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  • Writer's pictureAmy Smith

Cleaning as an Anxiety Coping Tool: Explained

Updated: Jan 23, 2023

In life we all experience a degree of anxiety, to varying degrees. Our instinct as humans is to find ways to be rid of this unpleasant emotion and associated worrying thoughts and physical sensations. People can find various ways of trying to be rid of anxiety and some have described finding relief through housework. For some, completing household chores is seen as laborious so why is it that some people are quite the opposite, they can actually feel better and use it to offset feelings of anxiety?


There are various explanations for this:


1) It acts as a form of distraction which is considered an avoidance strategy, avoidance is our default coping strategy as humans


2) If we’re already anxious and then see clutter, this can be distracting and can make us feel more anxious and overwhelmed as we see numerous tasks that are not completed. De-cluttering the house can de-clutter the brain and be soothing. If we have a tidy home we are less stressed in this area and, therefore, have more tolerance for other bigger challenges in life


3) Physical activity, releases endorphins which makes us feel good


4) As humans we like certainty and control (some strive for certainty and control more/less than others), this served a survival function. However life is full of uncertainty and things where we lack control which requires acceptance. Because we struggle to sit with difficult thoughts and feelings that arise when we lack certainty/control we may redirect our attention to tasks, such as housework, where we can gain a good sense of certainty and control. This is one aspect of life we have more control over


5) It provides a sense of achievement, there is a major system in the brain that craves a sense of achievement and releases happy hormones which reinforces the behavior


6) We like short term gratification, each household task we complete makes us feel good and thus is more desirable to tackle compared to other longer and more complex tasks which we can have a tendency to put off





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