Can Housework Cure Stress? A Recent Survey Claimed Chores Such as Washing-Up Are the Ideal Way to Stay Calm. but Is It Really True?

Daily Mail (London), March 1, 1999 | Go to article overview

Can Housework Cure Stress? A Recent Survey Claimed Chores Such as Washing-Up Are the Ideal Way to Stay Calm. but Is It Really True?


WASHING-up is is good for the soul and your health - well at least that is what the makers of Fairy Liquid are getting in a lather about. A survey conducted by Proctor & Gamble found that doing the dishes leaves 94 pc of us in an 'upbeat and positive mood'. To test if the suds have got soul we wired-up four writers to monitor stress levels during household chores- including the dreaded washing-up.

DIANA APPLEYARD, 37, is a writer whose first novel, Homing Instinct, about being a working mother in the Nineties, is out in June.

She has two children, Beth, ten, and Charlotte, five, and is married to TV reporter Ross Appleyard. The family lives in Oxfordshire.

HOUSEWORK is not big on my wish list of things to do. Anything beats it - even filling my car with petrol and mucking out my daughters' ponies.

It is a task which needs to be done, that is all, and if anyone had asked me if I thought jobs such as washing-up would make me feel relaxed, I would have replied they were crackers.

The problem with housework is that it is never-ending, especially when the children are at home. A gleaming kitchen one minute is a disaster zone the next with spilt drinks, crisps all over the table and a trail of muddy footprints. All I feel is that I am pushing back the barriers of chaos which threaten to overwhelm our household.

It was therefore with scepticism that I attached myself to the heart monitor. I always imagine I feel extremely stressed when cleaning.

This is because while I am in the act of doing one task, I am thinking about the next, and I'm usually followed about by a five-year-old who also needs me to find her Barbie hairband - immediately - or she will physically explode.

It was, however, in more ideal conditions that I began. The dogs were locked in the back room, the children at school and the house quiet.

First, the pile of dishes sitting on the draining board where they had been since the night before. Having discovered my resting heart rate is about 69, I filled the sink with nice

soapy water - normally I chuck everything in the dishwasher.

Funnily enough, as the pile of dirty plates went down, I found myself experiencing a small beam of satisfaction. I even found myself humming a little tune as I looked out over the garden.

My heart rate? It had plummeted to 65.

On to the dusting. We have aerobic spiders in our house, who can spin huge webs overnight. Flicking a duster at these, I once again experienced a twinge of satisfaction. I'm making a difference, I thought. My heart rate dropped to 63. I must be nodding off.

Polishing my dining table sent it back up to 69, but then it is a more strenuous activity, yet still satisfying to see the mahogany gleam.

Finally, ironing. I hate ironing - it makes me hot, cross and determined to get a divorce as men's shirts are the worst things in the world. My heart rate soared to 82.

This is one household chore which clearly does not have a calming effect.

I was amazed, however, at the effect of all the other chores. I would have put good money on the fact that housework made me stressed, irritable and sent my heart rate soaring. I can now see that creating order and controlling your environment can have a beneficial effect - but the crucial factor is time.

If I had the time to waft about making the house gleam and had nothing else to do, I realise that it would make me relaxed. Cramming it into a few minutes, as I usually do, is not going to make me happy. But clearly I have been approaching the need to stress-bust incorrectly.

All I need to do is put on soothing music, get down to the dishes and I may as well be at a health spa.

VERDICT: It is relaxing and cathartic, provided you aren't pressed for time.

DAVID THOMAS, 40 father-of-three - Holly, 11, Lucy, nine and Freddie, nine months - is a freelance writer who lives with his wife Clare in Sussex.

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