(1) Add an outdoor sauna to your space and daily routine. (2) Reduce stress and improve mood.
Easy right? Here's why you should consider it. Saunas have been used for centuries as a means for cleansing and relaxation. However, recent studies have started to unveil their potential benefits that extend far beyond mere relaxation. From enhancing athletic recovery to potentially boosting human growth hormone levels, sauna use has various benefits linked to overall wellbeing.
Emerging research suggests that saunas might also offer significant mental health benefits. Regular sauna sessions can potentially aid in stress reduction and mood improvement. While the research in this field is still nascent, initial findings are promising and indicate a positive correlation.
Saunas work by raising the body's temperature, which triggers various physiological responses. Traditional saunas, like outdoor barrel saunas, use heat to warm the air, while infrared saunas emit infrared waves that heat the body directly. This increase in temperature leads to sweating, which is believed to help detoxify the body. Additionally, the heat relaxes the muscles and stimulates the release of endorphins, our body's natural pain relievers and mood elevators.
Mechanisms of Stress Reduction
Whether using a traditional or infrared sauna, sauna bathing facilitates several mechanisms that collectively contribute to stress relief. An essential aspect is the heat generated within the sauna, which promotes a state of relaxation. This relaxation effect can be partly explained by physiological changes that occur in response to the heat. High temperatures stimulate the body's thermoregulatory system, leading to increased heart rate, enhanced blood circulation, and sweating. This physiological response is similar to moderate exercise, which has been widely recognized for its stress-relieving benefits (Scully, Kremer, Meade, Graham, & Dudgeon, 1998).
The tranquil environment of the sauna provides an opportunity for mindfulness and introspection, away from the demands and distractions of everyday life. This isolated, quiet space encourages a meditative state, allowing individuals to disconnect from external stressors, facilitating stress relief (Neuendorf et al., 2019).
Further, regular sauna sessions appear to influence endorphin production positively. Endorphins, known as the body's natural painkillers, are also mood elevators (Stein, 2019). They are produced in response to stress or discomfort, such as the heat from a sauna, helping to create a sense of relaxation and tranquillity. This results in what is often referred to as a "runner's high" (Boecker et al., 2008).
Moreover, research suggests that repeated sauna use may aid in cortisol regulation. Cortisol, often called the "stress hormone", tends to become elevated in response to stress (Lennartsson, Sjörs, & Jonsdottir, 2015). Regular sauna use might help regulate cortisol levels, leading to improved stress management and resilience.
Enhancing Mood with Sauna Use
In addition to reducing stress, saunas can also have potent mood-enhancing effects. The relaxation and state of wellbeing that follows a sauna session can significantly improve one's mood. An increase in body temperature, akin to a mild fever, can induce feelings of relaxation and happiness. This is due to the heat stress causing an increase in the production of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter responsible for maintaining mood balance (Lanzenberger et al., 2012).
Over time, consistent sauna use may result in improved mood regulation and increased resilience to mood swings. The controlled heat stress provided by saunas may stimulate the production of 'Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor' (BDNF), which has been shown to aid in mood regulation and resilience to stress (Szuhany, Bugatti, & Otto, 2015).
Furthermore, the regular routine of sauna use can also promote a sense of stability and routine in one's life. Whether it's an invigorating start to the day or a soothing evening ritual, integrating sauna sessions into one's lifestyle can provide a stable framework, further enhancing mood stability.
While more research is certainly warranted to fully understand and substantiate the multitude of sauna benefits for mental health, existing studies and anecdotal evidence suggest that incorporating sauna use into wellness practices may significantly contribute to improved mental wellbeing.
To maximize the potential benefits of saunas for stress reduction and mood enhancement, it is recommended to incorporate them as part of a comprehensive wellness routine that also includes healthy eating, regular physical activity, and sufficient sleep.
Saunas are a simple yet powerful tool for promoting relaxation, managing stress, and improving mood, making them a valuable addition to any holistic mental health routine.
- Boecker, H., Sprenger, T., Spilker, M. E., Henriksen, G., Koppenhoefer, M., Wagner, K. J., . . . Tolle, T. R. (2008). The runner's high: Opioidergic mechanisms in the human brain. Cerebral Cortex, 18(11), 2523-2531.
- Lanzenberger, R., Baldinger, P., Hahn, A., Ungersboeck, J., Mitterhauser, M., Winkler, D., . . . Kasper, S. (2012). Global decrease of serotonin-1A receptor binding after electroconvulsive therapy in major depression measured by PET. Molecular Psychiatry, 18(1), 93–100.
- Lennartsson, A-K., Sjörs, A., & Jonsdottir, I. H. (2015). Indication of attenuated DHEA-s response during acute psychosocial stress in patients with clinical burnout. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 79(2), 107–111.
- Neuendorf, R., Wahbeh, H., Chamine, I., Yu, J., Hutchison, K., & Oken, B. S. (2019). The Effects of Mind-Body Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Systematic Review. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2015, Article 902708.
- Scully, D., Kremer, J., Meade, M. M., Graham, R., & Dudgeon, K. (1998). Physical exercise and psychological well being: a critical review. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 32(2), 111-120.
- Stein, C. (2019). The control of pain in peripheral tissue by opioids. New England Journal of Medicine, 332(25), 1685-1690.
- Szuhany, K. L., Bugatti, M., & Otto, M. W. (2015). A meta-analytic review of the effects of exercise on brain-derived neurotrophic factor. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 60, 56-64.