Do Some Emotional Housecleaning this Spring (article featured in The Tennessean)
Spring has officially sprung, and each and every year, with the budding of a new season, comes the urge to “Spring Clean.” We often associate this time of year with fresh starts, better perspectives, and commitments to be more organized and prioritized. While these attempts at being more efficient and successful are certainly positive life changes, it is important that we think about “Spring Cleaning” our emotional health as well. For, in the end, all of the concrete, tangible changes are ineffective if we don’t take the time nurture ourselves before implementing them.
One of the simplest changes that one can make to improve psychological well-being is to eliminate negative self-talk. This includes all of the “should” statements that we tend to tell ourselves (e.g., “I should have worked more diligently on that project;” “I should have spent more time at the gym this week; I should have won that award.”) The “should” culprit is one that immediately places us in a negative mindset, communicates that we simply aren’t measuring up, and generally depresses our mood. So, in lieu of telling yourself what you should have done better, try pointing out what you actually did well. Most often, you will find that the positives outweigh the negatives if you’ll simply allow yourself to give credit where credit is due.
Another important emotional goal is to reduce the tendency to worry. For the most part, worrying is ineffective and eventually leads to anxiety and feelings of panic if not interrupted. Sure, a normal amount of worrying is simply part of being human, but when we tend to worry about numerous factors that are beyond our control, our worry becomes more generalized and less manageable. For example, if a musician incessantly worries about making a blunder while on stage, then he is going to increase performance anxiety to the point of actually increasing the risk of making such a mistake. Essentially, the worry eventually contributes to the very thing that he is trying to avoid. Having said that, it is important to note that reducing worry does not mean eliminating the need to plan effectively. So, a musician will reduce the likelihood of making a blunder if he practices, but not if he worries about how he should be practicing more. Some other healthy substitutions for worry include physical exercise, guided imagery (relaxation coupled with visualizations), and deep breathing (reducing one’s heart rate by inhaling and exhaling with slow, long breaths).
Yet another important way to Spring Clean our emotional health is to choose to spend time with people who facilitate our ability to be happy. Social psychology has repeatedly shown that we are significantly impacted and influenced by our connections with others. If we choose to spend our time with those who are affirming and encouraging, our self-talk will naturally tend to be more positive. And, if we seek support from those who are compassionate and uplifting, then as a function of those relationships, our tendency to worry will undoubtedly decrease. So, while it is important to be able to interact with people of various personality types, focus on spending more time nurturing genuine relationships with those who improve your mood, rather than those with whom the connection is less positive and more superficial.
Overall, Spring Cleaning doesn’t mean eradicating all ineffective practices from our lives. While that would be phenomenal, it would also be impossible. Life inherently includes both negative and positive aspects, and we will inevitably experience both successes and disappointments. So, this Spring, as we strive to be better and capitalize on the positives, let’s realistically focus on improving our emotional health in ways that will make this season a much more enjoyable one.