Spring cleaning for your mind, body and spirit

March 28, 2011

There’s nothing like those first few warm, breezy days in March and the sight of newly budding flowers to lighten your mood, brighten your outlook and inspire plans to scrub, scour, purge and dust your abode. But this year, after yet another long, cold winter of stockpiling comfort food, conserving energy on the couch and more or less hibernating, I’m determined that the change of seasons should also serve as an impetus to spring-clean my entire life, not only my refrigerator and closets.

This urge to renew and rejuvenate is a normal, natural instinct, says clinical psychologist Robin Haight, who practices in Tysons Corner. “All living beings have this time of regeneration in the spring, when we’re coming out of winter dormancy and becoming more alive and active as the weather warms us and there is more light, which affects people more than they realize,” she explains. She adds that this is a much better time to take stock and make resolutions than at the end of the busy winter holiday season. “You can really set yourself up for success, when it comes to getting your life in order and making meaningful, lasting changes.”

In that spirit, I asked Haight and Karen Johnson, the associate chair of psychiatry at Washington Hospital Center, to offer some tips for springing into action and refreshing your home, body, mind and spirit. Here’s what they came up with:

Home

There’s nothing like being stuck indoors with small, messy children for what seems like a frigid eternity to convince you that it’s time for a deep cleaning. But in addition to aesthetics, there are proven health reasons for steam-cleaning carpets, airing out curtains and the like, says Johnson, noting that the benefits include preventing the spread of germs and keeping asthma and allergy symptoms at bay.

Clearing out clutter can also help make your environment a happier as well as a healthier place. “Getting organized can help you think straight and be more productive,” says Haight, who recommends putting away all trappings of winter such as cold-weather gear and then tackling the most out-of-control spaces, such as the kitchen junk drawer or the playroom. “Lightening your load also just feels good; it can definitely improve your mood.”

Body

I don’t know about you, but I find longer days, more sunlight and recurring nightmares about having to get into a bathing suit in just a few short weeks to be excellent motivation for a healthful eating and fitness regimen. Luckily, the bounty of fresh, seasonal produce soon to pop up at local farmers markets can help you eat better. And rising temperatures make it difficult to find an excuse not to run, bike, hike, play tennis or even just walk the dog out in the fresh air and sunshine, which can both liven up your exercise routine and lift your mood, says Johnson.

Perhaps if you’ve gained a few pounds this winter, you’re considering drastic measures, such as one of those highly publicized “cleanses,” where you limit whole categories of food and maybe drink some special concoction? Think again, says Johnson: “Many of these extreme cleanses are not healthy at all.” Instead, try small but meaningful changes, such as cutting out fast food, sugar, soda or highly processed foods, which can go further toward detoxing your diet for good.

Mind

One of the best and easiest ways to boost your mental health is by improviing your relationships, say experts. “It’s important to stay in touch with people who brighten your life and are a positive influence, rather than people with antagonistic spirits or who cause stress,” says Johnson, who recommends weeding out negative forces along with the crabgrass in your garden.

This is also a great time to focus on reconnecting with your spouse or partner. Johnson suggests making a date to formally air out your relationship, where you sit down together and communicate about issues ranging from finances and sex to future goals.

Haight recommends planning a vacation or even just an outing where you focus on nothing more than having fun with your partner. “Routine can be deadening to a relationship,” she explains. “It’s important to make certain you remember why you fell in love with each other and why you want to spend your life with this person.”

Haight also believes in the power of creating a spring and summer wish list, whether it’s on your own, with a partner or with the entire family. Start by brainstorming ideas to make the warmer months special: Do you want to scope out a new country? Plant tomatoes? Ride your bike more? Visit a particular museum or water park? Blow bubbles together in the back yard? If all of your dreams for the season are written down and posted on the fridge, it can be inspiring — “and a whole lot harder to ignore,” says the psychologist.

Soul

Even if you can’t get away for spring or summer break, it’s essential to take some time to relax and decompress, says Haight, who swears by “mini meditations” as a way to manage stress and stay focused. Spend a few minutes closing your eyes, clearing your mind and taking some deep breaths, she recommends, “and then visualize positive thoughts, and really allow the feelings associated with those thoughts to settle into your body.”

Last but not least, as you think about your personal plans for overall renovation, pick at least one activity that will help you look your best — whether it’s giving yourself a bright pedicure, getting a massage, buying some cute flip-flops or changing things up with a new haircut. “When people look good, they feel good,” says Johnson.

In that vein, my husband and I have just planned our first real childless getaway in many years, and I’m looking forward to renewing ourselves and our relationship by making time for adult conversation, playing tennis together, doing some yoga and getting a facial, for starters.

Have you spring-cleaned your own life successfully in the past? Let us know what worked for you in the comments section below.

There’s nothing like those first few warm, breezy days in March and the sight of newly budding flowers to lighten your mood, brighten your outlook and inspire plans to scrub, scour, purge and dust your abode. But this year, after yet another long, cold winter of stockpiling comfort food, conserving energy on the couch and more or less hibernating, I’m determined that the change of seasons should also serve as an impetus to spring-clean my entire life, not only my refrigerator and closets. ¶ This urge to renew and rejuvenate is a normal, natural instinct, says clinical psychologist Robin Haight, who practices in Tysons Corner. “All living beings have this time of regeneration in the spring, when we’re coming out of winter dormancy and becoming more alive and active as the weather warms us and there is more light, which affects people more than they realize,” she explains. She adds that this is a much better time to take stock and make resolutions than at the end of the busy winter holiday season. “You can really set yourself up for success, when it comes to getting your life in order and making meaningful, lasting changes.” ¶ In that spirit, I asked Haight and Karen Johnson, the associate chair of psychiatry at Washington Hospital Center, to offer some tips for springing into action and refreshing your home, body, mind and spirit. Here’s what they came up with:

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