Stress and anxiety are a natural part of life. There’s often so much going on and a lot of responsibilities, so it’s natural to feel overwhelmed sometimes.
We all manage our stress and anxiety in different ways. Some people might go for a walk or a jog, others might talk to a loved one, and some people might even turn to cleaning.
Yes, that’s right, lots of people find cleaning relaxing. It’s actually really common, so why is this?
Well, it turns out there’s science behind it and cleaning can relieve stress and anxiety. Let’s take a look at how.
1. Release of Endorphins
You’ll probably know that exercise is good for your health and can relieve stress. But, did you know this applies to any activity where you are moving your body?
As long as what you’re doing involves being active, you get all the benefits of exercise. So, when you’re cleaning your home, you’re exercising!.
Think about it, if you’re sweeping the floor, you’re moving your body back and forth and using your arms. If you’re scrubbing the countertops, you’re engaging lots of your core muscles as well as your arms to get the job done. There are so many examples and they all involve moving your body in some way.
During exercise, levels of stress hormones called adrenaline and cortisol are reduced. At the same time, levels of endorphins (hormones that improve your mood and make you feel happy) are increased.
2. Preventing Distraction
Being in a cluttered environment can distract you from what you’re doing and can make it tough to focus.
When you're at home, a cluttered room can make you feel tense and make it hard to fully relax. You might find yourself thinking about the cleaning you ‘should’ be doing, or focusing on something among the clutter which draws your attention away from relaxation.
If you’re working, a cluttered workspace can distract you from the task at hand, making it harder to focus and perform at your best.
On the other hand, a clean home or workspace allows you to stay focused and be present, enabling you to work at your best, or fully enjoy relaxing at home.
3. Makes You Feel in Control
When you feel stressed or anxious, it can often feel as though things are out of your control. In fact, a lot of anxiety stems from the feeling of the unknown, or not being able to control what will happen.
Cleaning is something you can have control over. You know the steps you need to take and what will happen as a result (the area will be clean and tidy). Many people find this certainty reassuring.
Clinical psychologist Jaime Zuckerman explains that when there are times of uncertainty, cleaning can provide feelings of structure, routine, and familiarity which can be comforting. She says that this can reduce helplessness in the face of the unknown, and help you regain that feeling of control.
4. Positive Emotions
You know when you get to the end of a busy day and your surroundings are clean and organized, and it just ‘feels good’? Or you finish cleaning and put your feet up and you feel happy? Well, it turns out that clean and tidy surroundings actually do make you happier.
Research shows that cluttered surroundings are more likely to lead to negative emotions, while tidy, clean surroundings are linked to positive emotions.
5. Clearing Your Mind
You might find that when your surroundings are cluttered, you find it harder to think clearly. Sometimes when your mind is busy (for example, if you’re trying to work) and your surroundings are cluttered, it can feel as though there’s too much going on.
We can view clutter as something being ‘unfinished’ which makes us feel on edge and can cloud our minds. In my experience, it feels overwhelming, especially if you’re already having a hard time mentally.
Psychologist Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D. says, "If we’re already dealing with a lot in our mind and now we’re looking at a lot [of dust or stuff] in our home or office space, it can make us feel stuck and bogged down."
6. Helps You Refocus
If you’re worried about something, it’s common to dwell on it and overthink. While this is natural, unfortunately, it only increases stress levels and isn’t helpful for you.
A great way to refocus your mind is to do something productive, like cleaning! It keeps your mind busy and stops you from dwelling on things. It can also give you an outlet for your nervous energy, stopping it from building up before it gets out of hand.
7. Healthier Lifestyle
It seems obvious that keeping your home clean reduces dirt, germs, and bacteria, which keeps you healthier overall.
However, some research suggests that being in a clean, organized environment is also linked to making healthy choices.
This might be because your mind feels clear and you can think about what’s best for you, or dedicate more energy to your wellbeing.
A clean environment can also make it easier to carry out daily tasks without feeling overwhelmed. For example, if your kitchen is clean, you may be more likely to cook fresh, healthy meals. If your bedroom is uncluttered and you have fresh sheets on the bed, you might sleep better.
8. Smelling Fresh
Our senses can have a significant impact on how we feel. Your sense of smell is very powerful. Think about it, if you smell something specific it can bring back a vivid memory. For example, the smell of fresh-baked biscuits bringing you back to a memory of baking with your parents when you were a kid.
Aromatherapy is another great example, meaning the use of essential oils to promote a feeling of relaxation. I personally love aromatherapy and find it very calming.
We can use this to our advantage. If your home doesn’t smell great, it can impact your mood negatively. However, if your home smells nice and fresh, it can markedly improve your mood.
9. Cleaning Mindfully
Mindfulness focuses on being present and achieving a state of relaxation, accepting the thoughts running through your head without judgment. Practicing mindfulness is fantastic for your physical and mental health and can reduce stress and anxiety. There are so many benefits of mindfulness.
Cleaning already has a natural mindful aspect about it. Think about that feeling when you sort of ‘zone out’ when you’re doing a repetitive task, but you’re also still somehow present and it’s kind of calming. When you’re cleaning, you’re often carrying out repetitive motions and can find you’re in this ‘zoned out’ state, which can be soothing.
You can also make everyday tasks deliberately mindful, so you could apply this to cleaning. This is quite simple to do by focusing on your senses to keep yourself in the present.
For example, think about how your body is moving as you clean; how the cleaning supplies smell; the colors you can see in front of you; and any sounds you can hear, like the sweeping of the mop or the sound of the vacuum. If you find your mind wandering or worrying, gently bring it back to the present and refocus.
If you struggle to fit mindfulness into your busy schedule, or you struggle to focus during formal mindfulness practice, making everyday tasks mindful might be particularly helpful for you.
10. Feeling Accomplished
Once you’ve cleaned an area and you can see the difference you’ve made with your actions, it can make you feel proud of yourself. It’s not often we get that instant visual representation of something we’ve achieved, so it can be really powerful.
You might find your mood is uplifted and you feel you’ve really accomplished something, which you have! Sometimes this feeling can help people build confidence. You might even find it gives you more motivation to carry out other tasks.
11. Figure Out What Works for You
If you naturally find cleaning fairly easily, then you can gain a lot of these benefits as part of your usual routine. If you struggle to keep up with cleaning, don’t worry: you can break it down and do a bit at a time, and you’ll still get the benefits we’ve discussed. It’s about figuring out what works for you and your lifestyle.
1. Harvard Health Publishing, (2020), “Exercising to relax”. Harvard Medical School.
2. Krissy Brady, (2020), “Why Cleaning And Organizing Is So Therapeutic When We're Stressed”. HuffPost.
3. Amy Capetta, (2019), “How Spring Cleaning Can Help Manage Stress, According to Psychologists”. Good Housekeeping.
4. Web MD, (2021), “Mental Health Benefits of Decluttering”.