“Doing something that is productive is a great way to alleviate emotional stress…” —Ziggy Marley
When work becomes stressful, especially for those who work from home, doing small tasks such as tidying, organizing, sorting, or decluttering our spaces feels oddly satisfying. Watering your plants or doing a quick chore to take a mental break works wonders for many of us, as you have probably noticed yourself during the pandemic.
Why do these small tasks work well at managing our stress?
One of the most obvious reasons is that having a tidy space helps our minds focus. Our physical environment directly affects how we think and feel. If our living or working area is cluttered, there are a lot of individual objects in our peripheral vision that are vying for our attention, making it harder to concentrate.
In some cases, it adds to our stress because, instead of focusing on the work at hand, you see the dishes in the sink screaming for your attention. We feel this urgency to “close an open loop,” and that stimulus doesn’t go away until that thing gets done.
Removing the clutter, or even just rearranging or organizing it, helps our brains make sense of the confusion and navigate the chaos. This allows us to focus on fewer things at a time.
Additionally, the act of organizing things and doing small chores gives us a sense of “perceived control.”
When we are stressed, it is easy to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and helpless. We feel like we’ve lost control over the situation, and that heightens the stress we experience. Cleaning your desk, folding the laundry, or taking care of your desk plant helps you regain agency over things—even though they might be unrelated to your source of stress.
This perceived sense of control can be therapeutic, and it helps us get into the mindset of looking for things we do have power over and can change. We don’t have to be in control of everything. We just need to feel like we have agency over things to battle the feelings of helplessness that stress could bring.
Of course, a lot of it has to do with your mindset about these tasks. Some of us believe that a quick run can help clear our minds, and those who do have higher chances of getting a clear head after a run than people who hate exercise.
Ideally, dealing with the stressor at its root is still our best option for handling stress. But if the task is too big to do immediately, or when you feel too overwhelmed to tackle the problem head-on, these small yet oddly effective tasks can help you get a handle on managing your stress and anxiety.
The trick is to find the small tasks that do give you that therapeutic relief.
Thank you for reading “A Brilliant Tribe.”