“Cleaning puts us in the present. A simple task like washing a dish allows us to focus in the moment, which in turn, reduces stress.”
Take a mindful approach to your mundane tasks
Who can blame you for not wanting to do your chores? Laborers and poets alike have been lamenting the tedium of toil for centuries. However, new research published in the journal Mindfulness, finds that chores can relieve stress and have a positive impact on your mood.
In the study, 51 participants read a meditation on mindfully washing dishes by renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, before they washed 18 dishes. Afterwards, participants reported a 27 percent decrease in nervous affect –otherwise known as anxiety – and a 25 percent increase in positive affect.
Lead researcher Adam Hanley, a graduate student at FSU, explains, “Positive affect came in the form of inspiration and generally feeling more optimistic.” In an interview with Rewire Me, Hanley says he was surprised at the results.
He designed the experiment when he realized that his 91 year-old grandmother always enjoys washing dishes at big family gatherings, while he does not. “I was curious at the contrast in our experiences, and thought, how can I make this more enjoyable?” Also inspired by Buddhism, he adds, “This idea of informal practice is really important, and maybe there’s something applicable in our fast-paced lives, ways to carve out in our daily lives to be mindful.”
Take the chore out of tasks
Mindfulness is the act of paying focused attention to a task at hand, with curiosity and without judgment. Its stress-reducing effects are backed by science. Aimee Bernstein, President of Open Mind Adventures, says, “Research shows that mindfulness keeps the brain healthy, supports self- awareness, emotional self-regulation, effective decision-making and reduces stress. It also increases compassion and a sense of inner balance and joy.”
Though the FSU study only looks at dishwashing, Hanley believes the stress-reducing effects can translate to other chores. “Folding the clothes is a meditation for some,” he says. “One of my friend’s dads says picking weeds is very centering. It’s possible to approach those tasks that are less intrinsically fun, and shift that experience.”
Change your perspective
Many of our attitudes toward our chores are habitual, and can be changed consciously.
Perhaps the first place to start is to change the way we think of our chores. Bernstein recounts the words of her Aikido teacher: “He said, ‘How you go in is how you go out.’ When you change your attitude towards the chore as if you were changing TV channels from soap operas to the Discovery Channel, you allow a different experience.”
Focus, rather than multitask
You can undertake your chores mindfully at any time, but the key to reaping its benefits is to focus. Dr Carla Naumburg, author of Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness With Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family, says, “Decide to do just one thing at a time.”
“Pay attention to whatever you’re doing – washing dishes, folding laundry, vacuuming, etc. – and each time you notice yourself feeling annoyed, bored, irritated, whatever, try to just let those thoughts go. You may have to go through this cycle multiple times. That’s okay. That’s the practice,” she tells Rewire Me.
She emphasizes that multitasking may actually be contributing to our stress. “Even if we think we’re making the experience more enjoyable by watching TV or talking on the phone, chances are we’re actually increasing our stress levels, even if we don’t realize it.”
Make a practice
Chores fall into that category of things that aren’t likely to change much. The mindful approach is to make chores into a practice – something you do for the sake of the thing, with no larger goal.
“A lot of folks end up feeling frustrated when they haven’t been mindful,” Naumberg says. “The point of mindfulness isn’t to be mindful all the time; it’s to notice when we’ve spaced out, and then make a choice to bring our attention back to whatever we are doing. Most of us do that over and over again in the course of a day. That’s not failure; that’s the practice.”
The luck of the chore
If you’re stuck on the discomfort or obligation of your chores, consider your good fortune instead. Leza Lowitz, author of 17 books and yoga studio owner, says, “Most of us have a lot to be grateful for.”
If you still struggle, Lowitz suggests doing your chores for the good of those you love. “Rather than being annoyed at having to do a household chore, a mindful approach would be to think of how it might help someone, and then do it with thoughts of generosity and love. For example, ‘It will give him energy and strength. It will make him happy,’ or ‘I’m doing the laundry, so my family can have clean clothes to go to work and school in.’”
These approaches are perfect for the already busy, over-stressed person, and can help turn a loathed task into a mindful stress-buster.