Time for Emotional Spring Cleaning

What do you do to get ready for spring?

Clear out your garage? Clean windows and put away woolens? There are lots of chores and checklists at the turn of a season, and we prepare for the transitions of the season in lots of ways.

A transition time can also stimulate us to clear out some old mental and emotional habits. Something about the change in the air invites us to reflect on ourselves and our lives. What is going on with us? What attitudes are serving us well? What would we like to change? What mental closet can we empty and what kind of enjoyment can we bring in?

When you live with a chronic disease like arthritis, that kind of self-reflection is even more necessary.

As a therapist who works with people who live with chronic conditions, I encourage my clients to examine the connection between their usual thoughts — those tracks they lay down in their brain and run down over and over again, and the outlook or attitude those habits create.

For example, a client came to me because he found himself depressed. He just couldn't shake the blues, and he was tired of fighting them by himself. One of the first things we did together was listen to the thoughts that regularly ran through his mind. They weren't obvious at first — it was like a train of chatter that went on just below the surface. But when he began to pay attention, he heard the refrain. "I'm sick. I'm tired of feeling pain. Why did this happen to me? I don't feel like doing that. This is only going to get worse. I can't do anything to make it better. I'm going to feel this way for the rest of my life."

Those are the highlights — there were lots of little side trips and paths that reinforced the same theme.

When we slowly pulled those thoughts into the light where he could see them, my client realized that what he was thinking wasn't helping him. In fact, his habitual thoughts were harming him by coloring his mental outlook into shades of grey.

What we began to work on was cleaning out those thoughts — gathering them up and pitching them, and then creating some new ones to take their place. Thoughts that he could choose and control, thoughts that changed his attitudes.

As a result he slowly began to feel better. He was less bleak and depressed. He began to look forward to some new projects.

In the weeks to come, I'll be describing some of the ways you can do this too. It's a process of building your resiliency — upgrading your mental energy — and feeling more alive and ready to move into the spring season.

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