The TV show Hoarders depicts the extreme effects of refusing to let go of material goods and possessions. But as bad as physical clutter can be—clogging our closets, rooms and garages—emotional clutter may be more widespread and damaging.
Imagine, for a moment, what it would be like to hoard your worst memories, fears and anxieties until they blocked out the reality before you—even the good things? Many of us live like this because we can’t “see” the emotional clutter in the same way that we can see physical clutter.
Answer these questions to see if emotional clutter is getting in the way of your personal and professional fulfillment:
• Do family issues from the past constantly weigh you down or distract you from the present?
• Do you frequently worry about your finances, health, job, safety and other things you can’t control?
• Do relationship problems seem to repeat themselves, no matter how much you try to change?
• Does your daily routine leave you feeling exhausted, short-tempered and frustrated?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, then you are likely dealing with emotional clutter, and you are not alone. The American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America Survey” shows that 67% of all Americans suffer from either a physical or psychological symptom of stress. Stress, or emotional clutter, can be defined as “the inability to regulate one’s emotions and being unable to experience joy, deep fulfillment, and meaning.”
The power of kindness
Fortunately, the practice of kindness can override emotional clutter by developing powerful, positive connections with others. A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at how kindness and cooperative behavior work in a social network. According to researchers, a positive contribution caused by kind acts cascades and multiplies many times throughout the social network.
Kindness is more than just helping others; it shows you care at a deep level. That is why it builds connections with others that help you feel safer. It’s a potent medicine that actually regulates emotions, counters the stress response and strengthens the body’s immune system. For example, was there a recent time when you helped someone? Or when someone helped you? Think back on how you felt knowing that you had resources at your disposal. You can probably recall how compassionate support helped you deal with toxic stress and difficult life challenges.
Here’s an easy 4-step kindness de-cluttering practice from my book Clearing Emotional Clutter that can help you feel safe and centered throughout the day.
Do this practice each time you find your attention turning toward discontent, frustration, or any negative emotion—whether from the present moment or rooted in the past.
1) For one minute, recall in detail a moment or event when you shared a word of encouragement with another, or vice-versa. Even the smallest and most ordinary act of kindness counts. Let how nice it felt seep in to your whole being.
2) Rate your mood before and after this practice on a 1 to 5 scale, 1=low mood, 5=positive mood.
3) In the morning, set an intention to bring one new ordinary kindness into your world that day. Be open to when and how this could happen.
4) At the end of the day, write down your kindness and share these with others so you don’t forget.
Don’t underestimate kindness and how it can transform your life. Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote, “It is the history of our kindnesses that alone makes this world tolerable.” Spread kindness and watch as it scrubs away even the toughest clutter.
Donald Altman is the author of Clearing Emotional Clutter, One-Minute Mindfulness and several other books about mindfulness. He is known as America’s Mindfulness Coach and is a psychotherapist, and former Buddhist monk. He conducts mindful living and mindful eating workshops and retreats internationally and he has trained thousands of mental health therapists how to use mindfulness for depression, anxiety, pain and stress. Visit him online at www.mindfulpractices.com.
Based on the book Clearing Emotional Clutter ©2016 by Donald Altman. Printed with permission of New World Library. www.newworldlibrary.com