Many individuals experience anxiety when they think about starting an organizing project. They might worry about how large the project is or how to get started. One's heart may thump at the fear of letting go of possessions or remembering past failed attempts. The project may have been delayed long enough that it now has more urgency and has grown in complexity.
Some clients feel anxious before we get started, especially if it is their first time working with a professional organizer. Generally, their anxiety diminishes as we get to work, and they learn what to expect from the process. The simple act of getting into motion can reduce stress.
Sometimes difficult emotions can bubble up at the sight of a long-forgotten object. I will prompt the individual with specific questions, we will chat about options, and they will decide the best course of action. If stress is high enough, I might offer to guide them through a breathing exercise to reduce anxiety so that they can more easily make that decision.
There is a lot of science behind the benefits of this type of practice. Intentionally breathing in specific patterns will force the nervous system to calm down. It does this by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system, and then our bodies have no choice but to tamp down the fight or flight response. You can watch this happen in real time with biofeedback from a smartwatch; it is pretty nifty. Clients report lowered stress levels after a few rounds of particular breathing exercises with me.
We need an easily recalled practice when amygdala hijacking occurs. If we can access the method at that moment, then accessing rational thought in the prefrontal cortex becomes easier. For me, Dr. Andrew Weil’s 4-7-8 breath fits the bill. With practice, the 4-7-8 breath can be simple to remember:
Additionally, I've read that exhaling longer than inhaling aids relaxation. I have anecdotally found this to be true. You can learn more about the reasoning from Dr. Andrew Huberman, a Stanford neuroscientist.
There are many other breathing techniques as well, such as the box breath:
The fewer numbers I have to remember in a moment of stress, the better, but I have heard about this breath frequently enough that it warrants exploration.
Recently, I learned about a breathing exercise that Dr. Huberman dubs the "physiological sigh" or "cyclic sighing." It consists of:
I have not practiced this more than a few times, but it has the same amount of steps as the 4-7-8 breath.
Overall, I find that regularly practicing a breathing exercise means that it is more likely to be remembered and used in a moment of stress. If you have heart or lung issues, check with your doctor before engaging in these exercises. Also, ensure you refrain from repeating to the point of feeling lightheaded.
In some instances, the anxiety can be overwhelming. Sometimes it can occur frequently enough or at such an intense level that the organizing process comes to a screeching halt. If you find this to be the case, I urge you to consider working with a mental health professional to address the anxiety and manage its symptoms. Another option is to join a decluttering support group such as Buried in Treasures or Clutterers Anonymous. Once you feel less anxious, the work will continue with less angst and more ease, and you will most likely make more progress.
Reducing stress and anxiety can make the organizing process much more manageable. You may find decluttering enjoyable with practice, as some of my clients have. No guarantees, of course, but regardless of whether you engage in a breathing exercise or work with a mental health professional to reduce anxiety, you will improve your odds of decluttering success.
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Author: Judith Dold
Musings from yours truly about all things organizing.