When we talk about making healthier homes, we may consider reducing household chemicals, using sunlight to our advantage, or choosing better foods to stock the pantry. But we all have one place we live that’s even more intimate than our physical spaces — our own minds. Our minds are our most fundamental homes, and our lives are shaped by the environments we create through our thoughts and perspectives. While there are certainly benefits to clearing physical clutter, clearing clutter from our mental/emotional environments is even more critical to our health.
Although mental health issues affect people of all genders, studies find that women suffer disproportionately to men in many measures of mental health. According to Psychology Today, 10 percent of women suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, as compared with 4 percent of men, often related to physical or sexual assault or abuse. Women suffer more from anxiety (31 percent compared with 19 percent of men) and depression (12 percent versus 6 percent), as well. And, because our bodies and minds are parts of an interconnected system, stress, anxiety and depression are also linked with physical health. Chronic stress can suppress the immune, digestive, sleep and reproductive systems. It also harms our families. In polls compiled by the American Psychological Association, 69 percent of parents say their stress has only a slight or no impact on their children, while only 14 percent of youths say their parents’ stress doesn’t bother them.
Of course, we regularly cover ways to manage mental health in this magazine: Getting daily physical exercise, practicing yoga or tai chi, meditation, gratitude journals and spending time in nature are all scientifically proven to reduce stress, anxiety and depression levels. It’s also important to consider the kind of environment we create for ourselves within our minds. “Self-talk” is the term psychologists use to describe the messages we tell ourselves with our minds. Negative messages may include criticizing ourselves for our appearance, blaming ourselves when bad things happen, or not believing in our own abilities. Other negative self-talk habits include polarization, meaning we see situations as successes or failures, with no in between; or believing others are judging us and our activities much more or more harshly than they really are.
Most of us remember the “Saturday Night Live” character Stuart Smalley’s “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and, doggone it, people like me” self-affirmations, but self-talk isn’t a joke: Some neuroscientists believe we can use self-talk as a tool to rewire our internal environments. While the study of how self-talk influences our lived realities is still in its infancy, scientists are starting to discover the ways we can quite literally reshape our experience of the world using our thoughts. In a few studies, for example, researchers have found that, put into a stressful situation, people are more likely to give themselves words of encouragement if they speak to themselves in the third person (“You can do it, Jessica!”) than using the term “I” (“There’s no way I can do this.”). The hypothesis is that it’s easier to be kind to others than to be kind to ourselves, and speaking in the third person creates a kind of distance between ourselves and our thoughts.
So remember, we don’t just create the homes we want by decluttering and decorating. We shape the world in which we live each day by the ways we think about and speak to ourselves. It’s worth it to make sure the most intimate spaces we design for ourselves — our minds — are the kind of safe, positive and healthy homes we deserve.
Photo by Adobe Stock/esolla
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