If I ever ended up on an episode of My Strange Addiction, it would probably be just me, a weird old lady who is addicted to oversharing about her personal issues. The camera would follow me about as I muddle through life blurting out unfortunate anecdotes about my IBS and mental health issues, making everyone around me uncomfortable. Get help! They would say, and I’d wring my hands in despair. I can’t! I’d insist, I’m addicted!
Well part of this oversharing has led me to share with all of you the ins and outs of my anxiety which often gets the best of me. I was in therapy for many years, and in that time I learned a few tricks to keeping the monster at bay. One of the most helpful things I ever learned was mindfulness.
Now, I realize that mindfulness has been co-opted by picture-perfect wellness bloggers in their pristine kitchens, dreamily drinking smoothies while fantasizing about their upcoming celery enemas, but it’s actually an incredibly useful tool when managing anxiety.
According to Mindful.org, “Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.”
Basically, it’s practicing the ability to anchor yourself in the moment- the colors, textures, and other physical sensations, while being fully aware of your feelings and emotions. It sounds simple enough, but it’s actually a skill that takes a lot of practice to perfect.
So What Do Dishes Have to Do With Managing Anxiety?
When I was teenager I lived on my own from an early age. My roommate and I had no dishwasher, and actually didn’t really clean at all. It was very much as disgusting as you’re probably imagining. Every so often we’d have to do a dish binge and, again, it was gross.
However, one thing I came to realize was that doing dishes was actually an incredibly effective way to jolt me out of mental breakdown-town and back into my own body. Later on, when I was a young mom with postpartum anxiety, I found that doing dishes had an almost 100% success rate at making me calm the fuck down when I was falling head-first into an anxiety spiral.
I think the reason that this tactic worked was due to the sensation of plunging my hands into hot water. When I first learned about mindfulness I would place my hand on a tabletop and really try and focus on the sensation that greeted the palm of my hand. With dishes, you’re experiencing a myriad of sensations. The heat, the bubbles, and the scrubbing… oh baby! You don’t even realize what a multi-sensory extravaganza it is until you start paying attention to it.
Now that I’m older, I have a dishwasher in my house in the form of a machine, and yet another in the form of my teenager (sorry, kid). I’ve long forgotten the calm that comes along with the sloshing of water and the tickling of bubbles.
Recently, our hot water tank broke, and our ability to do dishes went with it. I was again in the position of having to handwash dishes (this time with the aid of a kettle), and it all came flooding back to me. The feeling of sinking into a place where you focus on physical sensations and let everything else just go.
So if you’re having trouble with anxiety, maybe try handwashing some dishes! Likely the last thing you will want to be doing, but if you do give it ago, you might be pleasantly surprised by the results.