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Are You An Anxiety Cleaner? Here's Why You Do It

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

By Adrianne Webster, June 21, 2023

Dr. Nicole Amoyal Pensak Quoted


As surprising as it sounds, when you dive into it, there’s actually a strong link between our mental health and how clean our spaces are.


If you’ve ever had a depressive episode, you’ll know that you can let things get on top of you, with dirty dishes, laundry and dust starting to take over as you wallow. (If that sounds like you, watch this TikTok video with handy tips on how to get started cleaning your space!).

On the other end of the spectrum, anxiety can bring about high bouts of energy that can only be resolved by... deep cleaning! If that sounds like you, you might be an ‘anxiety cleaner’.


What’s anxiety cleaning?

Different things will work for different people when they’re overwhelmed. For some, it’s hitting the gym and getting their sweat on. For others, it’s deep-cleaning their homes from top to bottom.


And there could be something in cleaning to make yourself feel better. According to one study, women who described their living spaces as cluttered or full of unfinished projects were more likely to be fatigued and depressed.


The researchers also found that women with messy or cluttered homes had higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol.


Why do we clean when anxious?

“While anxiety can impact different areas of the brain, those fear and anxiety networks are connected to the part of your brain that is responsible for movement: the cerebellum,” Nicole Amoyal Pensak, a clinical psychologist in New Jersey, told Romper.

Experts suggest that when we’re anxious we have restless energy we don’t know what to do with. So some people resort to cleaning to relax and distract their minds.

The theory is that it’s all about taking control with repetitive behaviors, like hoovering, mopping, tidying and dusting.


“We want to be able to do something when we get anxious, and what we really want is to be in control and take action,” Alicia H. Clark, a licensed clinical psychologist, told Good Housekeeping.


“While there are times we have to accept some situations in life, we do not have to accept an untidy home.”


What are the benefits of cleaning for your mental health?

Research has found that cleaning can help you feel a greater sense of control over your space, and the repetitiveness of the cleaning can actually have a calming effect on your brain, helping to reduce your anxiety.


Cleaning, whether it’s gutting out your fridge and re-stocking it with fresh food, or getting rid of the grime and hair that’s accumulated in your bathroom, can help you feel fresh, clean (ironically) and almost lighter.


It’s the same feeling you get when you have a clear-out and get rid of things you no longer need.


Cleaning has also been found to improve your mood and give you a sense of accomplishment and overall satisfaction. There’s no feeling like a job well done!


When can anxiety cleaning become unhealthy?

If you feel like nothing is ever clean enough and you’re noticing every little speck of dust and dirt, then you could be dealing with something bigger than simple anxiety cleaning.

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) can lead you to want to control areas of your life, where you hyper-concentrate on how things are organized or look.


People with OCD can sometimes obsess over cleanliness and it can start to feel like it’s taking over your life.


Trauma can also affect how you feel about how tidy your home is, especially if you grew up in a chaotic environment.


If this sounds like you, speak to your GP about coping mechanisms and mental health techniques that can help.


Help and support:

  • Mind, open Monday to Friday, 9am-6pm on 0300 123 3393.

  • Samaritans offers a listening service which is open 24 hours a day, on 116 123 (UK and ROI - this number is FREE to call and will not appear on your phone bill).

  • CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) offer a helpline open 5pm-midnight, 365 days a year, on 0800 58 58 58, and a webchat service.

  • The Mix is a free support service for people under 25. Call 0808 808 4994 or email help@themix.org.uk

  • Rethink Mental Illness offers practical help through its advice line which can be reached on 0808 801 0525 (Monday to Friday 10am-4pm). More info can be found on rethink.org.

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