Transform Your Mind, Transform Your Life!
You know that pile of clothes hanging on the treadmill you don't use? And the pile of papers you've been meaning to file but now resembles The Leaning Tower of Pisa? Well it might be time to do something about them, because research confirms they are bad for your physical and mental health.
I know! I thought the same thing! How can a pile of inanimate objects impact my wellbeing?
Well physically, clutter can cause a build up of dust, mould and creepy crawlies such as silverfish, as well as being a trip and fire hazard.
In addition, living with constant disorganisation and mess can contribute to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and defeat. Piles of clutter (even if you can't see them!) can cause higher levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, leading to stress, anxiety and even depression.
This is something to be particularly concerned about, because high levels of cortisol can lead to serious physical conditions which can cause irreparable damage and leave a lasting impact on your life.
This toxic stress can actually;
weaken your immune system;
cause weight gain;
cause mood swings;
When considered alongside the other potential sources of stress in our lives (work, partner, family, news, finances etc.), being able to take immediate action to regain control is definitely a plus.
Gathering momentum, not dust!
The minimalist movement has gained huge support in recent years as people began to turn their attention away from consumerism and accumulation, preferring the clean lines and simplicity of a life with less.
Organisational and cleaning gurus such as Marie Kondo, Mrs Hinch or The Organised Mum, are well aware of the increasing desire for simple but effective advice, and their 8 million devoted Instagram followers (combined) would seem to agree!
So why is this topic gathering so much energy and enthusiasm and how can we apply it to ourselves?
Well, fans of Marie Kondo’s hit Netflix series will be the first to tell you that tidying up 'sparks joy.' And, if you've seen 'Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things' by The Minimalists, you will have some appreciation of the freedom and control that having less stuff can bring.
And it's not just about possessions...
How do we accumulate clutter in our mind, body and spirit?
As well as physical clutter, we can accumulate mental clutter.
Mental clutter can cause your mind to feel restless and unfocused. It tries to move in many different directions at once and the result is that very little gets done. It might include the following: worrying about the future; ruminating about past events, comments or decisions; fixating on things others have said or done; keeping a mental to-do list; over analysing complaints; holding grudges, and so on.
In your body, clutter could be the accumulation of toxins such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar, or even the stealthy development of bad habits, like taking little exercise or not prioritising sleep!
Spiritually, this accumulation could manifest as a feeling of disconnect with yourself, with nature or with the wider world. Maybe you ignore, or can no longer hear, your inner voice offering intuition and guidance. If you used to have a faith practice, possibly you've let that slip a bit, adding guilt to the list of emotions.
Fortunately, there are strategies and techniques you can use to clean out some space in your head, reconnect with your heart and take control of your body!
How to declutter...
According to Decluttering and Minimalism Consultant, Rebecca Oppenheim, the first thing you need to know is that decluttering (i.e. getting rid of things) isn't the true aim. Her main advice is to first imagine what you want your life to be like regarding the different domains (physical, mental etc.) and use this to help guide the process.
Rebecca describes decluttering as an effective process to help you connect with what truly brings joy, meaning and purpose to your life. She advises her clients to take special note of the emotions that the process brings up and encourages them to identify anything that raises emotions such as guilt, obligation or negative associations or expectations.
When it comes to actually letting go of objects, people often feel anxiety; worrying that as soon as they discard it, they will need it (even if they haven't seen it in months or realised they owned it!). They fear making a big mistake by letting go of something that is valuable, or worry they are being wasteful.
However, these fears are all examples of automatic negative thoughts and with gentle examination to assess the evidence for, or likelihood of, our fears coming true, we can proceed without worry or guilt.
Get rid of your unhealthy mental baggage by taking these actions:
Be Decisive - I love this quote by Scott Roewer, "Clutter is simply delayed decisions." So, why not do your brain a favour, stop procrastinating and make that decision! A simple evaluation of the pros and cons should help you with easy decisions, and you could always schedule a session with a coach to help you gain clarity around more complex decisions.
Let It Go - If you're anything like me you are probably singing that song right now... But in all seriousness, letting go of negative thoughts and emotions, unnecessary fears, and old grudges and resentments really can reduce stress and boost self-esteem and happiness.
Journal - Journaling is a great way to understand, analyse and relax your mind. Writing, even for just a few minutes each day, can help you manage anxiety, cope with depression and can free up mental space, allowing you to manage stress more effectively. You don't need to write loads and you can always doodle or draw your journal entry instead.
Set Priorities - Using the same technique described above, identify what matters the most to you and make sure your actions and decisions reflect your priorities. Create an action plan or sign up with a coach to help you achieve your goals
Set Up Your Auto-Pilot - Small routine tasks can take up a lot of brain space. It might be as simple as deciding what to have for dinner each day, or what to wear. You can reduce this additional pressure by setting up little automatic routines, such as planning your meals for the week, doing certain chores on set days, or always eating the same thing for lunch each day.
