Many of us like to listen to soothing music or settle down in front of the TV after a long, stressful day to calm our weary minds. But what if you tried washing the dishes instead to calm your mind?
No, really. A new study published in the journal Mindfulness reports that dishwashing is a great way to relieve stress and it can actually boost mental well-being.
If you have already figured out that dishwashing can be a good activity for relaxation, there is now scientific proof that your least favorite chore might also be benefiting your mind.
“We hypothesized that, relative to a control condition, participants receiving mindful dishwashing instruction would evidence greater state mindfulness, attentional awareness, and positive affect, as well as reduce negative affect and lead to overestimations of time spent dishwashing,” wrote the study authors at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
After conducting their study, the researchers at Florida State University found that engaging in mindful dishwashing, which entails focusing on the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water and the feel of the dishes, can indeed trigger a positive state of mind.
How it works
“While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes. This means that while washing the dishes, one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes,” wrote the study authors. In other words, one should wash dishes mindfully.
Mindfulness is the practice of omitting negative or distracting thoughts to allow for complete awareness of one’s own feelings and senses in the present moment. It has been shown to relieve stress, reduce anxiety, lower risk for depression and contribute to improved sleep quality.
In this particular study, co-author Adam Hanley — a doctoral candidate in the College of Education’s Counseling and School Psychology Program at Florida State University — and colleagues set out to investigate whether a positive state of mind could be achieved through a simple day-to-day activity like dishwashing.
Hanley and team recruited 51 students in their early 20s for the study. Slightly over half of the subjects were provided with a 230-word passage to read that emphasized the sensory experience of dishwashing. The other half of participants, who acted as controls, read a similar-length passage that stressed proper dishwashing techniques. Both subject groups gave their interpretations of the reading in writing and verbally. Then each washed 18 clean dishes.
“I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being.” notes Hanley. Elsewhere, he says he was pleasantly surprised by the study results.
The study results
Positive and negative personality traits, psychological well-being and mindful state were assessed before and after the dishwashing exercise.
The researchers observed that nervous rating decreased by 27% in mindful dishwashing, while mental inspiration increased by 25%. Both changes were statistically significant and reflected a substantial experiential shift, said the researchers.
Moreover, mindful dishwashing heightened the sense of time pleasurably slowing down, wrote the researchers. On the other hand, the control group didn’t experience any benefits.
“Implications for these findings,” said the researchers, “are diverse and suggest that mindfulness as well as positive affect could be cultivated through intentionally engaging in a broad range of activities.”
What this means for you
Mindfulness coupled with household chores can make for a happier and less stressed you. “The sheer monotony and physical nature of washing-up, coupled with the sense of achievement gained from completing a simple act, makes us feel good,” says Dr. Aric Sigman, a researcher.
In fact, you don’t have to relinquish your automatic dishwasher if you don’t want to reap these benefits. You can get the same benefits of mindful dishwashing from nearly all neutral household activities when accomplished mindfully. That means mindfully raking the leaves in your backyard, vacuuming the floors in your house or even doing the laundry could be equally beneficial for your mind and body.
Even enjoying your morning cup of coffee mindfully, taking in the heat of the mug, smell of the roast and taste of the drink could be helpful. As would taking advantage of time in the shower — focusing on the way the water feels on your skin, the sound of the water hitting the tab and the smell of your bathing soap.
Turns out your mundane day-to-day activities and dreary household chores could actually be a lot more worthwhile than you thought.
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