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Washing dishes can help ease overworked minds

Mindfulness lessons coupled with housework can make for a happier person, a new study shows.
By Stephen Feller   |   Sept. 29, 2015 at 1:20 PM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Household chores are generally seen as a boring, sometimes inconvenient part of life, but researchers at Florida State University found doing the dishes can be used as an informal contemplative practice that eases the mind.

The researchers linked dishwashing to an opportunity for practicing mindfulness, a method of focusing attention on the emotions and thoughts of the present moment usually linked to the practice of some type of meditation.

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The idea is not totally new, as previous research has shown that chores -- specifically washing the dishes -- can be a good opportunity for relaxation.

"We hypothesized that, 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," researchers wrote in the study, published in the journal Mindfulness.

Fifty-one students were recruited by researchers for the study and split into two groups. Positive and negative aspects of personality and psychological well-being were evaluated before, as well as after, the participants washed dishes.

Just over half the students were asked to read a passage about mindfulness and the sensory experience of dishwashing -- the smell of the soap, the warmth of the water, the feel of the dishes -- and then asked to wash 18 clean dishes, while the rest of the participants went straight to work on the washing.

The dishwashers who'd been instructed in mindfulness saw their nervousness ratings decrease by 27 percent and mental inspiration increase by 25 percent, in addition to what the researchers describe as an "increase in mindfulness" after washing. The group that was not asked to read the passage showed no difference in their mental scores.

"Implications for these findings are diverse and suggest that mindfulness as well as positive affect could be cultivated through intentionally engaging in a broad range of activities," the researchers wrote.

The practice of mindfulness has been linked to overall well-being and mental health, including a study in 2003 that showed meditation and practicing mindfulness is valuable for reducing stress.

Research in 2002 by the British grocery chain Sainsbury's also found that household chores, specifically washing dishes at the end of the day, was beneficial for relaxation, though that study did not touch on the use of mindfulness.

"Ironically, washing-up, traditionally seen as a mindless, labor-intensive inconvenience, may act as an effective way of changing down a gear at the end of a hectic day," Dr. Aric Sigman, who conducted the study, told the Daily Mail. "The sheer monotony and physical nature of washing-up, coupled with the sense of achievement gained from completing a simple act, makes us feel good."

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