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How to overcome cleaning anxiety: The pizza strategy

Anxiety sucks. Cleaning sucks. And anxiety about cleaning double-sucks. How to overcome cleaning anxiety is a surprisingly common question. For some people, cleaning helps with anxiety. For others, it’s a trigger. For those people, imagine the typical “whoa, this mess is overwhelming” feeling and multiply by a 1,000. It doesn’t always make sense, but anxiety rarely does. So here are a few strategies on how to manage cleaning-induced anxiety, and it starts with thinking about eating pizza.

Stay with us … but first: Why is cleaning anxiety-provoking?

Oftentimes, the anxiety triggered by the idea of having to clean is a result of a larger anxiety picture where the brain perceives innocuous situations as life-threatening. According to the DSM 5, the latest diagnostic manual for psychological and psychiatric disorders, people who suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder experience “constant worry and anticipation for disaster, [which may] cause them to be restricted in their daily lives and avoid situations that make them anxious.” Even the simplest daily tasks can be difficult to overcome, and depression is a common and unwanted companion.

One out of every 12 individuals will suffer from Generalized Anxiety Disorder at some time in their life. 

– Canadian Psychological Association

And chances are, you or someone you know struggling with this at some point in their lives: Canadian data as of January 2021 suggests one out of every 12 individuals will suffer from GAD at some time in their life. It can be mild or it can contribute to unemployment and serious family and social problems, says the Canadian Psychological Association. So. The question remains: how to overcome cleaning anxiety, right? Here’s the pizza strategy and tips for managing cleaning anxiety: Here we go.

The pizza strategy: One piece at a time

Think of a cluttered messy room like a large pizza, fully loaded with a stuffed crust, and you have to eat the whole thing. There’s no way you would roll that whole thing up and start shoveling it into your mouth. You’d take one piece, and eat it. You might close the box when you work on that one piece, so you don’t have to look at all the pizza you still have to eat. When you’re done with one piece, you reach for another. The same goes for your house. Start in a single room, and mentally break up the mess into segments: If the room is your bedroom, one segment might be clothes, another could be the bed, and another might be clutter on your dresser and bedside tables.

Start with one “segment” and finish it; pick up all the clothes, put away the clean ones and toss the dirty ones into the hamper. Then move onto the bed, changing the sheets and making it. Then tackle the surfaces, putting away the clutter, dusting and wiping. You can get as nitty-gritty as you want, but at least the big stuff is done by this point. Then you can move onto a new room and apply the same segmentation strategy.

Or … if you’re over it by this point, take a break. Enter our next point …

Stop when you’re “full”


What if … you didn’t have to eat the whole pizza in one sitting? Ergo … what would happen if you didn’t clean the entire house in one go? What will happen? Nothing bad. If, at any point, you get overwhelmed to the point of getting upset or feeling familiar physical reactions to anxiety, just … stop. It’s okay. Take a deep breath, do the thing that helps you regain control and ground yourself. You might just lie down in the “messy” room and sit there in the mess while you do this, for a bit of exposure. If cleaning brings you to this point, here’s another option to seriously explore.

Coping with cleaning anxiety: Share the job

The worst strategy is avoidance, but asking for help completing a task, you find difficult, isn’t avoiding. Because if a professional cleaner can come in and help you with the bigger jobs, you can work on completing the smaller, everyday cleaning tasks like loading, running and unloading the dishwasher daily. Or doing one load of laundry on certain days of the week.

If being at home, while the cleaner is there is triggering for you, opt for a cleaning company that doesn’t require the homeowner to be present during the appointment. Starting with a “clean” slate after a cleaning appointment may also help reduce your anxiety in general, since you can try to maintain the cleanliness between appointments.

Do you have any cleaning anxiety and mental health strategies that work for you? Let us know your thoughts on how to overcome cleaning anxiety in the comments and share this blog with people who might benefit from some pizza.



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