Spring Cleaning: Detox Your Mind
This week I had one of those days. You know the kind. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, single person, student, teacher, whoever, sometimes you just get sucked into a totally unhelpful loop in your head. These are the days that I really need to workout, put on some lipstick, and handle it.
What I actually end up doing is binge watching Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team & imagining that I could try out if only I lived in Dallas and didn’t have all this other sh*t to worry about. I also end up getting super frustrated at my current circumstances and wishing they were different. When they’re already pretty great as they are.
There is a time and place for self love and kindness and there is a time and place for your inner Tiger Mom to take over, get your head back in the game, and actually do something to change.
So when I think about spring cleaning, I think it’s important to clear the clutter from my mind too. I could read a thousand blog posts and articles about scrubbing my baseboards, changing my air filters, and using tea tree oil to disinfect mildew. I actually really like that stuff, but I feel like doing some inner work is important too.
I’ve often thought if it’s on my mind, then maybe it’s on yours. That’s why I’m sharing today.
So often, if my mind isn’t in the right place and I’m letting a bunch of clutter in, I’m unable to do anything.
Do you remember one of the basic physics concept about movement from high school? An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion, unless some external force acts on it. The external force is often our own inner voice, I think. The voice of our conscience and our reason. The voice of our spirit. And if we have so many distractions and clutter that we can’t hear that voice, things will stay the same and be stuck or keep spinning and spinning without a lot to show for it. At least that’s how it is for me.
It’s just as important for me to tune things out, get back to heart center, and listen, as it is to clean my ceiling fans and scrub my sinks. Probably more important, bu this is a post in my spring cleaning series so that’s where my thoughts are now.
How the heck do I do that? How do I bring it back together so I can move forward? How do I spring clean my mind?
Here are some things I do. I hope some of them are useful for you too!
+ slow down
Sometimes when I’m about to have a panic attack or I feel super stressed out and anxious, I physically slow things down. The act of slowing down helps me to take a deep breath and calm down. It sounds weird, but it works every time. I got a little slower with my daily activities, I take the time I need. I focus on each little thing.
Same goes for my mind. If I’m having lots of stressful and anxious thoughts, I step back and focus on mindfulness and slow way up on all the distractions (good and bad) and busyness in my daily life. It’s easy to spin our wheels and do a million and one things. It’s much harder to say no to a few things. But it’s so important! Sometimes I like to drive just a little slower, dawdle in the shower just a little longer, walk down the street without as much hustle & bustle. As Smeagol says in Lord of the Rings, “More haste, less hurry.” Do things efficiently, but if they’re hurried just because that’s what you’re used to, slow wayyyyy down.
This of course means making a lot more space for ease and calm. In the short term, I try to say “ no” to just a few things & they’re often “no”s to myself. “No, I don’t need to wash that now.” “No, I don’t need to vacuum today.” In place of that, I can sit in the grass on a hill with my son and feel the wind in our hair for half an hour. Hanging out with little ones does wonders for slowing down and drinking it all in.
+ prayer closet
I once heard an interview with Kari Jobe where she mentioned having a prayer closet as a child that her dad put together in her closet. It comes from a passage in
Matthew 6: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.”
Not everyone has an actual prayer closet. For many, it’s a state of mind. For others, it’s a little tucked away corner in their home. I know many Japanese people who have tiny altars in their homes with pictures of their ancestors to honor them. During Dia De Los Muertos, many Mexican families put up a little altar to the dead as well. Setting aside a physical place in your home for your prayer practice is a really ancient practice, and something that can really calm your mind. Every time you look at it, it clears your mind a little as you think about fond memories, intercessions, and a world beyond our own.
Whatever speaks to your heart has a home in your prayer closet. In my home, I have a little area on our bedroom wall with a crucifix my husband got in Israel years ago, a Divine Mercy image from the Shrine of St. John Paul II, and a palm frond from Palm Sunday. You know, whatever I think is cool. I also have a special place in a drawer for my Bible and Bible journal. If I lived in a house (we’re in an apartment now), I might think about setting aside a quiet corner for coffee and Bible time. For now, I like what I have and it helps me focus on things that are important to me.
+ be (anti) social
Ok, I admit I’m a total extrovert. Hanging out other people gives me energy and comes naturally to me. I love starting up a conversation with my local barista, the checkout person at my grocery store, someone in an elevator. Yeah, I’m that airline passenger. I really do my best to dial it back though!
That being said, whether we’re introverts or extroverts, sometimes we are just around people way too much. The more I am around people, especially the same people, the more I internalize their conversations, opinions, worldview, and thoughts. I appreciate and love my friends and their life experiences, but sometimes I need to step back, get quiet, and get antisocial. I often fill up my head with other people’s thoughts and feelings and lose touch with my own thoughts and feelings. I feel like it’s so gradual, I don’t always even notice it.
When it feels like it’s cluttering my mind, and I can’t hear my own voice, I know it’s time to step back, say “no” to a few invitations, and hang out with myself a little. Right now, I’m in a coffee shop blogging while my son is with his babysitter for a little while. Although I totally want to text everybody and would love to run into someone here, I made the space in my life to get away from it all.
Probably my favorite way to tune out is to surround myself with people who speak other languages I don’t understand. I’m not even tempted to eavesdrop! This happens very rarely, but when it does it’s glorious. My husband and I lived in Poland for a few weeks, and there was nothing better than sitting in coffee shops in Warsaw and tuning out all the ambient language in the world. If you try it, you would be absolutely amazed at how clearly you start thinking and how much clearer your own voice becomes. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning new languages and communicating with people who don’t share my linguistic culture, but a moment or two in a totally unfamiliar environment makes a world of difference.