Talk - It is often underestimated, but talking through your thoughts and feelings with a loved one or confidant, even if they are not in a position to fix your stressors, is a hugely effective way to release pent up emotions. Sharing in this way can also help you gain clarity and perspective, freeing up headspace and enabling you to make better decisions.
Media/Social Media Detox - The information and messages you encounter in your daily life has a huge impact on your mental health and wellbeing. Worryingly, some people now spend more hours a day online than sleeping and this information overload can increase stress and anxiety. So I recommend limiting the amount of information you consume by limiting your time online. You should also try to be selective about the quality and type of content you choose to engage with. For example, avoid negative content and only follow reliable news broadcasts etc.
Tackle That Inbox - Similarly to social media, you should make time to organise your email inbox('s). Unsubscribe from services you no longer care about or that don't meet your new priorities. Setting up folders and seeing a beautifully clear inbox takes effort, but once done will bring you a sense of achievement and satisfaction. Just remember to plan a time each day or week to keep it that way.
Down Time - Our hyperconnected lives are set up to be 24/7 if we let them, but our human bodies are not designed to withstand that kind of stress day in day out. To perform at its best, your brain needs time to rest and recharge. So take care to plan in some down time every day doing something you love or that makes you feel happy. Your brain will thank you for it!
Breathe - No, really breathe. Take a deep breath. Pause. Exhale slowly. Pause. It feels great, right? We so often breathe shallowly and inefficiently, which combined with slouching at our desks or on the sofa, reduced the flow of oxygenated blood to our brains. Deep breathing can clear your mind, lower your heart rate and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps you relax.
Stretch - Sometimes your body feels tight or painful and it is often because you have been holding tension within your muscles. Yin Yoga is a gentle slow-paced style of yoga which includes asanas (postures) which are held for longer periods of time.
Prioritise Sleep - You will never be able to make up sleep that you've lost, so don't think a lie in at the weekend will help! Set and stick to a sleep routine. Check out my article 'How to Sleep Like a Baby' for some top tips and sleep hacks.
Eat Well - This always seems to be a hard one, with many people crying, "Why does all the bad stuff taste so good?" This doesn't have to be all or nothing though. With a few simple switches you can radically reduce the toxins in your body. For example, if you are a devoted coffee drinker, try switching one cup a day to a herbal or fruit tea. Or, work on making one meal or snack a day really healthy. Think whole, unprocessed food, and try to avoid sugary, salty snacks.
Meditate - Learning to focus your mind on one thing, such as your breath, allows your brain to rest from all the other thoughts fighting for your attention. I find that if I cannot sleep or feel exhausted, a 20 minute guided meditation (using one of the many amazing apps out there) helps me feel refreshed and calm.
Notice - Our busy lives often meant we were always rushing to get from A to B, usually by car or public transport. We were focused on our destination and didn't always notice the magical moments around us. Now, with so many people working from home or home-schooling we should have a little more time. So, even if you feel super busy, try to spend 5 minutes a day outside noticing the little daily miracles in nature, or appreciating the beauty of the changing sky.
Reconnect - Research tells us that feeling connected to other people through positive relationships is an essential aspect of wellbeing at all ages. But this element includes more than just your connection to others, it also includes feeling connected to something beyond ourselves. Maslow amended his famous hierarchy of needs to include a higher level (beyond reaching your potential) which he called Transcendence Needs. This level includes 'peak experiences' in which you feel connected to something greater than yourself and that often elicit feelings of joy, peace and awareness. Why not explore your affinity with nature through spending more time in natural spaces? Or reconnect with your faith? You could even meditate or explore your personal beliefs and values to reconnect with yourself.
Reminisce - Activities which increase the frequency of positive emotions you experience can provide a protective effect, encouraging you to feel more open, engaged and creative and ultimately feel happier. Research indicates that positively reminiscing about the past can increase enjoyment of life and also protect against stress. So put on those old songs you love, break out those photo albums - actually print out a few favourites from the thousands of photos you have on your phone - and remember the good times! It really can help you overcome the bad times!
Be Thankful - You would have to have been hiding under a rock to be unaware of the power of thanks or gratitude. But gratitude is more than just feeling thankful or saying thank you, it is a deep appreciation for someone or something that produces long lasting positivity. Research tells us that being more grateful can lead to increased levels of wellbeing, deeper relationships, improved optimism and better physical and mental health. So try to think about the things you are grateful for each day. Maybe write a note or send a card to someone you may have neglected to thank. Or, just express your gratitude to the people you encounter who help you each day. It might make their day, and yours!
Hopefully you now feel inspired to tackle the various aspects of clutter in your life and feel empowered to do something about it. I would love to know how you get on, so feel free to connect with me on social media and let me know.
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