Vitality

Mindfulness Meditation For Stress Relief: Why Cleaning Can Be So Relaxing (When Done Correctly)

Dish Washing Stress
Washing a few dishes and being aware of the smells and feelings involved in cleaning can reduce stress. Photo courtesy of Flickr, Eleazar

Soaps and suds coat a dishwasher’s hands while his mind lapses into a state of calmness, according to a new study published in the journal Mindfulness. Researchers from Florida State University studied people as they washed dishes and found there’s a trick to turning it into a stress reliever. The findings demonstrate how a simple household chore can ease the mind.

Researchers studied 51 college students to wash dishes. Before the cleaning began, each participant read a brief dish washing passage written by Thich Nhat Hanh, a poet-writing Buddhist monk who advocates for peace. They were told to really smell the soap and sense the water temperature.

“While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes,” Hanh wrote. “At first glance, that might seem a little silly. Why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that’s precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing is a wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.”

Hanh’s passage instructed the reader to explore mindfulness through a mundane everyday activity, ultimately transforming it into a calming stress reliever. Students who didn’t read the passage and washed the dishes without being attuned to their senses were unable to reap the benefits of stress relief.

By immersing themselves in the experience of washing dishes, they were practicing stress-reducing mindfulness, a Buddhist practice that has been known to treat patients with stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Mindfulness-based stress reduction was adapted as a treatment routine in 1979 and has been implemented in over 250 hospitals across the United States.

According to the American Psychological Association, America is a stressed out nation, with 47 percent of adults reporting they’re concerned with the amount of stress in their lives. Turning a chore into a way to reduce levels of stress, or at least stopping them from capsizing a person’s mental health, can prove beneficial over time.

"It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness," the study’s author wrote. Entering into a state of mindfulness allowed the participants to increase inspiration, decrease nervousness, and overestimate how long they were washing the dishes. Researchers believe this could be implemented into other seemingly mundane and routine household chores so long as they practice mindfulness as they clean.

Source: Garland EL, Hanley AW, Warner AR, Dehili VM, and Canto AI. Washing Dishes to Wash the Dishes: Brief Instruction in an Informal Mindfulness Practice. Mindfulness. 2015. 

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