Of all the many things that people can do to improve their state of mind, baths are probably not even in the top ten of most people’s lists. However, it’s easy to take baths for granted if you are privileged enough to have unrestricted access to a bathroom, something many people the world over do not.
Homeless people, individuals with financial insecurity, as well as those who have so-called “dirty jobs” in inaccessible areas do not always have access to bathrooms or shower facilities. If you were to talk to most of them, chances are they will include showers and baths as among the things that would help their mood.
However, it’s not just people in these circumstances who could benefit from taking baths to help their mood. Baths, as opposed to quick showers, have been found in multiple studies to offer a number of real mental health benefits. Showers may also provide some of these benefits, though in a more limited way.
Here are just some of the mental health benefits of baths that are supported by science. To learn more about mental health, check out this resource on drug rehabs in Dallas:
1. Warm Baths Can Alleviate Depression and Anxiety
A warm bath in a comfortable environment could be an important form of regular self-care. In a study, a team of researchers from the University of Freiburg found that a 20 to 30-minute bath at about 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) was linked to almost immediate moderate improvements in depression symptoms.
Additionally, warm baths have also been shown to regulate serotonin levels and decrease the level of stress hormones, which means that they may help reduce anxiety symptoms, making them well worth considering after a stressful day at work.
2. Baths Can Be a Great Time To Meditate
For most people, bathrooms are the one place where they can expect at least a little privacy. If you’re not being rushed, your time in the tub could be a good time to practice meditation, something that is almost universally agreed to have some mental health benefits.
While meditation can be difficult, the added privacy and the reduction in depression and anxiety symptoms associated with baths can be a great way to get started. If you don’t have a tub, even sitting on the shower floor should be a good start, regardless.
3. They Can Alleviate Panic Attacks
Stress, anxiety, ADHD, and other mental health conditions are often associated with sensory overload. In some cases, sensory overloads can trigger fight or flight responses, leading to a panic attack.
If you have access to a bathroom, taking a cool shower or bath can help stop an ongoing panic attack. Even if you’re not currently experiencing a panic attack, a cool bath can “break the cycle” and help prevent an emergent one from occurring.
How cool baths or showers help stop panic attacks is not yet known for certain, but it may be due to the heart involuntarily slowing down when exposed to cool temperatures. This lowers blood pressure and may prevent anxiety symptoms from worsening further.
4. Helps Relieve Chronic Pain
People with chronic pain issues will often have resulting mood problems as well as depression and anxiety issues. Warm baths can help relieve some kinds of pain, including muscle tension and joint pain. A warm saline bath may also relieve pain associated with open sores and wounds while helping them heal.
If you don’t have open wounds or sores, you can also consider adding Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) to your bath to further increase the pain relief benefits and improve your mood.
5. Baths Can Manage Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of mood disorder where depressive symptoms are tied to specific seasons or seasonal changes. While SAD has historically been associated with people experiencing winter in temperate climates, broader reviews of different populations show that it is also common during summer or particularly hot weather.
Taking warm baths during cooler seasons or cool showers during hot seasons can help immediately alleviate some of the worst effects of SAD. So-called “forest bathing” where you take a bath in a natural setting may also help reduce depressive symptoms associated with SAD and other depressive conditions by combining the benefits of baths and nature therapy.
Tips for a Better Bathing Experience
- Turn Your Bathroom Into a Sanctuary.Make sure everything you need is where you need it. Try to let other people in the house know you’re not to be disturbed, especially if you plan on meditating.
- Keep your Bathroom Uncluttered. This can help make it easier to relax. Throw out everything you don’t need and use organizers to avoid visual clutter and potential sensory overloads.
- Don’t Use Extremely Hot Water. Keep baths at approximately fever temperature. Extremely hot baths can induce anxiety and exacerbate heart conditions.
- Don’t Shampoo Every Day. While some people might advise against daily baths, it’s important to take this into context. People who live in tropical or subtropical climates may be obliged to take 1-2 baths a day because of constant sweating. However, when possible, you should try to bathe just a little shy of daily, as many bath products (particularly shampoo) can dry out your hair, scalp, and skin. If you must, minimize your use of bath products, when possible.
Bathing is not a be-all, end-all to improving mental health — not by a long shot. However, it is an extremely accessible way for most people to introduce modest improvements into their mental health hygiene. With all the proven benefits, it’s something that’s worth keeping in mind. Good luck, and be well!