Mind Your Dishes – Mundane Tasks to Improve Mental Health

Most people would never consider housework an appropriate or effective stress reliever, but a new study shows that washing dishes can improve positive feelings and decrease anxiety.

Researchers at Florida State University examined 51 college students to determine if mindfulness during boring, everyday chores could promote feelings of well-being and relaxation. Half of the college students (the control group) were asked to read a two-paragraph instructional passage about dishwashing before engaging in the activity and the other half were asked to read a short passage about how to promote a state of mindfulness while dishwashing. The latter passage instructed the students to focus on, among other things, the smell of the soap and the feel of the dishes. The passage also directed that the students should only be aware of washing the dishes and nothing else; the students should focus only on the task at hand and be thankful that they are alive and capable of participating in mundane chores.

After all the participants washed dishes for six minutes, the researchers assessed their mindfulness, enjoyment, and situational and time awareness. Overall, the mindful dishwashers experienced a more positive state of mind after the experiment compared to the control group of dishwashers.

The mindful group experienced a 27% reduction in nervousness and a 25% increase in inspiration. The authors speculate that by being mindful of only the task at hand, the dishwashers were less likely to be distracted by the mental chatter of daily life that can lead to stress and worry. Instead of mulling over the stress of the day or worrying about tomorrow’s to-do list, the mindful group grounded themselves in the task at hand and allowed themselves to be completely present.

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention on moment-by-moment experience and espousing an attitude of curiosity, openness, and acceptance. Mindfulness, which originates from the rituals of Buddhist monks, has become mainstream and is advocated as a treatment for a variety of medical and psychological conditions. It has been shown to have broad-spectrum antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects and is beneficial for stress management and, possibly, pain control. Mindfulness has been linked to fewer counterproductive behaviors and less hostility, anger, and irritation.

A debate continues, however, on the best way to assess mindfulness. As a subjective state of being, it is difficult to quantify, which presents difficulties for conducting empirical research and generalizing findings. In general, self-reported mindfulness is reflective of emotional regulation.

The authors of the study, which is published in the journal Mindfulness, suggest that other household chores could offer the same benefits as dishwashing, as long as the participants are mindful about the task. The findings could have broad implications and applications for promoting informal mindfulness practices and improving overall stress and anxiety related to daily life.


Hanley, A., Warner, A., Dehili, V., Canto, A., & Garland, E. (2014). Washing Dishes to Wash the Dishes: Brief Instruction in an Informal Mindfulness Practice Mindfulness, 6 (5), 1095-1103 DOI: 10.1007/s12671-014-0360-9

Harrington A, & Dunne JD (2015). When mindfulness is therapy: Ethical qualms, historical perspectives. The American psychologist, 70 (7), 621-31 PMID: 26436312

Hill CL, & Updegraff JA (2012). Mindfulness and its relationship to emotional regulation. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 12 (1), 81-90 PMID: 22148996

Krishnakumar S, & Robinson MD (2015). Maintaining an even keel: An affect-mediated model of mindfulness and hostile work behavior. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 15 (5), 579-89 PMID: 25775231

Marchand WR (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and Zen meditation for depression, anxiety, pain, and psychological distress. Journal of psychiatric practice, 18 (4), 233-52 PMID: 22805898

Mitchell JC, Bach PA, & Cassisi JE (2013). The use of structured imagery and dispositional measurement to assess situational use of mindfulness skills. PloS one, 8 (7) PMID: 23936175

Image via Jaren Jai Wicklund / Shutterstock.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
See All Posts By The Author