Feeling stressed? Choose this chore for relaxation

Feeling stressed?  Choose this chore for relaxation

A new study found washing dishes mindfully is a stress reliever.

Maybe this is one household argument you shouldn’t try to win.  A new study has found that washing dishes mindfully is an effective stress buster.

Just in case you had started to think the dishwasher was a modern miracle, a group of scientists at Florida State University ran a study to see if the everyday activity of washing dishes by hand could be good for your mental well-being.  As IOL Beta reports, the scientists recruited 51 students, all undergraduates.  They were divided into two groups.  One, the control group, read a 230 word passage on proper dishwashing techniques.  The other read a similar length passage on the sensory aspects of dishwashing and the mindfulness of the experience.

Each group then washed 18 plates.  After the task was completed, both groups completed assessment measures of mindfulness, affect, and experiential recall.  The tasks showed that control group had no change in their feelings.  The mindful group, however, had a drop in nervousness of 27% and an increase in inspiration of 25%.

Mindfulness is a a state of being present in the present moment with open attention.  It involves observing your own feelings without judgement of good or bad and focusing on living in the present without going into “autopilot.”

Mindfulness is a common meditation technique and goal.  Many feel the current stress epidemic among adults is due to the pace and distraction level of modern life, with people feeling obliged to move from task to task with no pause or time to reflect. This not only reflects in emotional well-being but can have effects on physical health.

Research has shown increased stress links to not only increased depression and decreased sleep but also more tangible health conditions.  Heart disease, Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, and decreased fertility are among the health problems linked to high levels of stress.

As reported by Medical News Today, a new study out of Harvard Business School and Stanford University found work stress to be one of the highest causes of stress in the American adult.  The research indicated that people with high work stresses were 50% more likely to be diagnosed with a medical condition.  Long work hours were correlated with a 20% increased risk of mortality.  On the other hand, job insecurity was linked to a 50% increased risk of decreased physical and mental health.

The study likened work stress’s health effects to those of second-hand smoke.

Meditation and mindfulness are mental antidotes to this reality.  Those who practice mindfulness focus on specific activity or task in order to calm their mind and decrease stress.  Breathing techniques are common training exercises to “turn off” the stress mechanism and be in the present moment.

For those unused to meditation, it turns out a simple household chore may be a gateway into practicing mindfulness.  As quoted in NDTV, Adam Hanley, one of the authors of the study out of Florida State, explained the research’s focus on dishwashing.

“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,” he said.

In other words, the team was interested in how a seemingly boring or exasperating daily task could be an opportunity for mindfulness.  Of course, simply completing the task thoughtlessly is not sufficient.  The researchers felt the setup for the task, in which half the group read a essay on the mindfulness of dishwashing, was essential for the benefits.

“We hypothesised that,” the team wrote, “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.”

Again, it was not so much the doing of the task as it was doing it mindfully and with awareness of the experience.

The research opens new avenues of study for the power of the meditative effect.  While many people assume meditation must be done in a formal setting, this study indicates it can be done simply and during part of your everyday routine.  Tasks that may seem mundane, such as vacuuming or dusting the tables, may be another way to find mindfulness.

So, the next time you get stuck with dish duty, see it as an opportunity for mental well-being.



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