This Underrated Trick Can Help You When You're Feeling Stressed
Have you ever noticed the urge to tidy up your space when you just can't seem to stop ruminating on something that's bothering you? While the activity might feel random—a way of distracting yourself or focusing on something external, perhaps—it turns out that there's a very good reason for the itch to declutter.
According to award-winning psychologist Ethan Kross, Ph.D., on the mindbodygreen podcast, it's common to clean when you're feeling stressed. Here, he shares the science behind this habit, as well as how to amplify the benefits.
Why people tend to clean when they're stressed.
When you're worried about something, it can be difficult to let go of the continuous stream of concerns running through your mind—or what Kross refers to as "chatter." In those moments, Kross suggests relying on a ritual: "I like to call them ancient chatter-fighting tools…. One thing that they do is they provide us with a sense of order and control, which is often lacking when we're experiencing chatter." Especially for highly motivated, type-A personalities, a sense of control may help you feel safe.
In addition to feeling a sense of agency, engaging in a ritual1 can also literally take your mind off of what's bothering you. "They're often attentionally demanding, so they require you to focus on these rituals to perform them. And that often takes the attention away from the chatter and onto something else," Kross explains.
The ritual that you perform can take a variety of forms, like gardening or going for a walk. It turns out, though, that one particularly helpful option is cleaning: "When I experience a little bit of chatter, I will do something very uncharacteristic of me—I will organize and clean," Kross explains. "What I'm doing there is very similar to how a ritual helps us by creating order in my surroundings. That's giving me this sense of agency and control, which I lack when I'm experiencing chatter." In other words: You might not be able to control a negative event in your life, but you can control the clutter in your home.
And when you know why you perform this ritual, then you can use it as a tool whenever you're feeling stressed, which only amplifies its benefits. "One of the values of knowing about these tools and knowing about the science is it gives us the opportunity to be really deliberate," he shares. "So you know that the moment you detect chatter beginning to brew, you're going to do these three or four things. You don't have to wait to stumble on something that helps you."
Of course, cleaning isn't the only tool to help ease your mind. Stress-relieving practices like exercise and meditation can help take your mind off negative chatter, and supplements can help bring your body back to baseline and relieve stress before it builds up into a problem.* mindbodygreen's calm+ supplement, for example, contains three relaxing botanicals—full-spectrum USDA- and EU-certified organic European hemp oil, lavender oil, and ashwagandha root and leaf extract—for next-generation mood support and a quick hit of calm.*
It turns out, the urge to clean when stressed comes up for a reason: It can help you feel more in control. If you're finding that this tool doesn't quite do the trick, though, please consider speaking with a professional, if you're able to. However, cleaning can be a great tool in your stress-relieving tool kit—especially if you know the science behind the common habit.