Why Stress Cleaning Actually Helps You Feel Better

When faced with existential dread, bust out the vacuum.

Have you ever found yourself responding to stress by suddenly cleaning your house? Maybe you procrastinated on your work to-do list because you suddenly just had to organize your closet, or maybe you found yourself deep cleaning behind the fridge rather than following up on some appointments you’re dreading.

Or maybe you’re even conscious of your stress, and you want your home to feel as calm as possible to offset that mental load. Either way, we all know it — and we probably all do it. Stress cleaning is a common phenomenon. But what is it, and why do we do it?

What is stress cleaning?

At a basic level, stress cleaning is cleaning... as a response to stress. (Sorry to state the obvious.) We might not be aware that we’re doing it, but I’m sure you can think of a time you have done it. There is actually some research to support a connection between cleaning and decreased anxiety. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America writes that the physical action of cleaning and the result — a cleaner home — helps reduce stress and anxiety. But ultimately, the feeling of stress relief you get from cleaning may be about control. Think about it: you may not be able to control everything in your life — but you can control your environment. And that can feel so dang good.

You could also think of stress cleaning as a way that we take negative thoughts and turn them into something productive and positive. So next time you’re feeling down in the dumps, take it out on the dust bunnies. The combination of getting your body moving and ending up with a cleaner home might just boost your mood.

Even if you think you dislike cleaning, your brain loves it. Cleaning actually decreases stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline and increases the reward hormone dopamine. So if you’re feeling checked out, cleaning might actually help.

The mindfulness element helps, too. By focusing on a particular task, you’re not worrying about anything else. Then, when you’ve finished, you can relax in an environment that’s safe, prepared and predictable.

But first, you have to do the cleaning.

How to make cleaning more manageable

A few tips:

  • Make a list. Structure and familiarity make us feel comfortable. It’s a lot easier to follow a familiar pattern than to do something new — especially when we’re not at our best. This is why we’re always stressing (no pun intended) the use of checklists and the importance of establishing routines. Once you’re already used to cleaning patterns, they come more easily.
  • Baby steps. When you divvy up your chores into bite-sized morsels, you can accomplish more and be overwhelmed less. If you keep on top of cleaning bit by bit, you’re making a big difference in the overall cleanliness of your house.
  • Routine. Start your day with a simple chore such as making your bed. You’ll feel better, more accomplished, and less anxious knowing that you’ve already completed that one chore. Plus, who doesn’t like the look of a made up bedspread? Making your bed in the morning will set you in motion for the rest of the day, casually checking chores off your list without even realizing that you’re doing them.

How to keep your home clean

Here are some tips for maintaining a less stressful home:

  • Establish a designated chill zone (and/or chill time of day)
    • It can be a nook, room, or even just a special chair in your home where you can go to not be bothered. It’s like putting yourself in time out, on purpose. But as a reward, not a punishment.
  • Use bins and baskets to organize necessary clutter
    • Have a designated spot for remote controls, change, cords, keys and miscellaneous items that tend to take over tables and counters.
  • Utilize natural lighting whenever possible
    • Yay, vitamin D! Sunlight is good for your health and your brain. Let it shine in!
  • Plants
    • What goes better with natural lighting than some actual nature? And if you’re worried about keeping them alive, there are plenty of low-maintenance options.
  • More art
    • Invest in some fun art or photos to hang on your walls. Colors and pretty scenery bring joy.
  • Embrace neutral tones and calming colors
    • Save the bright colors for accents, and try on some greens and blues for size. Also, earth tones are generally soothing to the eye and mind.
  • Aromatherapy does wonders
    • A space that smells good feels cleaner. Even if you don’t have time to lift a finger, you can make your home feel calmer by introducing scents. We love the Febreze Plug — it comes it lots of different scents, including lavender, which is known to ease anxiety. The plug doesn’t just introduce a soothing scent, though. It also cleans away odors.

The connection between clean and calm

Spending time in a clean, uncluttered space is freeing. Sticking to a cleaning routine is also a specific type of mindfulness and ritual. Much like anything, through repetition, cleaning becomes a practice.

By setting small goals and sticking to checklists, you will overcome small challenges daily and weekly. This boosts confidence, allowing you to clear your mind and take a brief break from your bigger worries by focusing on the manageable and tangible tasks at hand.

Plus, cleaning is predictable. You know how it’s going to end, which is comforting to your brain. And if things do get messy, you can always channel that stress into cleaning.

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