+ get it all out
Have you heard of the productivity practice of morning pages? Many personal development coaches encourage people to wake up a little early and then just journal in stream of consciousness, putting thoughts on paper in whichever way they occur. This way of getting it all out is a great technique to think clearly and detox your mind of anything in your head and heart. There are a million ways to do this. Morning pages are just the most frequently recommended. I haven’t tried it yet… let me know if you do! You can also do this through regular old journaling any time of day.
Another way to clear the clutter from your mind is to remove your to-do list from your mind. A mind is a terrible place to store information. We have such a hard time keeping things in our head and all that mundane stuff fills up space we could use for more important things: memory, cognition, sensations, empathy. Sometimes I’ll spend extra time with my to do list and add everything that’s been bothering me into it. I use an app called ToDoist, but you can do this with plain old paper or whatever system you like. Whether it’s something to do tomorrow or ten years from now, putting pen to (virtual) paper takes it out of your brain and clears up space. If you have a system you trust, it can really vacate your brain of worry and overwhelm. Once I get my worries and tasks out of my head, I feel so much freer and able to handle whatever comes my way in the future.
+ get quiet
There’s this great United Pursuit song called “In The Quiet” and it’s seriously my favorite way to shut off and detox my mind. Like all good worship songs, it’s repetitive and meditative. It reminds me that any embrace of quiet is a good one. Whether it’s shutting off music or podcasts during your commute or turning off the tv in the evening, making room for quiet makes a big difference in your mental clarity. It’s amazing how noisy our lives are! Some experts estimate that 97% of our country is affected in one way or another by noise pollution. I live near a highway, and even on the nights it seems calm, there is still a constant hum of noise. How do I minimize that? I have a noise machine that acts to filter out ambient disruptive noise and adds white noise to detox my sound environment. I also specially look for activities and places that are quiet away from the hum. Churches and camping or hiking in the woods are two of my favorite places to find some quiet. By decluttering our soundscape, I think it’s easier to know and hear our own thoughts and feelings.
+ shut off notifications & ignore the news
This is something I really, really struggle with. Most mornings when I wake up I think, “hmmm…. What’s the internet up to today?” The honest answer? Not much good! Ok, I do connect online in a lot of positive ways. I belong to an online fitness community that builds me up and keep in touch with family on Instagram and Facebook. I like to read articles online, and pin cute ideas on Pinterest. I’m a typical suburban white girl when it comes to all of that.
But there is absolutely a huge negative online that sucks my attention away from the things I really think are most important for me. The news and social media are often an endless reminder of disagreement, violence, and scandal. The more I interact with the news, the more distrustful and anxious I become. I don’t think I’m alone in that. Social media can be like that. Some days when I try to scroll to the bottom of Instagram (ok, fool’s errand, I know), I start comparing myself to people, wishing I had things I don’t, and getting a little ungrateful of the full and beautiful life I do have. Not all the time, but it seeps in sometimes when I’m not even paying attention. I have to ask myself frequently, “is this a productive or positive influence in my life today or not?”
I heard an interview with a researcher of the addictive qualities of smartphones. He said there are specific ways to break our smartphone addiction (which are specifically designed to get us addicted, by the way). One is to shut off notifications for anything on your phone that isn’t a human to human connection. FaceTime, phone calls, texts are all good uses of notifications. Notifications from my Starbucks app are not human to human, and I can totally shut them off. This has made such a difference for me! He also suggested setting your phone to black and white or installing apps that limit your time on certain sites or apps. It’s such a good idea!
In terms of news, it’s hard to set parameters around that, and it’s such a tempting way to fill our heads with other peoples’ thoughts and opinions. Crime articles and political articles are designed specifically to draw us in. Any kind of scandal hits a primitive part of our brain that eats up any kind of revulsion and disgust (yeah, it’s a thing). We are pre-programmed to seek out the negative. I guess from an evolutionary standpoint, it helps us avoid dangers. If I’m programmed to be hyper aware of the danger of a hot pan on a stove, I more likely to use a potholder. So, it’s useful in some respects. In our higher order thinking, it can be very unhelpful and could need to go.
How do we do that? How do we stay “in the know” but avoid all the downsides? You can cold turkey and not read the news for a set period of time. Honestly, if something really important happens, you’re going to know. I was living out of the country on 9/11. I was completely disconnected from US news and barely had an internet connection. I still found out about it within an hour or so of the attacks. Trust me, you don’t have to read daily news to learn about the really important stuff.
Also start examining how you feel when you read bad news and how it causes you to change for good or ill. If I read another article on some kind of horrific murder or child abuse case, what’s the effect? Am I safer? Is my child safer? Am I more likely to put my energy toward making my neighborhood safer or truly rehabilitating criminals as a result of this information? Usually no. It just freaks me out! Real dangers rarely make the news. I’m way more likely to die of a car accident or heart disease than of a plane flying out of the sky and hitting my house. And good news very very rarely makes the news. I try to keep that in mind when I examine the effect of the news on my psyche. If it leaves you feeling informed and in the know, try taking a little breather and see what happens. This is just something that really affects me. Trust your instincts.
+ get physical
This might be one of the most effective ways I detox my mind. I do something physical that gets me out of my head and into my body. That could be as simple as a long walk or as hardcore as a thirty minute HIIT routine (that’s hardcore for me!). Whatever it is that gets you centered in your body is such a helpful way to dial back the flood of thoughts we all have every moment and move into the present moment. That something physical doesn’t necessarily have to be exercise. My husband finds his zen working on his car and doing woodworking. I like to clean my house to clear my thoughts. Whatever works for you! Movement and exercise are proven ways to improve our mood, mental health, and mental clarity.
While you’re doing some spring cleaning, consider detoxing your mind along with everything else in your life. In my life, it’s been well worth my time to make space for that. How about you? How do you expand your chill? Comment below!