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Article: Sauna for Anxiety: A Deep Dive Into Sauna Mental Health Benefits

Sauna for Anxiety: A Deep Dive Into Sauna Mental Health Benefits

Sauna for Anxiety: A Deep Dive Into Sauna Mental Health Benefits

Written by Chris Lang

You’ve probably been affected by stress and anxiety at some point in your life. This isn’t so surprising, considering how challenging life can be at times. However, frequent anxiety is a cause for concern that mental health practitioners have sought to manage with conventional medicine.

Although significant progress has been made, there is an increasing interest in holistic approaches to managing anxiety. The holistic approach ensures that every possible area that could be the source of anxiety is addressed.

One approach is using a sauna for anxiety management. Saunas, made popular in Northern Europe, are now being used to tackle mental health issues. Read on to learn more about the science behind using a sauna for anxiety issues.

Understanding the Benefits of Saunas

A sauna is an enclosed room kept at a very high temperature. The idea behind saunas is to relax and detoxify in the dry heat. It makes the body respond in a similar way it would during an exercise—sweat and increased heart rate—resulting in great health benefits.

Saunas have been in existence for centuries. Some 3,000 years ago, the Mayans relaxed in sweat houses. Saunas are deeply rooted in the cultures of many Northern European countries.

Since then, they have been used as medicinal, recreational, and social centers in many other countries around the globe to improve physical and mental health.

Additionally, saunas improve cardiovascular health, as the heat increases heart rate and blood circulation.

It’s also good for chest infections, helps with skin care, boosts immunity, relieves sore muscles and joint pain, and has weight-loss benefits.

Aside from that, it improves mental health by helping people reduce stress and anxiety, relax, and sleep better.

Scientific Evidence and Studies for Sauna Anxiety Management

Different research has been carried out to support the use of saunas in anxiety management. For instance, a study carried out on 17 people for a period of seven days discovered reduced cortisol levels in the participants. Cortisol is a stress hormone. When decreased, it reduces stress and relieves anxiety.

Another study carried out on 80 individuals also saw a decrease in cortisol levels. And yet more research conducted on 45 individuals supports the physiological and psychological benefits of saunas. The results showed decreased anxiety after sauna usage.

Personal Testimonials

If you need further convincing on the positive effects of sauna use on anxiety relief, maybe these personal stories will dispel your doubts about how sauna therapy contributes to improved mental health.

Dr. Michael Nowazek, the President of the Alberta Association of Naturopathic Practitioners (2000-2007), confirmed that a 30-minute sauna session relieved his stress and made him feel like a new man.

Also, Charles Raison of the University of Wisconsin-Madison is credited with saying, “... heat makes the brain feel happy.”

Creating a Sauna Routine for Anxiety Relief

Following the sauna routine below when feeling stressed will significantly relieve your anxiety level.

Before Using the Sauna

Before your sauna time, drink some water to hydrate. You should also take a shower. However, make sure to dry off before entering the sauna, so you can sweat faster. And if you’re using a sauna after exercising, try to rest for a little while before you do so.

During Your Sauna Time

While in the sauna, try to relax and stay in the present. Don’t spend time thinking about things that will increase your stress level. Think happy thoughts. Mindfulness and relaxation play a huge role in seeing positive results. Also, don’t spend more than 30 minutes on any one session. If it’s your first time, don’t push yourself. Give your body time to get used to the heat. If you can only handle less than ten minutes, that’s perfectly okay.

After Sauna

Cool off again by drinking water or taking a dip in a plunge pool. It is not advisable to lock yourself up in another enclosed place. Give yourself time to cool off in a well-aerated place.

Precautions and Contraindications

As great as saunas are, there are precautions that you need to take note of to not exacerbate anxiety.

Stay hydrated: Drinking water is essential before and after a sauna session.

Don’t use when on medication: Contact your doctor before using saunas if you’re on medication.

Avoid if you’re being treated for any cardiovascular disease: Patients with hypertension or any other heart disease should avoid saunas.

Asthmatic patients: Sauna and asthma don’t mix well due to the intensity and heat.

Pregnancy: Pregnant women should also avoid a sauna until after delivery.

Saunas vs. Other Anxiety Management Strategies

Using a sauna for anxiety management is part of the holistic approach to mental health treatment. Practitioners embracing alternative health care often advocate different strategies to combat anxiety.

Apart from sauna therapy, other types of care can be effective, such as medication, yoga, and regular exercise for total health and well-being.

Therapy provides an outlet for your stress and anxiety. Talking things through with a therapist will help you better manage your stress levels. Taking prescribed medicine from your doctor may also be used in tandem with sauna use.

Yoga provides a way to relax by stretching, meditation, and mindfulness, which are great for improving the mind.

