Housework is hard to notice until it starts to pile up. And after a stressful day at work, spending hours to make a home spic-n-span can be both physically and emotionally draining Time spent in housework and leisure: links with parents' physiological recovery from work Saxbe D.E., Repetti, R.L., Graesch AP. Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA USA. Journal of Family Psychology. 2011 Apr;25(2):271-81.. Recent research suggests how couples handle splitting household chores can significantly impact their stress levels.

Health, Happiness, And Housework — The Takeaway

A recent study found that, in dual earning couples with at least one child, spending extra time on after-work chores kept both spouses' cortisol levels high Time spent in housework and leisure: links with parents' physiological recovery from work Saxbe DE., Repetti, R.L., Graesch AP. Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA USA. Journal of Family Psychology. 2011 Apr;25(2):271-81.. Cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," helps the body and mind respond to stressful or challenging situations. However, if cortisol levels remain constantly elevated, they can lead to further stress and raise blood pressure, lower immune response, and contribute to depression Long-term effects of psychosocial factors of home and work on biomarkers of stress. Eller NH., Kristiansen J., Hansen AM. Department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Bispebjerg Hospital, Copenhagen NV, Denmark.International Journal of Psychophysiology. 2011 Feb;79(2):195-202.. So much for the notion of the house being a personal temple of zen!

As a person transitions from a stressed-out workday to a state of stress at home, the thought of dishwashing, laundry, dusting, mopping, and sweeping can cause increased anxiety and spike cortisol production Work hours affect spouse's cortisol secretion--for better and for worse. Klumb P., Hoppmann C., Staats, M. Department of Psychologie, University of Fribourg, Fribourg, Switzerland. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2006 Sep-Oct;68(5):742-6. Epub 2006 Sep 20.. And when one spouse bears the brunt of responsibilities at home, it can reduce their ability to mentally recovery after the workday Time spent in housework and leisure: links with parents' physiological recovery from work Saxbe D.E., Repetti, R.L., Graesch AP. Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA USA. Journal of Family Psychology. 2011 Apr;25(2):271-81.. Splitting up tasks reduces the total time individuals spend on chores and encourages faster mental recovery from work, especially for women (who, the study suggests, often end up with a disproportionate share of housework) Time spent in housework and leisure: links with parents' physiological recovery from work Saxbe D.E., Repetti, R.L., Graesch AP. Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA USA. Journal of Family Psychology. 2011 Apr;25(2):271-81..

Since living in filth isn’t an option, and cleaning services can be expensive (trust us, we’ve looked into it), tidying up the house isn’t exactly something that can be avoided. But housework can be made less stressful by working together as a couple or a family (the more hands the merrier). And less time doing the dishes might pave the way for more frequent and more positive couple interactions which can, perhaps obviously, ultimately help keep cortisol levels in check Positive couple interactions and daily cortisol: on the stress-protecting role of intimacy. Ditzen B., Hoppmann C., Klumb, P. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, University of Zurich, Institute of Psychology, Zurich, Switzerland. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2008 Oct;70(8):883-9. Epub 2008 Oct 8.. It's also worth considering just tidying up after work and leaving the heavy-duty, stressful cleaning for the less hectic weekends.

Tip

Minimize stress at home by sharing housework with a spouse or roommate.

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