Spring Cleaning for the Psyche

Spring is a great time to take stock of your overall health and make some efforts to shift away from unhealthy habits. Here are 3 tips aimed at ditching routines and mental hang-ups that are likely to undermine your mental health, and replacing them with more adaptive habits.

1. Notice the Positive. The old saying “take time to smell the roses” has tremendous merit with regard to our psychological health. It is very easy to fall into the habit of focusing on things that annoy or upset us. Research suggests that we boost our emotional well-being by shifting our focus to positive aspects of our daily environments: a smile from the cashier who served your coffee, flowers blooming on the side of the road, a favorite song on the radio, or the feel of the sunshine on your skin. While we often can’t control the negative incidents that we encounter, we can choose to stop and take the time to notice and reflect on the positive ones. By making this a regular practice, over the long-term you can shift your mood state, decrease your stress, and increase your enjoyment of your day-to-day life. If you don’t know where to start, begin by setting time aside each day to notice something that you are registering with each of your five senses (e.g. something you see, hear, smell, touch, taste). This basic exercise can help build the habit of focusing on the here-and-now, and set you up for noticing more of the positives as you go through your daily routine.

2. Connect with Others. Social connections are vital to our overall health and well-being. Many of us live hectic lives that leave little time for quality social interactions. If you notice that you are feeling lonely and disconnected, spring is a good time to re-evaluate and re-invest some energy into your social relationships. Researchers at the University of Chicago recently identified three aspects of healthy relationships that can promote both psychological and physical health. Intimate connectedness comes from having someone in your life who affirms who you are, relational connectedness comes from having face-to-face contacts that are mutually rewarding, and collective connectedness comes from feeling that you’re part of a group or collective beyond individual existence. Think of nurturing at least one of these aspects of your social life in the same way that you might nurture your garden this spring.

3. Practice Good Self-Care. While this is an oft-repeated refrain, it is easy to fall into negative self-care practices that undermine our well-being. Failing to get enough sleep, not eating well, and/or a lack of regular physical activity are all habits that can contribute to negative mood, decreased energy and poor health. Rather than giving yourself a list of “don’ts”, however, spring is a great time to focus on the “dos.” For example, aiming to get into bed by a certain time is more likely to be successful than telling yourself not to stay up too late. Setting the goal of eating one healthy meal a day can be easier to accomplish than giving yourself a list of foods that are off-limits. Also, set goals that you can easily achieve as a way to get started. Pushing yourself to take the stairs, for example, instead of the elevator is one way to increase your physical activity that most people can manage.

Kathleen Boykin McElhaney, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

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