When done a particular way, washing dishes can reduce stress and boost your mood (yes, seriously).
Let’s be real, doing chores isn’t exactly a blast. Cleaning, vacuuming, and scrubbing the dreaded toilet may not sound pleasant, but as it turns out, at least one thing on your to-do list could be good for your mental health: doing the dishes. So long as it’s done the right way.
In one small study, researchers at Florida State University had 51 student participants wash dishes. No, this wasn’t just a way to get the kids to do some housework, but rather a way to understand how mindfulness affects everyday tasks.
Half of the participants were asked to wash the dishes after reading a short descriptive dishwashing passage. The other half were asked to perform the task after reading a passage on mindfulness. The mindfulness passage read in part:
"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. 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."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers concluded that participants who washed dishes in a more mindful way increased their feelings of inspiration by 25 percent and lowered their nervousness levels by 27 percent. Conversely, the group that simply washed the dishes didn’t gain any benefit from completing the task.
“It appears that an everyday activity approached with intentionality and awareness may enhance the state of mindfulness,” the study concludes.
“I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increased overall sense of well-being,” Adam Hanley, a doctoral candidate in FSU College of Education’s Counseling/School Psychology program the study’s author, shared in a statement.
So, how can you turn your dishwashing into a mental break? Do as the participants did by focusing on the good things involved in the task like the sweet smell of the soap, the warmth of the water on your hands, and the feel of the dishes passing through the water. Then, just stay present in these moments and take them as a glorious few minutes to be quiet with yourself. Who knows? You may start liking your chores after all.