself. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, lavishing yourself with kindness will never make you weak or self-indulgent. In fact, you will likely find yourself feeling more comfortable, and more at peace, with yourself than ever.

Each of us has different work to do at different times. Take a little inventory, see what you might like to shift, and bravely try something new. It’s never too late to love yourself and your life.

© Copyright 2012 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, LMHC, therapist in Buffalo, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • debbie rho

    debbie rho

    May 10th, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    I have been in that position before where I have felt forced to forgive someone, and if you ask me, it stinks! Please don’t force me to do something that I’m not ready to do. Giving forgiveness like this is not real, is not genuine, and for me I know that in the long term it only made me feel more resentful, and probably hold onto the anger for a whole lot longer than I would have had I been allowed to do it on my own terms and in my own way.

  • Mona

    Mona

    May 10th, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    This is the perfect time of year to start being kind to yourself. Spring is about newness and a revival and rebirth of sorts. It is am awesome time to take inventory of your own needs and start doing something good for yourself for a change.

    You know that ultimately no one else is going to do this for you, so why not take a chance and do it for yourself?

  • jess mac

    jess mac

    May 11th, 2012 at 4:22 AM

    I agree that we all need a little spring cleaning every now and then.
    But what I would encourage is that we spend the entire year to better ourselves and not just leave it to this one time of the year.
    When you make choices like this one, it has to be a committment to wellness.
    That means clean and healthy living, in body and in spirit and in mind, all year long.
    Each and every day you need to do something special for yourself and vow to live like there is no tomorrow.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    May 11th, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    Thank you all for writing and sharing your thoughts. I am glad this resonated with you.

  • breanne

    breanne

    May 11th, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    I guess I have never given this much thought to the subject til I read this, but yeah, I can definitely see the need for cleaning thigs up in the house and in the mind. After all, don’t they always say that your body is a temple, so we have to take care of it? I know that I am the most guilty of always letting other things take precedence over taking care of the inner me, and I guess that’s normal. But I have never really stopped to think about what kind of a toll that could be taking on me overall. Kind of opens my eyes though to the things that are necessary and also possible.

  • T.Carter

    T.Carter

    May 11th, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    I always think I cannot socialize a lot.Every off day is spent with just me and computer games.But I was wondering as I was reading this article-I have not always been like this.I used to have a pretty good social life before I moved to my present location a couple of years.

    Maybe I should step out (or log in) and look for people with similar interests!I have had this thought of change a few times but thank you for evoking this again.

  • KOLE

    KOLE

    May 12th, 2012 at 4:40 AM

    That Attitude of Gratitude has served me well for a long time now. . . certainly a philosophy that it wouldn’t hurt most people to try from time to time!

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    May 12th, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Hi T.,
    That’s a great idea.
    Those meet-up groups can be a great way to gently ease yourself back into a social life.

  • Reesa

    Reesa

    May 12th, 2012 at 10:10 AM

    Hey this is about more than a little tidying up. This is about finding the courage to CLEAN OUT the trash and even kick ’em to the curb if you know what I mean! There is no need to let someone stay in your life if he is just continuing day after day to clutter it all up. You know you are better than that, and I have had to find out the hard way that I’m better than that stuff too.

  • Griffin

    Griffin

    May 14th, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Thank you for the reminder that this does not always happen overnight.
    Changing takes time, and sometimes you might fail, or feel like you have, but you have to keep moving forward.
    Just because you take that onle little step back does not mean that they journey has to end.
    That’s really only the beginning, figuring out how you will deal with that setback when you come upon it.
    Will you have made it to a point where you can get up and try again, or are you going to let it keep you down?
    If you are in a positive place, then you know that the setback is only temporary and does not have to be forever.

  • Alex

    Alex

    April 30th, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    I love this piece. So nice to ready something so well written, and emanating openness to life. It is inspiring, not preachy. Some very practical, manageable suggestions. I am sending it to a friend who needs encouragement.
    By the way, I find a little mindless house cleaning is a nice break mentally and leaves me with a sense of accomplishment. Sometimes taking a break to clean – which is my personal equivalent to puttering–gives my thoughts a chance to sort themselves out, whether it is a personal dilemma, or a creative project.

  • Nicole

    Nicole

    April 30th, 2013 at 12:21 PM

    Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Alex.
    I also find doing something physical, especially a bilateral movement, like walking, that balances out the two hemispheres of the brain, really helps sort out my thoughts.

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