It turns out that being in an anxious state may in fact make people tidy up.
Researchers primed a group of college students into freaking out over a public speaking task. They were presented with a shiny statue and asked to prepare a speech about it in front of a panel of experts. Following the speech, they were told to clean the object. (In addition, there was a control group comprised of students who were not required to give a speech.)
Those who had to give the anxiety-inducing speech were more repetitive in how they cleaned. The amount of anxiety the students reported feeling over the task predicted how many repeated movements they made while cleaning, as well as how long they cleaned the object before they deemed it reasonably clean.
In times of stress, people might turn to repetitive behavior like cleaning because it gives them a sense of control over an otherwise precarious situation. In the absence of a highly structured and regimented pre-set task like cleaning, people under pressure might resort to different outlets like praying or biting their nails.
Even though I haven't read the study myself, there's no question the findings are valid -- judging from the behavior I've observed in the workplace. When people appear stressed, they do seem to engage in repetitive behaviors like bouncing a stress ball on their desk, pacing around the office, sighing, or whistling.
When I feel anxious, stressed, or upset, I sometimes mop my kitchen or vacuum clean my entire condo. To the article's point, it not only helps me restore a sense of control, but also provides the feeling of purging negative emotions. Once I'm done cleaning, I feel a bit more relaxed to turn my focus back to the stressful situation.
Do you ever clean when you're feeling anxious or stressed out? If not, what do you do?