Yes, doing the dishes can wipe away (some of) your anxiety
When you think of ways to relieve stress and anxiety, what do you think of? Getting a massage? Taking a nap? Maybe exercise? Usually cleaning isn’t the first thing that comes to mind, but it turns out that cleaning is actually very effective at reducing anxiety, and when we understand why, it makes a lot of sense.
Over the last three months, I have been dealing with more-than-usual anxiety due to a personal issue. My “normal” life which involves attending industry events, watching favorite TV shows, and socializing with friends is on hiatus while I solely juggle family responsibilities and work deadlines. And in the ultra-limited amount of free time that I’ve had these days, I’m not enjoying the stress-relieving activities that typically bring me a sense of peace, like napping, getting a Swedish massage, or doing the warrior pose on the yoga mat. Instead, I’ve been cleaning my home and not because my place resembles a war zone, but because the act of cleaning actually makes me feel good.
The Psychology Behind Cleaning!!
There’s some science behind the connection between cleaning and decreased anxiety, as well. A small study published in the journal Mindfulness found that participants who engaged in mindfully washing the dishes — meaning they took a moment to inhale the scent of the soap and to allow their skin to absorb the warmth of the water — reported a 27% reduction in nervousness, along with a 25% improvement in “mental inspiration
Temporary anxiety can lead to cleaning more meticulously, according to a 2015 study from University of Connecticut. Researchers theorized that people gravitate toward repetitive behaviors (such as cleaning) during times of stress. Why? It’s all about control.
“We want to be able to do something when we get anxious, and what we really want is to be in control and take action,” says Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You, in Life, Love, and All That You Do. “While there are times we have to accept some situations in life, we do not have to accept an untidy home.”
She further explains that “healthy anxiety” (anxiety that is not debilitating or stands in the way of one’s daily responsibilities) is a normal emotion that can be beneficial. “It grabs our attention to the things we care about the most,” Dr. Clark continues. “It’s energy being generated without an outlet. Anxiety can cause a lot of angst and unsettled feelings, yet it’s supposed to be motivating.
“In fact, she discusses the healing powers of cleaning with her patients. “When we look at our environment, we take it all in visually,” she says. “If we’re already dealing with a lot in our mind and now we’re looking at a lot [of dust or stuff] in our home or office space, it can make us feel stuck and bogged down.”
How Clutter Affects Your Brain!!
First of all, let’s picture a kitchen with dirty dishes in the sink and on the counter. How does that make you feel? It makes us feel a little stressed out just with the imaginary image in our head.
Now picture a clean kitchen. The counters are clean. The sink is empty. How does that make you feel? We feel relieved and happy, especially compared to the first image
In 2010, there was a study published in the “Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin” that showed a link between clutter and an increase in the stress hormone, cortisol. Women who lived in cluttered homes had higher levels of cortisol than women who did not live in cluttered homes.
Just living in clutter can cause stress. If we reduce or eliminate the clutter, our stress level goes down. That’s not the only reason cleaning is effective at relieving stress though.
If you’re experiencing stress or anxiety from a work, family, health or other situation, your brain wants to do something about it; to fix it. Sometimes there are things that we can’t fix, at least not right away. We have this built up extra energy from anxiety, and it can help to find a way to funnel that energy into something productive.
Cleaning gives you something to do, a way to burn off some of that anxious energy. It also gives you a sense of accomplishment. You feel like you have control over something in your life (the clutter) which can lower anxiety levels.
Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, says, “We want to be able to do something when we get anxious, and what we really want is to be in control and take action.” As far as why cleaning works to lower anxiety, she adds that “you’re taking control of something that you can, but you’re also making your environment more soothing.”
Have you noticed your stress levels decrease when you clean your home?