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Unlike other distracting activities – such as playing computer games or watching trashy TV – puttering also has the advantage of being proactive and useful, increasing our “perceived control”.
When we feel anxious, a sense of helplessness can heighten the physiological stress response, increasing levels of hormones such as cortisol. Over the long term, the sense of helplessness can even harm the function of the immune system.
We can gain a perception of control from activities that may have little effect on the situation that’s bothering us.
If you are sitting at your kitchen table with your laptop surrounded by clutter, that’s a lot of visual stimuli that your brain is continuously having to process while you simultaneously try to concentrate on the task at hand. Take away the visual clutter and you can focus much more easily.
Importantly, you don’t necessarily have to remove the clutter to prevent this from occurring – simply rearranging it will do. Organizing objects into groups – by color, for example – may provide the brain with more obvious cues for navigating the chaos.
By reducing anxiety, soothing stress responses, increasing focus, and triggering the release of endorphins, it’s little wonder so many of us take to household chores as soon as we are faced with uncertainty.
Like all activities, the extent of these benefits will be influenced by your personal tastes and the associations that you link with the tasks.
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