Mackay: Try a little spring cleaning for mental health

There’s an epidemic sweeping the country, and the cure is just outside the window. Spring fever is infecting folks from coast to coast, following the winter that wouldn’t end, with its record snowfalls and biting temperatures and the dreaded polar vortex.

And what would spring be without spring cleaning? We sweep out the cobwebs in the corners and clean out the garage. Pack up the boots and stow the winter blahs. It’s time for a fresh start.

Why confine that spring cleaning to the house? It’s the season for fresh thoughts and new starts. Forgotten all your New Year’s resolutions? Ready to actually turn over a new leaf? Then spring into action. A change of season is a perfect time for a change of attitude.

Start with the clutter around you. It’s hard to think straight when you are surrounded by a mess. Clear off your desk. Go through your e-mail and messages and deal with any outstanding business. Get organized and do it in a way that you can maintain on a daily basis. Once your environment is manageable, you can move on to the next step.

Now you are ready to tackle the tough stuff: your mind-set. Set aside some time — and it may take some time — to think about what you could do to make your situation better.

Maybe you have a bad habit that needs work. Giving up a vice is never easy, but you need to keep it in perspective. Is it holding you back from being healthy or happy? Then any amount of effort is worth it.

Get outdoors and breathe in fresh air. Spring is a great time to get into a routine of walking, running, biking, playing golf or tennis, or anything that gets you moving. Exercise is good not only for the body; it’s also great for your mind. It improves concentration and creativity. And the change of scenery has advantages too — nothing like a crisp, sunny day to brighten your outlook.

Spring is a great time to fix what needs fixing in anticipation for the coming season. What is your biggest fear? Think about how it messes with your mind. Write it down and then consider what you can do to conquer it. It isn’t necessary to climb Mount Everest to get over your fear of heights. And it’s helpful to remember that more than 90 percent of the things we worry about aren’t worth the concern because they never happen.

Maybe you are thinking about a job change or a move. That can’t happen without some research and planning. Spring represents hope for new beginnings — perhaps this spring is a good time to get the ball rolling. Think about the steps you need to take. You may discover that changing your situation is not as difficult or as far out of reach as you imagined.

Freshen up your brain. Perhaps there are some classes that would help you in your career, or give you the satisfaction of learning something new and interesting. It’s like a fresh coat of paint for your attitude.

Are you familiar with the Zeigarnik effect? It is named after a Russian psychiatrist who discovered that a waiter could remember orders he had not served yet more easily than orders that were served. Further study showed that people are 90 percent more likely to remember tasks that are undone than those they completed. That makes sense to a degree, but it also causes tremendous stress rather than pride of accomplishment. There is always work to be done, but stop and smell the roses — or the crocuses and daffodils — occasionally.

Spring is also a time to turn your clock forward. Start thinking about how you can control your time better, rather than always reacting to others’ demands. Take charge of your schedule. If you can’t bring yourself to say “no,” learn how to say “later” or “I’ll think about it.” Your time is valuable — so valuable, you can’t put a price on it. And once it’s gone, it’s like snow melting when winter is over.

Mackay’s Moral: The best cure for spring fever is a sunny outlook.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.

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