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Tips for Spring Cleaning

Getting rid of stress mess

When we think of spring cleaning, we mean getting rid of the junk that has accumulated in our closets, homes, or garages.

But what about our “emotional” spaces?

We don’t think about the psychological clutter that we have accumulated over the years. Yet, emotional clutter can accrue just like bric-a-brac, clothes, shoes, furniture, and cooking utensils—all that stuff that clutters your physical space. Similarly, emotional clutter most often comes from stress that clogs our psyche.

Stress isn’t just a reaction to “big ticket” items, like a serious health problem, dealing with a death, or being a victim of a natural disaster. Actually, most of us experience stress from low level, everyday events—the “little foxes” that can destroy the vineyard.

Stress impacts everyone. You can’t live in the modern world without experiencing stress. In other words, stress for most of us is a daily, perhaps hourly event, triggered by everyday pressures.

  • You were daydreaming and ran a red light as the traffic camera nicely caught you doing so, and now you have to spend hundreds of dollars paying for a ticket because of a few seconds of "spacing out."
  • Your boss dumps more work on you just as you are getting ready to go on vacation.
  • You forgot to mail in your credit card payment and now you have to pay interest charges.
  • Your friend tells you at the last minute that she cannot dog-sit for you, and now you have no one to care for poochie when you go away on your 3-day business trip.
  • Your electricity gets shut off for scheduled maintenance right when your relatives are visiting from out of town.
  • Your refrigerator breaks down and the service person can’t come for two weeks.

Psychological spring cleaning means cleaning out the emotional closets of the stress mess.

Stress creates a mess by clogging up your psyche with anxiety, worry, depression, irritability, and anger—to name a few of stress mess emotions. The emotional closet is stuffed to the gills with negative thinking, pessimism, and cynicism caused by these stress aftereffects.

The stress mess is powerful. Stress affects the brain and body, and can zap your spirit.

  • It creates a mess through dumping stress hormones (cortisol, adrenaline, noradrenalin) into your body that increase your heart beat and make your blood pressure rise. These hormones also cause the liver to dump glucose into your blood stream which increases the risk for diabetes.
  • Stress may cause you to eat more, eat too quickly, and eat high fat/high sugar foods—all of which result in weight gain. Or, stress may zap your appetite, worsen gastrointestinal reflux conditions through increased stomach acid, or simply keep you so tense that you can’t eat or sleep.
  • Under stress you tense your muscles. After prolonged tension, you can experience headaches, back aches, and neck and jaw pain. Your breathing may be shallow or you can hyperventilate.
  • Chronic stress can lead to clinical anxiety, depression, drug abuse, alcoholism, an eating disorder, and a plethora of other psychiatric conditions.

Here are some tips for cleaning out your emotional closet. Visualize a large garbage bag. You’re going to fill the bag with outdated, useless emotions.

  1. It no longer fits. Emotions (such as resentment, bitterness, and anger) are like clothes that no longer fit, are worn out, or outdated. You’ve been hanging onto them; yet they serve no useful purpose anymore. Throw them out! Visualize what caused the emotions. Then think of the emotions as an ugly coat or dress on a rusting, wire hanger. Then imagine yourself throwing the emotions into that large garbage bag.
  2. You haven’t worn it in years. These are emotions that lurk around your psyche then come up and bite you. Typically, it’s some old childhood grudge or habit. You were the baby in the family and always got left out of decision-making to which you responded by having a tantrum. At work, when you found out that you were not invited to an important office meeting, your blood pressure started to rise and you became furious. Why? Maybe you’re reliving your experience of being excluded when you were five years old. Maybe your expertise wasn’t needed. You’re no longer five, and the managers are not your older siblings. You need to throw this grudge into the garbage bag.
  3. Do I like myself wearing this? As adults, we all have our childish moments. We want things our way and we want them NOW. But, being childish is for children. As an adult, do you like yourself when you’re wearing a petty, pouty, emotional dress? Probably not. Throw it out. Believe us, it doesn’t look good on you.
  4. Tidy up. Being constantly overwhelmed, “crazy-busy,” really means that you haven’t prioritized what’s important. Having too many obligations, let alone having to meet them, causes emotional clutter. Tidy up. “Crazy busy” is no badge of honor. It’s a sign of disorganization.

Cleaning up the stress mess is vital. Long-term, ongoing stress is bad for your physical and emotional health. Much of our emotional stress comes from our reaction to people and events and not the stimulus itself. What this really means is that you CAN control how much stress mess you make. It’s up to you. You can continue to wear your old, unattractive, and somewhat smelly behaviors and thoughts, or you can throw out the habitual reactions or twisted thinking that has overtaken your closet with negative emotions and stress. Think about it—fresh vs. smelly, attractive vs. ugly, new vs. old and worn. It’s your choice to make. Happy spring cleaning.


National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) website at:


More from Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.
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More from Shoba Sreenivasan, Ph.D., and Linda E. Weinberger, Ph.D.
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