We all know that taking a bath can be relaxing on your muscles after a long day, but research shows that a good bath can also have a significant impact on your mind.
People have appreciated the practice of bathing for thousands of years. In Roman times, it was considered a fundamental right for city dwellers to use large bathing centers (called balnea or thermae) with big archways, marble statues, and beautiful mosaics—a truly important daily ritual. In Japanese culture, the role of the bath (sometimes called the onsen) today is as sacred as it was in ancient times. There’s a reason why cultures around the world embrace immersive bathing over showering. But what can a daily bath do for you?
For starters, a bath can actually have as much of an impact on your mood as physical exercise. Studies have shown that taking a bath can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of your body responsible for relaxation. As your nervous system adjusts to the warming effect of the water around you, you begin to experience lowered levels of stress. If you are feeling anxious, a bath can physically force your body to change how it processes that anxiety.
Not only can immersive bathing help alleviate anxiety, but it’s also been suggested that taking a bath can positively impact the symptoms of depression. One study concluded that afternoon baths even just twice a week produce a “moderate but persistent” mood lift (this result is comparable to the impact of physical exercise, which is a recommended form of therapy for mild to moderate depression.) By increasing the core body temperature, a warm bath helps strengthen and adjust the circadian rhythms, which affect every organ, including the brain. Participants in the study also reported improved sleep—vital to a healthy mind—as a side effect of the baths. People with depression often have disrupted circadian rhythms and poor sleeping patterns, so these findings are very important, especially for anyone looking to supplement other forms of depression therapy.
If you still need convincing, another study found that the brain releases serotonin, the “feel-good” chemical in your brain, in response to increases in body temperature. A warm bath will prime your mind for healing.
So, the next time you have a choice between taking a shower or a bath, do as the ancient Romans did, and step into the tub. It might just change your life.