It’s no secret that the Coronavirus pandemic has skyrocketed rates of anxiety, stress and depression. According to the Office of National Statistics (ONS), the equivalent of 19million adults in Great Britain reported higher levels of anxiety during the first national lockdown.
At the same time, the average amount of hours both men and women put into household services, such as cleaning, also increased. While this may be down to boredom, extra time or simply being in the house more, you can’t help but wonder about cleaning and anxiety’s relationship with one another.
Is it healthy or turbulent? Can cleaning actually soothe feelings of mental anguish? If so, why can de-cluttering and cleaning your house evoke feelings of stress? At HomeHero, our guess is that it’s not the act of cleaning that’s good for anxiety — but repetition is. Sound interesting? Stick around, and HomeHero will let you in on some of our thoughts…
But…Cleaning is good for anxiety
Every great argument needs to look at the opposing facts — and the fact is that cleaning can be useful for anxiety. For some time now, psychologists have boasted the benefits of living in a clean, de-cluttered space.
‘On a subconscious level, clutter is likely to be linked with negative emotions, such as confusion, tension and worry’, explains psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter. ‘On the other hand, a clean space is more likely to be linked with positive emotions like happiness, calm and sense of wellbeing’.
Multiple studies support this idea, as the Princeton Neuroscience Institute discovered that in disorganised spaces, people are more stressed, irritated and less productive.
So, we may find that washing the dishes or vacuuming the floors helps soothe our inner turmoil. For dishwashing, in particular, a small study found that participants who mindfully washed their dishes reported a 27% reduction in nervousness.
Taking time to inhale the scent of the soap and feel the warmth of the water on their hands were key factors, which also lead to a 25% improvement in ‘mental inspiration’.
This is similar to those who love doing the laundry; the gentle swooshing of the washer or tumble dryer and the aroma of laundry detergent can be like little nuggets of happiness. So, when our senses are involved, cleaning may temporarily relieve anxiety and promote relaxation.
It’s A Fine Line
But — and it’s a very big but — cleaning to relieve anxiety treads a very fine line between being healthy and obsessive. The recent study conducted by ONS also found that 39% of people who are married or in civil partnerships reported high levels of anxiety during the first national lockdown — a 20% increase from the previous year.
As studies prove that high levels of anxiety provoke obsessive cleaning, these figures come at a concern — after all, we are in a pandemic. With the fear of contamination riddling through society, those predisposed to mental health problems such as Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) may be suffering from their anxiety and its relationship with cleaning.
Cleaning can also be damaging towards our general well-being, as it can take up a lot of time. This increase in unpaid labour can have detrimental effects on other areas of our lives, such as careers and relationships.
However, this isn’t to discredit the benefits of having a clean, clutter-free home environment. But to ensure we’re getting the best of both worlds; it can be helpful to view our homes as a service. Outsourcing cleaners can be wholly beneficial, as it not only gives us a professional, deep-clean of our homes, but it’ll also save us time for the things that matter most.
It’s All About REPETITION
But let’s get back to the point — repetition is what’s helpful for when we’re feeling anxious. Why? Because engaging in repetitive behaviours is not only a means of control, but it also helps to balance the mind and body.
We, humans, are creatures of routine. They are what gives us structure and meaning. ‘Repetitive behaviour and rituals can be very effective in increasing focus and reducing stress’, says Dr Jill Owen, a chartered psychologist with The British Psychological Society.
‘Focusing on something relatively unobtrusive, specific routine before a moment of pressure can concentrate the mind and avoid anxious or de-motivating thoughts’, she says.
So, while repetitive tasks do not require much thought, they allow us to concentrate on physical actions which, in turn, allows our minds to let go of or reduce the intensity of troublesome thoughts. Squeezing stress balls or continuously throwing and catching a tennis ball up are all examples of repetitive tasks that can help achieve this.
Healthy Repetitive Tasks
While these tasks can be great for reducing anxiety levels, a problem may occur if we suggest replacing cleaning with them. If we’re going to do a repetitive action, why not kill two birds with one stone and get on with the chores, providing it doesn’t take up hours of our free time?
The truth is, cleaning is just a quick fix. The dishes get dirty again, the floor will need vacuuming tomorrow, and that shirt will need to be ironed a thousand other times in life. Having done it previously doesn’t help to deal with our anxiety or negative emotions permanently.
To alleviate this, we suggest implementing repetitive tasks that have no negative consequences but can also have productive long-lasting positive effects. Take fitness, for example. Doing reps or going on the same walk each day can do wonders for our well-being, boosting our endorphins and stopping anxiety right in its tracks — as well as getting us to our fitness goals.
Humans also operate from repetitive thought patterns. So, taking the time to challenge deep-rooted, negative thought structures by practising daily meditation or journaling can also help soothe the anxieties you feel in the present, and help us grow as a person.
In repeatedly exposing ourselves to these new habits or concepts, we can gradually un-do negative thoughts that we’ve grown so used to and replace them with productive, positive ones.
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