What’s in your attic?

Kari Swanson

How often do you clean your attic? How often do you go up those creaky stairs and just look at all the stuff accumulated up there? Overwhelming? Frustrating? Do you just turn around and go back downstairs and close the door to not look at it again for another 6 months or a year?

I often compare our brains to attics. We have a lot of stuff stored up there, memories, junk, treasured trinkets and lots of things we have outgrown either from childhood or as recent as last year. It is important to clean out our brains too. Why? Because our brains, our thoughts, are directly correlated to our feelings. If we continue to hold on to things from the past that no longer fit us or that hurt us guess what? They are going to continue to no longer fit us and hurt us. Throw it out. Sounds easy. I know it isn’t.

How many times do you beat yourself up for something you did in the past and wish the situation were different? How many times do you relive negative things someone said to you or did to you? How many times do you see someone and continue to hold that grudge? How many times do you let the attic of your brain/thoughts control the rest of the house/you?

One of my favorite Dr. Phil questions is “How is that working for you?” I will many times, find myself, knee deep in my “attic” and will ask myself “how is this working for you Kari?” This question has a strong way of snapping me out of my thoughts and bringing me back to reality. I’m all about mantras, and this Dr. Phil question has become one of my many mantras to help me not get stuck in the past or in anger or in self-pity.

I have seen many people in my years of mental health that struggle because they insist on holding onto things that no longer have a place in their life. They struggle to let go of some things, even if those things continue to hurt them. Holding onto grudges, upsets, resentments, past failures do not work for anyone. We need to move forward. If the answer to the question of “how is that working for you?” is “it’s not”, throw it away and move on. If the answer is “I’ve learned from it, I’m stronger because of it, etc” then you can mark that as serving its purpose and move on too. Everything we have gone through is part of our story, but single events cannot and do not define us. If the things you are holding onto are causing anger, depression, anxiety, difficulties in relationships, then let me ask you, how is that working for you?

I’m a big one on visuals. If this is a hard topic for you take out a piece of paper and start an inventory of your “attic” (not your real attic) but the things you are holding onto that may be able to be let go. Beside each one write what purpose it is currently serving you. Why are you keeping it? How is it working for you? Be honest. If the purpose is keeping you angry at someone because you aren’t ready to forgive them, then write that. If you cannot answer these questions positively then it is probably time to figure out how to get rid of it. We have a tendency to weigh our own selves down with things we don’t need to deal with any longer. As such, we begin to experience fatigue, depression, and anxiety because our brains are working overtime trying to make sense of things that no longer serve a purpose to us but we continue to keep them in our attic. As such our performances at work suffer, our personal relationships suffer and our physical well-being suffers too. We have the power to decide what we will continue to keep and what we ultimately need to get rid of in order to better ourselves. Take inventory of your attic frequently, especially if you experience the symptoms mentioned above.

Kari Swanson is a Master’s level clinician with 25 years of working in the mental health field. She is the founder of CORE–Choosing Openness Regarding Experiences which is a non-profit organization with the mission to provide mental health awareness and suicide prevention education to Warren County.