After a stressful day at work, some of us might hit the gym, have a glass of wine or simply settle down in front of the TV in order to calm the mind. But why not try washing the dishes instead? No, really. According to a new study, dishwashing can boost mental well-being.

[A woman washing the dishesShare on Pinterest
Researchers say dishwashing could be an effective stress reliever.

Published in the journal Mindfulness, the study found that engaging in mindful dishwashing - focusing on the smell of the soap, the feel of the dishes and the warmth of the water - can trigger a positive state of mind.

Mindfulness is the ability to omit negative or distracting thoughts to enable complete awareness of one's feelings and senses in the present moment. The practice is believed to reduce anxiety and stress, as well as contribute to improved sleep quality and reduced risk for depression.

In this latest study, co-author Adam Hanley - a doctoral candidate in the College of Education's Counseling and School Psychology Program at Florida State University - and colleagues set out to determine whether a positive state of mind could be reached through a simple day-to-day activity: dishwashing.

"I've had an interest in mindfulness for many years, both as a contemplative practitioner and a researcher," notes Hanley. "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."

Nervousness, mental inspiration improved with mindful dishwashing

The team enrolled 51 college students to their study and asked them to wash dishes. Before they did so, half of the participants were required to read a descriptive passage about dishwashing (the control group), while the other half were required to read a mindful passage about dishwashing, which emphasized the need to be mentally focused on the task at hand.

"While washing the dishes, one should only be washing the dishes. This means that while washing the dishes, one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes," reads an excerpt of the mindfulness passage.

After participants completed the dishwashing, the researchers assessed their state of mindfulness.

Compared with control participants, the team found that those who engaged in mindful dishwashing - in which they focused on the scent of the soap, the warmth of the dishwater and how the dishes felt as they washed them - experienced a more positive state of mind.

For example, mindful dishwashers experienced a 27% reduction in nervousness and a 25% increase in mental inspiration, compared with control dishwashers.

Hanley told Medical News Today he was surprised by just how effective dishwashing can be for inducing a positive mental state, adding:

"By attending, intentionally to the dishes in front of them, the mindful dishwashers were likely to be less swept up in the stream of mental chatter that can preoccupy daily life. Stress, worries and concerns are often fueled by this chatter.

Grounding themselves in the present moment may have allowed the mindful dishwashers to take a break from reminiscing over the past or planning for the future, pausing to just simply be in the present moment at the sink."

It is well established that stress can have negative implications for health; it contributes to 60% of all human illness and disease, according to The American Institute of Stress.

Based on their findings, Hanley and colleagues suggest that a mundane chore like dishwashing could boost psychological well-being and, in turn, reduce feelings of stress, as long as one is mentally engaged in the task.

The researchers plan to measure whether other household tasks could have a similar impact. "Sweeping and garden tending (i.e., weeding) are potential study ideas. And, as household chores are seemingly endless, there is no shortage of potential research directions," Hanley told us.

"However," he added, "currently we are preparing to revisit the dishwashing study, looking at how formal mindfulness training may impact the informal practice of dishwashing."

While numerous studies have hailed mindfulness for its health benefits, a study reported by MNT last month suggests it may be associated with false memory recall.