How Our Mental Health is Affected by Our Home Clutter

Living in cluttered disorganized environments can cause chronic stress leading to many negative health related consequences. Cortisol, sometimes known as the stress hormone, is a chemical that helps regulate the way our bodies react to stress. “It’s a hormone that connects the mind and the body together,” said Martin Picard, an associate professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University. 

Gregory Fricchione, the associate chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. We function best when we have the right balance of cortisol. “Our bodies are this harmonic unit,” Dr. Fogelman said.

But chronic stress can elevate our baseline cortisol levels over time, leading to a cascade of consequences. Persistently high cortisol levels may weaken the immune system, Dr. Fricchione said, as well as raise blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Elevated levels of cortisol

“Cortisol is your friend,” Dr. Fricchione said, “until there’s too much of it.” Cortisol is the stress hormone that surges and causes all the symptoms we associate with “fight or flight”. This hormone is produced by your adrenal glands. Think of cortisol as your body’s built-in alarm system.

Cortisol is also responsible for:

Regulating of blood sugar
Reducing inflammation
Regulating metabolism
Managing how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
Regulating blood pressure
Controlling sleep cycles
Boosting energy, so you can handle stress, and restores the balance afterward

Being in fight or flight mode all the time causes our bodies regulators to go haywire. This has an oversized negative effect on our bodies. Having learned all this I am certain years of living with high stress have contributed to my faulty immune system. This is so evident to me now. I am so glad I learned how to tone down the stress.

This is not always an easy task for this type A lady because maintaining lower stress levels takes time. Proper breathing is a life saver for me because I have trained myself to stop and breathe correctly throughout my day. Most of us don’t use our breath to its maximum benefits and this is relatively simple to correct. Cortisol levels are important and messy homes and cluttered minds contribute to high cortisol levels.

What’s the right amount of cortisol?

Our brains can sense if we have the right amount of cortisol in our blood. If the levels are too low, the brain sends signals out to produce more. For example, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down digestive and reproductive systems that are getting in the way. It’s also responsible for injecting more glucose into your brain.

The correlation between clutter and elevated cortisol

Cortisol levels are at their highest first thing in the morning, within the first hour of awakening, declining significantly over morning hours, then tapering off throughout the rest of the day before going all the way down before we go to sleep at night. One study concluded that perceiving one’s home as cluttered or unfinished could directly trigger stress reactions and depressed mood, whereas viewing the home as your comfortable and inviting nest might alleviate negative states.

Cortisol levels are generally higher when we wake.

I read an interesting study from the researchers Darby E. Saxe and Rena Repetti This study analyzed 30 middle-class dual-income families living in a large U.S. city. Data was collected through videotaping, physiological questionnaires, and saliva sampling to test cortisol levels throughout each day.

Wives who described their homes as cluttered and more stressful had flatter slopes of cortisol throughout the day, an indicator of chronic stress and all of the other health problems associated with it. These women stalled returning home at days end because they did not want to deal with their clutter! They interpreted their clutter as unfinished business and found it very stressful. This environment is not conducive to relaxation.

The flip side of the coin is the wives that described their homes as restorative clutter-free environments had steeper cortisol level slopes. These ladies could relax just fine the study showed.

Mens cortisol levels did not show the same evidence their wives did. Not too surprising wink wink. Women feel more shame, frustration and guilt about living in a cluttered environment.

How cortisol disrupts our focus

When are cortisol levels are moderate, not high or low, we are in ‘the zone’. When all around us is chaos and mayhem our cortisol levels are increased. Productivity, efficiency and problem solving are relatively easy.

High cortisol levels indicate high stress levels

When cortisol levels are high our stress levels are high. I don’t know about you, I cannot work under stressful conditions. I can’t think when there is too much visual stimuli around. My living quarters, including the area I write, are void of all clutter.

This just happened to me

Just today when I sat down to write I saw a couple of bills I had put on my desk that needed to be paid. I had to pay the bills and cross that off the list before I could focus on the task at hand; because I found it distracting. For a moment I thought – just stick the bills in a drawer so I don’t have to look at them, when I realized it will be much easier to just slow down, take a deep breath, and spend the extra minute to pay the bills. This way it will be done! If I had put the bills out of sight I may have forgotten to pay the bills on time. See it all starts with clutter!

Other negative effects of clutter

Here are just few more of the many adverse effects of having too much clutter in your environment

More clutter equals more dust. This affects our respiratory systems.
Indecisive behaviors and procrastination often go hand in hand with cluttered spaces.
Too much clutter can trigger negative coping and avoidance strategies like eating junk food, oversleeping and other forms of procrastination.
Of course there are the obvious examples too like never being able to easily find what you are looking for!

Are you motivated?

If you are looking around and feeling overwhelmed I hope you will feel motivated to take even one small action today.
This can be as simple as reaching over to the first object you touch and asking yourself if you really need this item. Either toss or keep this object. If you choose to keep the item find an organized way to store item. Maybe an easy place to start is your desk top!

Marj pic

Marj Bates is a life long ridiculously organized declutterer and artist. Less is more are words Marj lives by in everything she does except collecting dogs. “Dogs are like potato chips! Can’t have just one.” says Marj. Marj wonders if growing up with a fanatically clean Jewish mom means her decluttering and organizational skills are in her blood.

For more Declutter Buzz & Freebies check out our safe and private Decluttering community on our Facebook page. We are a safe and private space of like minded folks tackling this all encompassing clutter thing once and for all. No shame allowed! We will have a few laughs too!

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