Washing the dishes may not be the most desirable of house chores but those who do it mindfully can experience feelings of inspiration and reduced nervousness making the task an inexpensive option for stress relief.

Florida State University researchers wanted to find out if washing the dishes could promote mindfulness and improve emotional well-being so they divided 51 college students into two groups and asked them to wash the dishes.

Stress-reducing mindfulness is a Buddhist practice known to treat patients who experience chronic pain, anxiety, depression and stress.

"I was particularly interested in how the mundane activities in life could be used to promote a mindful state and, thus, increase overall sense of well-being," said study author Adam Hanley, from FSU.

Participants in one group engaged in mindful dishwashing, which involves really smelling the scent of the soap, focusing on the shape and feel of the dishes, and sensing the temperature of the water. They were assigned to read a passage on mindful dishwashing prior to the activity. The rest of the participants washed the dishes in a more traditional way.

The researchers found that the students who were engaged in mindful dishwashing experienced a 27 percent reduction in nervousness and a 25 percent increase in mental inspiration. Those who did not wash the dishes mindfully though, did not gain any benefit from the activity.

"Mindful dishwashers evidenced greater state mindfulness, increases in elements of positive affect (i.e., inspiration), decreases in elements of negative affect (i.e., nervousness), and overestimations of dishwashing time," the researchers wrote in their study, which was published this month in Mindfulness.

"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."

Figures from the American Psychological Association show that the U.S. is a stressed-out nation. Forty-seven percent of adults report that they are concerned about the amount of stress that they experience in life.

The study size was small and the results need to be replicated but it suggests that certain tasks can help reduce the level of stress. If left unchecked, stress can lead to a range of health issues such as high blood pressure, weight problems, heart disease and diabetes.

Experts recommend getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet and reducing intake of sugar and caffeine to better manage stress. 

Photo: Beatrice Murch | Flickr 

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