Why Can’t We Stop Cleaning When We’re Frustrated?

“In the face of COVID-19, people are feeling increasingly overwhelmed and powerless,” says one expert. “The ambiguity about where the situation is headed is untenable for us,” Maggie Vaughan, a psychotherapist in New York, told HuffPost.

It’s human nature to turn to repetitive actions like cleaning as a means to self-soothe when things feel out of our control.

“We know what we want to achieve and how to get there. Cleaning is a reassuring thought, according to Vaughan.  “People like to be able to forecast what will happen next.” Predictability allows us to plan ahead and better defend ourselves from prospective risks from a survival standpoint.”

A 2015 study from the University of Connecticut validated this, finding that transient worry can lead to more rigorous cleaning. What is the explanation for this? Control.

“What we actually want is to be in control and take action when we get nervous,” Alicia H. Clark, Psy.D., a certified clinical psychologist and author of Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You, in Life, Love, and Everything You Do, told Good Housekeeping. “While we must sometimes accept certain circumstances in life, we do not have to accept an untidy home.”

With so much going on in the world, a cluttered home appears to be more intolerable than ever.

“Yes, you’re taking control of something you can,” Clark noted, “but you’re also making your environment more relaxing.” “You cannot tolerate disorder because you need tolerance for what is going on with the broader difficulties in your life since there are other concerns consuming your mental state.”

That’s something you can say again!

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