This time of year, it’s natural to think about airing out the house, doing some deep cleaning and taking a bunch of stuff to the local thrift store or the dumpster.
But fewer people think about doing spring cleaning on negative thoughts and emotions.
“Spring is typically a time of renewal and rebirth,” said Dr. Shilagh Mirgain , a senior health and sports psychologist at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Mirgain specializes in using mind-body medicine to treat a variety of issues.
Mirgain said while we’re cleaning up home and yard, “we can also take some time to look at our lives … to simplify, organize, and make time for what matters most in this season that so many of us have been waiting for!”
Just like animals coming out of hibernation, people often kick into gear when the days get longer and the weather is more pleasant. After a long winter, that can be great, but it also comes with its own challenges, he said.
“If we just get caught up in the busyness of our lives, we can often miss what matters most,” Mirgain said.
Taking time to evaluate how we’re spending time and what we get out of it is a great place to start, according to Mirgain. She recommended asking questions like, “Are there things that we’re doing that really drain us? Are there changes we need to make to make us happier and make us have a greater quality of life and sense of well-being?”
In a recent UW Health article, “Spring Clean Your Life ,” Mirgain offered these concrete steps to take:
- De-clutter your days: Take inventory of all the activities that occupy your time and decide which ones are worth keeping and which ones are better left behind. Ask yourself: what do I want this time in my life to be about? Then, pursue the things that serve those goals. Being mindful of how you spend your time creates opportunities for new, rewarding experiences.
- Discard negative thoughts: Negative thoughts not only generate stress that can impact our lives in destructive ways, but they can sometimes even create or exacerbate chronic health conditions. Ask yourself: Will the problem I'm so worried about today matter in a year? Then, practice letting go of those negative thoughts and replacing them with thoughts that bring you joy and a sense of peace.
- Throw out your bad habits: It's easy to become sedentary during the long winter months, but now is the time to get your health back on track. Use the warmer weather as a motivation to get outside, be more active, eat healthier, meditate, or maybe even jump-start those New Year's resolutions that you abandoned or never quite got off the ground.
- Create room for positive relationships: Reevaluate and redefine the role that certain people play in your life.
In addition to those steps, Mirgain says that people should not only take in the good, but to keep that good with them. Mirgain encouraged people to create a mental treasure chest, where all the good things that happen in a day can be filed away to consider later.
At the end of a long day, it can be really easy to focus the negative interactions of the day. Getting cut off in traffic, or a curt response from a co-worker can really stick with you. But flipping that around and making special note of all the good things that happen can really change someone’s perspective on life.
“We can use simple strategies to help us regain our center when we're stressed, upset, or feeling overwhelmed,” said Mirgain. “We need to practice the conditions of happiness. And we know because of research that the more we practice happiness, it can literally change our physiology. We become happier.”