Spring Cleaning + "Stress Pruning"

Article provided by Meghan O'Malley, LPC. Meghan is a transformational coach, licensed psychotherapist, personal growth junkie, mom, hip hop dancer, recovering perfectionist, and lover of this messy + human life experience.

Happy Spring! This winter has felt LONG (like never-ending long!), so I’m thrilled to see bulbs and buds pushing through the stubborn cold to usher us out of the season of cozy inward focus and into the season of creation, growth, and outward expansion.

In Chinese Medicine, they talk about how our growth process (and life) mirrors the seasons.

For years I have seen this very clearly with my clients. Winter is the time we are invited inward to get cozy with our authentic emotional experience and the shadow side of life – to reconnect with ourselves, our patterns, values and motivating beliefs. The idea is that if we honor this invitation (which is often not very sparkly or fun), we will be ready for a phase of clarity-based action and growth when spring arrives.

In our culture, we tend to be much more comfortable with “DO-ing” than “reflecting and BE-ing.”. We are a culture addicted to busy-ness. There is a pervasive story about how “doing” earns a sense of worthiness in the world, and if we stop this compulsive cycle of action and production, it can be a major threat to our identity. . . I mean those gold stars of recognition for being busy and important can feel SO good and SO validating of our importance. Believe me, I crushed it with the “gold star achiever plan” for years! And, I paid a price. . .

The problem is, that cycle of never-ending striving, pretending, “being fine” all of the time, distracting from discomfort, and constantly hustling for a sense of worthiness has a symptom. . . STRESS! Mental, emotional, and physical stress. We sometimes justify the madness by creating elaborate rules like “I can maintain this high stress job, rigid perfectionism and illusion that everything is OK, IF I also eat clean and fit in four workouts a week.” Our minds may be able to justify the seemingly critical nature of our obligations and over-doing, but our bodies are the ultimate truth tellers and our nervous systems suffer.

When we stay in the zone of stress for prolonged periods of time, it comes back to bite us in a variety of ways. We get chronic colds or injuries, we stay tired OR we can’t sleep, our minds are in a constant state of unrest, and we can forget what it feels like to be satisfied and truly at ease as we navigate life. Our bodies learn that stress is the norm and we can forget that there is another way. When we live in this state of stress, always trying to outrun the symptoms of it, we struggle to feel truly empowered in navigating and creating our lives. Simply put, our energy isn’t going to what we want, but is being drained by dealing with what we DON’T want.

What’s the answer to shifting this pattern?

Mindful awareness and enforcement of boundaries. Boundaries are actions that are rooted in honoring our needs. We have to spend time being curious about what we’re doing and why. From there, we can make empowered decisions from a place of our own truth about what works and what doesn’t. Just like our yards in the spring, we start pruning things that are taking away from growth, health and goals for overall well-being. Everyone’s process and pruning is a bit different, but there are some things to reflect on that can support clarity and movement toward a decrease in stress.

List the “shoulds” that are feeding your life and daily decisions.

Trust me, there are MANY! They come from our families of origin, they come from cultural “rules” about roles, gender, success, and we create many of our own to feel a sense of control as we navigate life. Take some time to make an exhaustive and HONEST list on paper of the “shoulds” that you carry (and yes, many of them will sound ridiculous, but that doesn’t mean we don’t buy into them, so list them and you can prune later).

Notice how many of these are based in a need to be seen by others in a certain way versus how many of them are rooted in your own values and well-being. Don’t beat yourself up about what you find here, just stay curious. Awareness creates empowered choice and many of these pressures are beneath consciousness until we stop to explore our “Why?”

Make another list of what is truly important to you.

This is where you list things like relationships, purpose, core values, and how you want your life to FEEL. Give yourself permission not to play by the conditioned “rules” here. Let your quirky truth and desires run free, and think essence over details.

For example, you may want to be very successful in growing your business and you may be attaching that to a specific financial outcome based on “shoulds.” There’s nothing wrong with that goal, but for this list get curious about your deeper WHY and go with something like “It is important for me to be successful in growing my business. . . (why?). . . in order to feed my sense of purpose/ to feel a positive impact on the world/ have funds to invest in health/ for enjoyment of life. . .” By doing this you will see that there are deeper values like enjoyment of life, and connection to life purpose that are actually feeding your outward goals and you can now view them as separate items of importance.

Code your lists.

Now go through your lists and code each item based on what you invest in it – time, energy, or money - and know that investing energy can mean that you aren’t actively DO-ing anything, but carrying a more internal pressure that nags at you (we all know that oh so brutal voice of the inner critic, right?). Many items on your list will require time, energy, AND money, while others will not. Stay curious and see what price you are paying for each. How does the investment fit with the amount you actually value each item?

Prune away!

Now that you see things more clearly, ask yourself what needs to be released, changed, or addressed so that you can use your resources more effectively – because regardless of how stubborn we may be, all of us only have a finite amount of energy and the same number of hours in a day. We can react to the external demands of life without questioning them or we can tune inward to make conscious choice about what truly serves us. If you really want to start seeing stress decrease, make a commitment to prune or address at least one of your energy drains each day to make space to invest in things that truly feed you and your values. It may take the form of having a conversation with someone in which you ask for what you need, it may be giving yourself permission NOT to do something, it may be the practice of shifting an old belief, it may be doing something you’ve been avoiding so that it doesn’t nag you daily, and it may simply take the form of consciously withholding time, money or energetic investment in an area of life that is feeding “shoulds” and isn’t serving your overall health.

THIS is the work of boundaries, and boundaries pave the way to creating a truly fulfilling and healthy life. I don’t pretend it’s easy, but I do promise that this humbling awareness + pruning practice will lead to greater health and lower stress in the long run. Your mind, body, and spirit will thank you and will blossom accordingly.

Interested in learning more about creating a life of fierce truth, fulfillment and love? Find out more about my work and current offerings at fierceloveway.com.

Meghan O’Malley, LPC

Meghan is a transformational coach, licensed psychotherapist, personal growth junkie, mom, hip hop dancer, recovering perfectionist, and lover of this messy + human life experience.

Learn more about Meghan by visiting fierceloveway.com

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