Effectiveness of Sauna for Anxiety Management

The health benefits of sauna therapy can’t be overemphasized. Research shows that saunas improve the health of bathers, including their mental health. Infrared saunas also contribute significantly to mental health and should be considered part of a more holistic approach to anxiety management.

Of course, always seek medical advice before proceeding, especially if you have an underlying medical condition. And since you’re seeking an improvement in your overall mood, talk to a professional about what can be gained from regular sauna use.

Health Benefits of Saunas

Saunas are becoming more popular worldwide because of the positive effects they have on the body and mind. Consistently spending time sweating at high temperatures has massive health benefits for the body and mind.

Improves Cardiovascular Health

As mentioned, one of the most popular benefits of saunas is how they improve cardiovascular health. Research suggests that consistent use of saunas helps to improve cardiovascular health. The reason being that the body, under intense heat, increases the heart rate and improves the heart condition.

Relieves Pain and Sores

Saunas activate beta-endorphins, which are released when the body undergoes intense exercise or is subject to heat. These endorphins are natural pain relievers that target aching joints and muscles.

Relieves Common Cold Symptoms

Since saunas provide the body with heat that clears the airways and sinuses, it could help relieve common cold symptoms. This is why sauna therapy for a common cold is a usual practice.

Improves the Appearance of Skin

Saunas help open the pores and release toxins from the body as you sweat through the heat. All of which improve skin health. It also helps reduce the symptoms of some skin illnesses, like psoriasis.

Lowers the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer’s

Research conducted by the University of Eastern Finland discovered that saunas could reduce the risk of brain diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Unfortunately, our environment exposes us to harmful metals that could increase the chances of these types of brain diseases developing. But detoxification through sweat enables the body to release toxins and reduces the risk of developing a serious, life-changing condition.

Improves Mood

Sauna usage has been found to be therapeutic in the same way as exercise. While both strain the body, the body releases extra happy hormones to counter it, thus making us happier. This is a great way to improve mental health and overall mood.

Reduces Stress and Anxiety

As previously established, saunas help reduce stress and anxiety. Similar to how sauna sessions improve mood, they also reduce the release of cortisol in the body, which is the hormone responsible for stress.

Based on the research mentioned above, this benefit was found in men who had sauna sessions four to seven times a week. For that reason, experts recommend using the sauna at least three to four times a week for maximum benefits.

Types of Saunas

Saunas have existed for thousands of years, in one form or another. Historically, the traditional sauna was heated by rocks and, later, stoves. By the 1960s, however, infrared saunas were established in Japan for more tolerable heat.

There are two types of saunas: the traditional saunas and infrared saunas. They both serve the same basic purpose: to promote sweat. However, there are also major differences between them.

Traditional Saunas

Traditional saunas are public or private enclosed rooms heated up with either rocks, wood, or electric stoves. They can also work for either dry heat or serve as a steam room. The major difference is that water is poured over the rocks in the latter to provide humidity and lessen the heat. The idea of the traditional saunas is to heat up the environment to heat up the body.

Infrared Saunas

Infrared saunas focus on the body. Heat is provided by infrared waves that penetrate deeper into the body. This type of sauna was devised for a more concentrated heat and a lower temperature to make saunas more tolerable, unlike the traditional sauna, which is usually of high temperature.

But these are not the only differences between the infrared and traditional sauna.

 

Traditional Sauna

Infrared Sauna

Heat is of a higher temperature

Heat is of a lower temperature

Heat is usually very dry, but humidity can be created

Humidity varies for different makes

Heat concentrated on the enclosed area

Heat concentrated on the body

It can be a large sauna for a large group or a small sauna for a more private setting

Typically private

Benefits include detoxification, improved immune system, reduced risk of dementia, and improved skin health

Benefits include pain relief, reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, improved mental health, reduced anxiety, and improved sleep

 

Sauna Sessions and Usage

According to research, consistent sauna sessions contribute to a lower risk of heart disease. In a study by Mayo Clinic Proceedings, participants who used the sauna at least four times weekly had a 47% lower risk of developing high blood pressure. It stands to reason, therefore, that the more time you spend in the sauna, the better the results.

If you want to use the sauna for anxiety relief, you should do so strategically. The aim of using a sauna for anxiety relief is to improve the mood and reduce stress. Therefore, while the traditional sauna will be effective, you may benefit more from an infrared sauna. As the heat isn’t quite so intense, you won’t be distracted from relaxing. Still, it is enough to trigger the body’s release of happy hormones to combat the heat.

Saunas can be effective after exercise, but give yourself a break of about 10 minutes before doing so. And make sure to drink plenty of water before and after using the sauna. Lastly, consult your doctor before scheduling a sauna session, as you may need to take specific precautions depending on your case.

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