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Washing Dishes and Other Stress-Busters

By Sheryl Kraft

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Last night's cooking left a huge sink-full of dishes. And hubby and I have a deal: whoever doesn't cook has dishwashing duty. It's only fair, right? But before we sat down to eat, he insisted on clearing out the sink..each and every thing. (Rule one for controlling his stress level: never sit down to eat on a full sink. Me? I can easily shift my eyes away from it and worry about it later. Yes, there's a little bit of Scarlett O'Hara in me, what can I say?)

But when he started washing everything by hand (we do have a dishwasher) my patience really started to wear thin. My yummy meal was on the table, quickly running out of steam (and if there's anything I hate more than mushy lima beans, it's cold food!)

So I think I 'get it' now: researchers say that certain activities, though tedious and repetitive, can actually have a soothing effect by short-circuiting stressful thought patterns. (I doubt that anyone washes dishes and thinks about their crazy day at work). When I asked hubby why he was washing everything by hand, he did say this - "believe it or not, it's totally relaxing to me." Although his hands are getting dry and irritated between the water, soap and frigid temperatures, his mood is lighter. (Click here for tips on dry skin and winter). I guess that's why folding the laundry is comforting to me. Magically, I concentrate on just one thing (and it's not my looming deadline or my to-do list).  I can focus on one thing and one thing only—the equivalent of meditation.

What activities—though boring and repetitive they may be—do you enjoy as a way to help lower your stress?

Comments

I sort of hate washing the dishes, but I do love creating the mess! I used to be hopeless in the kitchen but, these days, trying out a new recipe after staring at a computer all day is downright therapeutic...especially all that prep work: the chopping of veggies, the peeling of garlic cloves, the steaming and tossing...

Sometimes, I'll pour myself a glass of wine and really settle into a long, complicated recipe, totally loving it.

Hurrah for mostly mindless work!

I like to walk. I go to the mall every morning and do three miles. I listen to music and zone out. I find that my mind does work behind the scenes while I am doing it though and usually find I have better mental clarity when I'm done.

Hmmm, well I think cooking is soothing, not so much for its repetitive nature, but because I'm terrible at following through and baking cookies gives me a sense of accomplishment.

I really hate cleaning in general so I can't think of a task that calms me. However, once it's done, I feel like I can relax.

Steph,I'm with you on creating the mess (as long as I'm not the one who has to clean it!) I love your glass of wine-complicated recipe routine. Sounds so relaxing.

Marthandme, I agree that exercise takes my mind away from stress...and I don't feel like I'm really thinking. But inevitably I'll end up with some wonderful ideas after I'm done.

My husband and I have the same deal--and since he NEVER cooks, it is a good deal in my eyes. And he gets to obsess over getting dishes clean. I'll have to ask him if it is a stress-buster for him, though, I think rather he just obsesses about cleanliness. Now, washing them BEFORE dinner, while the meal gets cold. No way! That's why there is a wall and a door between the dining room table and the kitchen in my house.

Personally, I hate laundry--that one will never be a stress reducer. But cooking is better than therapy as far as I'm concerned. Every once in a while, I roll out handmade pasta and the process is just relaxing. I also have a favorite bread recipe where you punch down the dough every 10 minutes 4 or 5 times. My kids call it beater bread and it's helpful to get to punch something on a stressful day then have yummy, beautiful bread as a result.

Outdoor activity: walking. Indoor activity: ironing pillow cases. I actually love the smell. It puts me in a different place. What's more they are easy to iron and fold, so I don't have to think about it.

I like to pair up our socks after they come out of the laundry. At the same time, I must also not like it because I avoid this activity until I have no socks left...

I like driving. As long as I make a pack with myself to ignore all the 'imbeciles' on the road, I find it utterly relaxing and get a lot of thinking done whilst on the school run.

Are you kidding me? I'm an OCDish, Virgo neat freak (except when I rebel and get into a living disorderly groove:) and tidying up helps me decompress after a day at the keyboard.

I like to do a "spring" clean in January -- out with the old, fresh starts, all of that.

Sometimes while doing so-called mindless work like chopping veggies, folding laundry, or scrubbing the tub I figure out how to tell a story I'm working on or solve a transition challenge or some such. Know what I mean?

Are you kidding me? I'm an OCDish, Virgo neat freak (except when I rebel and get into a living disorderly groove:) and tidying up helps me decompress after a day at the keyboard.

I like to do a "spring" clean in January -- out with the old, fresh starts, all of that.

Sometimes while doing so-called mindless work like chopping veggies, folding laundry, or scrubbing the tub I figure out how to tell a story I'm working on or solve a transition challenge or some such. Know what I mean?

Hi Sheryl,

There's actually research to show that mindless, repetitive, rhythmic activities reduce stress by pushing away distracting thoughts. So washing the dishes by hand makes sense...although one person's stress-reducer is obviously another's stress-inducer!

Your going to think this is a funny one. I answer my Twitter follow requests. I keep them in a folder in my email. Once 20 or 30 collect, I click through, checking out the new followers, choosing to follow them or not, and sending a welcome message. It's mindless work that makes me feel great once it's done.

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