Emotional Spring Cleaning: Let's Join the Party
“Spring won’t let me stay in this house any longer! I must get out and breathe the air deeply again.” – Gustav Mahler
Spring is my favorite all of the seasons.
While the rest of the seasons sort of flow into each other, the change from winter to spring here is dramatic. The green grass grows. The breezes turn warm and the flowers all bloom and there's gorgeous color everywhere.
I feel like I've come alive again just like nature.
I get spring fever really badly every year. I can't work so I have the time to go outside in the yard and sit in the sun and smell the daffodils and notice a lot of the little miracles of nature. I feel lucky to get to do that.
Back when I was healthy I planted thousands and thousands of them around our yard (which, being on a piece of property in the country, is at least an acre.) It's become a springtime tradition for my husband to plant a bag of a new type of daffodil I can enjoy. I sit and take pictures. Cars slow down to see the bright displays of bunches and bunches of yellow, orange, white, double corona, tiny, huge daffodils.
I don't have nearly enough.
What is Emotional Spring Cleaning?
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris
Spring, with its renewal and rebirth, is a wonderful time to clean out the old dirt and dust and clutter and open up to the fresh air and light. We've all heard the term “Spring Cleaning”. Now, I have to confess I don't do this in my house. At stage 3 COPD I have no energy for it and I get short of breath just walking 20 feet.
But I do what's called an “Emotional Spring Cleaning”. It's the idea that spring is also a good time to let some of those old bad, negative feelings get swept away and to let in good ones.
How Does It Help?
“It's a new dawn/ it's a new day/ it's a new life for me/ and I'm feeling good.” lyrics, “Feeling Good,” from The Roar of the Greasepaint
A year or two after my diagnosis, I seriously contemplated my mental thought process, and found I really didn't like some of the things I told myself. “I'm so useless.” “I can't do anything.” “No one wants to be around me anymore.” “I have no purpose in life.” Those thoughts weren't helpful; in fact, they were downright mean. And I realized that I didn't need to be mean to myself mentally when I was already going through enough bad stuff physically. I'd always considered myself a nice person, so why wasn't I nice to myself?
After working hard at it, the emotional spring cleaning I did really helped me to feel better mentally with a better outlook on life and better thoughts about myself. I was much gentler to myself.
A positive mental outlook has been linked to physical benefits and longevity. This is a wonderful gift. Barbara Fredrickson has a good article in the magazine American Scientist titled “The Value of Positive Emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is coming to understand why it’s good to feel good.” She explains the phenomenon well with lots of colorful pictures and diagrams, my favorites.
So How Do You Do It?
“I am the way a life unfolds and bloom and seasons come and go and I am the way the spring always finds a way to turn even the coldest winter into a field of green and flowers and new life.” – Charlotte Eriksson
Do your research and find out what works for you. There are plenty of articles on the Internet about letting go of the negative thoughts and doing some emotional spring cleaning.
First, a note. Some negative thoughts will always come through. We are human and that is normal for us. When you're sick and laying in bed for weeks in an exacerbation it's perfectly understandable to be angry and frustrated about it. When you're lonely it's very easy to blame yourself. When you can't do what you used to do it hurts. Just don't get stuck in that mindset.
I did for a couple of years.
I want it to be better for you. So I'm going to share what worked for me.
I love ritual. We have family rituals for most holidays. I like prayer rituals. I like lighting candles. I also learn and retain best by visual and hands-on practice. So when someone suggested I make a personal ritual to help, I was all for it.
First, I wrote down a list of things I loved to do but couldn't anymore. It was a long list. Then after my son was asleep my husband and I went outside and sat in my favorite place, a little corner of my yard I call my serenity grove. It was nighttime but I could still smell the daffodils and the violets. It was a perfect place for my little ceremony.
I read my list out loud. I made myself a promise, out loud, to always remember those things and those times fondly, but to try to let that person go. I was ready to stop mourning her.
Then I burned that list and we watched it go up in flames.
It was difficult, and it was sad, but it was time.
Next, I read aloud a list I had written about the things I could still do, and the good things about my brain and my personality that I still had. I do not like bragging about myself (no, really) and I don't tend to toot my own horn (no, really) but reading that list felt good.
Then I made myself another promise, out loud, to try to like the new me and to remember these good things. I didn't burn that list; I kept it to help me keep that promise.
“If you want to be somebody else/ If you're tired of fighting battles with yourself/ If you want to be somebody else/ Change your mind” – lyrics, “Change Your Mind” by Sister Hazel
The second way I do emotional spring cleaning, is something I actually try year round. I change my mind.
Its premise is simple:
Whenever you start to think something bad, stop it and replace it with something good.
When I'd start to think one of my constant refrains, “Oh, I'm just useless,” I would pretend to hear a tape rewinding in my head. Then I would play a new chorus, “I can still do important things.” I had to also change my definition of “important things” from “working, being a Scout Den Leader, volunteering, etc.,” to “being kind, letting people with COPD know they're not alone, sharing my photographs of nature, etc.” And I'm okay with that.
I'm not going to lie to you: Changing what you tell yourself – changing your mind – is hard. As much as I hope I inspire you, and I really do, reading this article will not fix everything. You must be willing to consciously try to change your inner dialogue for a long time until your newer, more positive one feels comfortable.
“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s party!’” – Robin Williams
So much color, so much light and warmth, so much joy, spring really can be a party. Let's join it.
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