Washing the dishes may be a convenient detox for overwrought minds, a study in the journal Mindfulness suggests. The study found that washing dishes mindfully—focusing on the smell of the soap, and the shape and feel of the dishes, for example—significantly reduced nervousness and increased mental stimulation in dishwashers compared with a control group.
Mindful dishwashing also heightened the sense of time pleasurably slowing down. Studies have associated altered time perception with greater psychological well-being, the researchers said.
Mindfulness refers both to a peaceful cognitive state and a popular form of therapeutic meditation that calms the mind and body by focusing attention on an object or activity, such as breathing. Mindful meditation is usually an exercise in itself, but routine daily activities may provide opportunities for informal practice, the study suggests.
Researchers at Florida State University in Tallahassee recruited 51 students in their early 20s. Just over half read a 230-word passage that stressed the sensory experience of dishwashing. The others, who acted as controls, read a similar-length passage about proper dishwashing techniques. The subjects gave their interpretations of the readings verbally and in writing, and then each washed 18 clean dishes.
Positive and negative personality traits, mindful state, and psychological well-being were assessed before and after the dishwashing exercise. Nervousness ratings decreased by 27 percent in the mindful dishwashers, while mental inspiration increased by 25 percent. Both changes were statistically significant and reflected a substantial experiential shift, researchers said. There was no change among the controls.
Caveat: It isn’t clear if washing dirty dishes would produce the same results, researchers said.