There’s something invigorating about the birds chirping, the plants growing, and days lengthening. Springtime is almost like the new year of the new year with abundant fresh starts. For many, the season heralds a tradition that dates back thousands of years to the Persians and Israelites – spring cleaning. Whether deep cleaning carpets, donating unused clothing and household items, or edging the verdant green grass along the sidewalk, spring cleaning provides the fulfilling opportunity to freshen up our environment and feel better about ourselves as well.
So why not capitalize upon the opportunity to feel better about ourselves? Many of us are still trying to find the strength to admit that it is not selfish to invest in ourselves. Yet as we experience the healing benefit of contributing to our personal physical, mental, spiritual, and social wellbeing bank, we begin to understand why we have to take the opportunity to recreate boundaries for ourselves.
“There’s no better time than the present to invest in your mental health”
To get started, think of as many things that are a part of the spring season as you can. Highlight the ones that you love the most, the ones you’re the most grateful for (we’re coming out of winter, I am sure there are some really exciting ones you’re thankful for right now!). I wish we were together to compare lists right now! It’s a sunny, blue day in Washington State where I’m writing from right now, and my spring gratitude list is bursting (Just check out these tulips from the garden!).
And that is our first spring cleaning exercise.
Make a gratitude list for the season we are in right now.
As the icy grip of the winter gives way to new life of spring, we are surrounded with object lessons and fresh reminders of the gift of life itself. Practicing gratitude is associated with positive mental health benefits such as improving life satisfaction and happiness, while reducing depressive symptoms. [i] Whether a couple times a week or every day, reflect on the things you are grateful for and you will find your mind shifting to dwell more on positive themes.
Get regular exercise.
Now that the days are getting longer and warmer, it is much easier to get moving again. If you’re fighting spring rain, remember, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.” Challenges will always be there, but if you have plans for the excuses and challenges, you’ll be much better set up for success! Exercise helps improve depressive symptoms, improve mood, sharpen memory, boost sleep, and manage stress. [ii] Write down five types of exercise you enjoy. I recommend planning your activities ahead of time and laying out your clothes and shoes. Learn even more about exercise on our blog.
Sit in the sun.
This is really a no-brainer since I know you are eager to soak up some sunbeams and boost your vitamin D. Sun is a welcome beacon after a long winter, and not surprisingly because it boasts numerous mental health benefits. It’s speculated that we feel better sitting in the sun because of an endorphin produced when our keratinocytes (skin cells) are exposed to UV radiation. [iii] Vitamin D, also produced by keratinocytes, plays a role in serotonin production, the neurotransmitter involved in mood. The latitude where you live dramatically influences your skin’s ability to produce vitamin D. In more northern latitudes (above 33-37th parallels), vitamin D can only be produced in the late spring through early fall. [iv] Ability to make vitamin D varies by age, skin pigmentation, and sunscreen use. [iv] Please be sure to have your vitamin D levels checked and routinely supplement. You will also reap positive benefits for improved sleep through bright light exposure not only throughout the day, but especially first thing in the morning. Learn more about light and mental health here.
That’s right, spring cleaning is not only good for your environment, but is also good for your mind! Clutter, unfinished projects, and lack of cleanliness at home has been associated with depression and fatigue; individuals with organized, clean homes report better sleep, greater activity, and improved overall health. [v] Learn more about the positive psychology behind being organized as well as solutions to common organization problems here. You don’t have to tackle your workplace, house, or yard all in one day. If it’s difficult to feel motivated for spring cleaning that’s weighing on you, perhaps you can take ten minutes here and there to tidy up, donate unused items, throw away worn or broken things, work on a project, and clean up. Sometimes having another person present can provide a boost that is hard to achieve alone. Maybe a friend can help you or you can hire someone to help for a couple hours. Once you’ve done an initial cleaning, it’s easier to maintain!
Spring schedules are beginning to fill up, and with increased busyness likely comes increased stress. You may find that some pressure positively motivates you to grow and accomplish your goals, but you may also find that with stress comes new waves of anxiety and depression, impaired daily functioning, difficulty sleeping, headaches, and irritability, among other symptoms. We have an entire article dedicated to ways to reduce stress, which you can read here, but I want to highlight a couple points: practice deep breathing, combat negative thoughts, stop drinking alcohol and caffeine, find activities that bring you joy and make you laugh, and spend time journaling.
Volunteer for your community.
Giving to others can make you feel better not only about a cause you believe in, but also about yourself as well. Research shows that “other-oriented” volunteering (which is “helping others in need by altruistic responsibilities and humanitarian concerns”) is associated with better mental health. [vi] This type of volunteerism “can more effectively help accrue genuine supportive relationships and social integration, self-worth, a sense of mattering, and life meaning and therefore better contribute to health benefits.” From serving at a food bank, singing at the nursing home, or sharing hope through a community-based Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™, find something meaningful to commit to giving of your time to others.
That’s right. Have you pondered reaching out for grief recovery, relationship counseling, anxiety therapy, or some other form of therapy? There is no better time to begin than right now. Therapists are well-trained professionals with empathetic hearts and practical tools to helping real people work through challenges and remind us that we are not alone. Counseling can provide helpful support and coping skills to address challenges, and there’s no better time than the present to invest in your mental health. Seeking help is a sign of courage, maturity, and responsibility, and not only can be a blessing to you, but a gift to those around you. Learn how to find a therapist near you here.
Invest in community.
To the best of your ability (while still following the guidelines of your local public health departments), spending time with loved ones in safe environments is imperative to boosting your mental health. Finding a green space to walk, bike, or jog with a friend could be just the social boost you need. As the spring weather keeps improving, finding spaces outside to share time with someone else is invaluable. Maybe it’s time to pack a picnic and take the family down to the river or the back field for some good old-fashioned fun.
There’s no better time than right now to embrace change. I encourage you to pick one thing you can do today to give yourself a mental health boost because you deserve to experience the joy of the season.
[vi] Yeung, J., et al. (2017). Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. BMC public health, 18(1), 8.
About the author
Cami Martin Gotshall, MPH, is the Health Education Director for Nedley Health. She is an international trainer for the community-based health education program Optimize Your Brain™ and the 8-week Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™. Her passion is disseminating information on living a mentally healthy lifestyle to people around the world. Cami works closely with all Nedley Health programs to continually enhance and expand each program.