Washing the Dishes May Help Relieve Stress, According to Science

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Dishes stress me out. Usually because as I’m flinging oatmeal bowls at my children and panic-cooking pork shoulder for tomorrow’s work potluck while defrosting fish for dinner, all I see is the mess I’m making and the chores someone will have to do later. And by someone, I mostly mean my husband. But it turns out, if I’m creating all that stress, maybe I should be doing the dishes, too, in order to actually relieve the stress.

A new study from Florida State University has found that mindfully washing dishes could be shown to relieve stress, reports Southern Living. To be clear, this isn’t just tossing the bowls full of caked-on fried rice into the dishwasher. Researchers found that among the 51 students studied, the ones who read a passage on being mindful and mentally present for the task upped their inspiration by 25% and lowered their nervousness levels by 27%. The group that did not read about how to mindfully wash dishes showed no such changes.

The paragraph they read starts out, “While washing the dishes one should only be washing dishes,” and continues on to explain how to be fully present and focused totally on the task at hand. “Why put so much stress on a simple thing?” it asks. “That’s precisely the point.” It instructs dishwashers to consider what they are doing their “wondrous reality,” and to be completely themselves, following their breath.

Adam Hanley, the author of the study and a doctoral student at FSU, was most interested in looking at how the mundane activities of life could be done mindfully. And, though it’s a fairly small study, it seems promising that if you approach even an everyday activity — like washing dishes — with focus, intention, and care, that it can be used to reduce stress. It also seems like a great response the next time your spouse tells you they are too stressed out to help with the dishes.