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The Gift of the Mundane: How Repetition Lowers Stress

Sometimes everyday chores become a blessed reprieve from a hectic life.

Life is busy, sometimes to the point of madness. This creates anxiety about all that I must accomplish. In turn, it makes me feel impossibly inadequate for the tasks I’m called to. I’m a wife, a mother, a teacher, a writer, a friend.

In seasons that swell with more demands than I feel I can handle, I’ve discovered a secret — the gift of the mundane. This gift manifests itself in piles of laundry to be folded and still-unraked leaves from the fall.

Simple work that doesn’t demand my mental and emotional space is freeing. Sweeping the porch or sorting a heap of mismatched socks can be a cleansing exercise for mind and soul. Packing boxes for Goodwill can bring deep and abiding peace. Weird but true.

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Grading papers and balancing family finances fry my brain. I’m spent when I do too much of these kinds of tasks, but give me a garden bed to weed and I’m transformed. Mundane tasks become escapism. The bonus? They’re productive also. A tidy yard and a closetful of clean clothes are cause for celebration.

So why do repetitive tasks have a soothing effect? Psych Central notes that in a study by Tel Aviv University, “researchers found that repetitive behavior in general — and especially ritualistic-like behavior — is not only a human phenomenon but also one in the animal world.

Investigators believe the ritualistic behavior in both humans and animals evolved as a method to induce calm and relieve stress.” It’s a built-in system, hardwired to help us calm down.

The study concluded that the nature of mundane tasks, especially repetitive ones such as gardening or washing dishes, provides “some modicum of control back into the hands of the individual — a maneuver that helps to improve confidence and self-assurance in situations that would be otherwise out of our control.” Essentially, repetitive tasks ground us, making us feel better.

Armed with this information, I can reframe my thinking to enjoy the mundane tasks of life. Cooking a meal or cleaning a bathroom can become therapeutic. When I’m at home with a day to catch up on housework, I find it enjoyable.

Yes, it’s work, but a different kind of work. No problem-solving is involved. Our minds can wander while we do it. That mountain of laundry may just be your ticket to inner peace. Imagine that.