Welcome to Sleepless Nights, Stylist’s weekly series designed to help you put your Sunday night anxiety and worries to bed. This week, we’re exploring the surprising anxiety-reducing benefits of tidying up.
When it comes to anxiety, there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ approach. While some forms of anxiety – such as Sunday night anxiety – may share a similar cause, what works for you may not work for a friend or family member, and vice versa.
With this in mind, if you’re struggling to get your Sunday night anxiety under control, it’s a good idea to experiment with a range of anxiety-relieving methods and techniques to find out what works best for you.
One such technique which many people find to be helpful is the simple act of tidying up. It may not be the most exciting of Sunday evening activities, but it can be surprisingly effective.
On some levels, the reason why tidying can help you feel less anxious and more relaxed is kind of obvious. Clutter is, for many of us, a source of stress – studies have shown that people who live in messy homes experience increased levels of the stress hormone, cortisol – so it makes sense that the removal of clutter can help you feel calmer.
However, the reduction of clutter isn’t the only reason why tidying can be such an effective tool for calming anxiety. Indeed, alongside the product of tidying up – aka, a clean, tidy living space – the very act of tidying itself could help to reduce anxiety; in a recent survey of 2000 adults by the supplement provider Healthspan, nearly a quarter of respondents said that organising something or tidying up was a strategy they use when feeling worried, stressed or anxious.
“In times of heightened uncertainty, tidying and organising can help us feel more in control of our lives,” explains Dr Meg Arroll, chartered psychologist on behalf of Healthspan.
“It doesn’t have to be a mammoth spring clean – pick a small area (think drawer rather than room) and organise the heck out of it!”
Alongside giving you a greater sense of control, tidying can also be a great source of light exercise (a well-known coping method for anxiety) and an impromptu way to practise mindfulness, which is known for its ability to reduce anxiety and stress.
As Maggie Vaughan, a New York-based psychotherapist previously told The Huffington Post: “[When you’re cleaning], you’re often able to observe outside thoughts, concerns and fears with less reactivity and distress. Not that we deliberately choose to practise mindfulness in this way, but it could be an unconscious reason why we gravitate toward cleaning in times of heightened anxiety.”
Of course, as we’ve previously mentioned, tidying up may not be an effective tool for everyone. Indeed, as Dr Arroll is keen to stress, for some people, being surrounded by lots of their favourite belongings helps them to feel safer and less anxious.
It’s also important to note that tidying up is only healthy when done in moderation – for example, obsessive cleaning can be a sign of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), a mental health condition in which intrusive thoughts and anxieties lead to repetitive actions or ‘compulsions’ which you cannot control.
With all this being said, if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to relieve any anxiety you’re feeling about the week ahead, having a tidying up – whether that’s sorting out a drawer, giving your flat a hoover or decluttering your desk – could be a great way to feel more relaxed and in control in the short term.