Emotional Spring Cleaning

Emotional Spring Cleaning

Spring is a time of new beginnings, growth, and hope. It’s also the time of year to clean out the garage and the closets—to discard what’s broken or obsolete.

Like many of you, I have a love-hate relationship with spring cleaning. Cleaning isn’t exactly at the top of my list of weekend fun. But I do get immense satisfaction from clearing out the clutter, reclaiming my closets, airing out and freshening up. The result is a much more enjoyable place to live.

An “emotional spring cleaning” can do the same for your mental health!

When’s the last time you cleaned out your emotional life?

Things have a way of piling up in our emotional lives as well. 

Sometimes we don’t even notice our feelings. Other times we’re too busy or overwhelmed to deal with them. Instead, we stuff them in the “closet” like an old jacket, hoping they will just disappear.

But emotions tend to get bigger the longer we try to deny them. The only way to truly rid ourselves of “emotional baggage” is to notice, process, and accept our feelings.

You may have learned that certain emotions, such as anger or jealousy, are “bad,” and “good” people don’t feel these feelings. But we all feel anger, jealousy, hatred, sadness, and lust. Recognizing that they are common feelings and they don’t define you, can make it easier to accept them.

Periodically we need to take stock of our thoughts, feelings, relationships, and habits and see what we have. We often feel more energized and motivated this time of year. So, Spring is the perfect time to do some of this work.

Spring cleaning your emotional health is an opportunity to reorder your priorities. You can revisit your New Year’s resolutions and evaluate your progress. You can take stock of what’s working and what’s not working with regards to your emotional wellbeing.

Just like cleaning your house, you’re going to sort your emotional health into three piles:

  • Things to get rid of.
  • Things to keep.
  • Things that you need, but don’t have.  

What do you need to get rid of?

What’s dragging you down emotionally? Pay attention to what keeps you up at night or behaviors you’d like to change.

Often, we accumulate unhealthy habits and unsatisfying relationships and it’s just easier to leave them alone than it is to change them. However, if these thoughts, habits, or relationships aren’t serving you well, it’s time to change them.

What needs to go in order for you to be happier?

  • Negative friends or toxic relationships
  • Suppressed feelings such as worry, anger, sadness
  • Unhealthy coping such as over-eating, smoking, and drinking
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Busyness and over-scheduling
  • Comparisons
  • Pessimism
  • Fears
  • Self-criticism
  • Guilt
  • Grudges and resentments
  • Shame

When you hold onto anger toward the woman who cut you off in traffic or you ruminate about whether you’re going to be laid off, you let these events take up emotional space and energy. This is space and energy that could be used to create positive, successful, fulfilling things in your life if you free it up.  

Read about how to stop codependent behaviors.

What good habits do you want to keep?

When you inventory your emotional health, it’s also important to notice what’s working. What healthy habits and positive thoughts and behaviors support your emotional wellbeing? Let’s acknowledge them and purposefully continue acting and thinking in ways that promote emotional health. These might include:

  • Supportive friends
  • Exercise
  • Growth mindset
  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Adequate sleep
  • Learning
  • Psychotherapy
  • Relaxation
  • Art and creative endeavors
  • Quality time with your partner or family
  • Gratitude
  • Hobbies
  • Meaningful work
  • Self-forgiveness
  • Trying new things
  • Healthy boundaries
  • Making new friends
  • Apologize when you’re wrong

What’s missing from your emotional health?

Finally, you want to notice what’s missing from your routine that would increase your emotional health. Read over the list above and notice which ones catch your attention. Commit to adding one or two of these practices to your repertoire.  

Read 25 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Health.

Notice your feelings and accept them

The most important thing to remember about emotional decluttering is that you need to gain awareness of your feelings, accept them without judging them as “good” or “bad,” and use healthy coping skills like those listed above.

Feelings are just feelings. None are better or worse than others. Feelings provide us valuable information, but they don’t control us. You have the power to clear out a backlog of feelings by bringing them to the surface.

Take some time alone in quiet reflection, allow yourself to cry and/or yell, or write without censoring until the feelings flow. These can be helpful strategies for many people wanting to gain greater awareness of their feelings. Seeking the help of a counselor or therapist can also help you process difficult emotions and memories you may encounter.    

Read more about Feeling Your Feelings.

©2017 Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved. 

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Sharon Martin, DSW, LCSW is a psychotherapist and author specializing in codependency recovery. For the past 25 years, she’s been helping people-pleasers, perfectionists, and adult children overcome self-doubt and shame, embrace their imperfections, and set boundaries. Dr. Martin writes the popular blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today and is the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and The Better Boundaries Workbook.

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