Saunas are a common place for people to head when they’re looking to relax. But that begs a larger question – can they be a worthwhile addition to a mental health wellness regimen?
Saunas are a common destination for those seeking to unwind and relax, but they can also help with anxiety, stress, and even depression. They release dopamine and endorphins and are a great place to relax. Saunas are not a substitute for professional help, but they can be integrated into your wellness routine to aid general relaxation and health.
Read on to learn all about how saunas and mental health intermingle!
Can the sauna improve your mood and help with mental health?
Saunas are well-known as a place to relax and unwind. But what does science say? Can saunas actually help your mental health?
Using the sauna can improve your mood and help with mental health. While they’re not a substitute for medical intervention, saunas release endorphins and dopamine and are also incredibly relaxing. When integrated holistically, saunas can be a great addition to your mental health wellness regimen.
Regular sauna bathing has even been shown to reduce your risk of developing psychotic disorders!
There are also lots of ways to boost the sauna’s mood-enhancing properties by integrating other relaxation techniques with your sauna sessions.
For example, meditating in the sauna (preferably infrared due to low temperature and humidity) can relieve stress, anxiety, anger, and more.
Likewise, sauna aromatherapy can help you relax, improve your sleep, and boost your mood. Common essential oil choices include lavender, chamomile, peppermint, and birch. The oil you choose impacts the effect you will feel. For example, lavender will help you relax while citrus scents will boost your mood.
What happens to your brain in the sauna?
Your brain is vital when it comes to mental health. So how do saunas affect the brain?
Norepinephrine is boosted in your brain when you are in the sauna. Norepinephrine helps with focus and memory.
While not recommended, one study discovered that sitting in a 176°F sauna until exhaustion increases your levels of norepinephrine three-fold. Other studies found similar, although less extreme, results.
Do saunas release endorphins?
Endorphins are released to deal with stress and are often considered our body’s “feel good” chemicals.
Saunas release endorphins as a response to the stress the heat puts on your body.
Regular exercise is another common source of endorphins – you’ve probably heard of the “runner’s high” – but the release can also be triggered by yoga, meditation, laughing, and even dark chocolate or spicy foods.
Do saunas release dopamine?
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control how we feel pleasure.
There are claims online that saunas release dopamine, although it is hard to find any scientific studies that back up this claim.
Do saunas release serotonin?
Seratonin is a mood stabilizer than affects sleep, appetite, and digestion. It also helps reduce depression, control anxiety, and even improve your physical health.
Saunas release serotonin. Whole-body heating activates serotonin production.
What if you get anxiety in the sauna?
Some people report an increase, rather than a decrease, in anxiety in the sauna.
You may get anxiety in the sauna because cortisol levels spike, although they decrease below baseline after you get out. If you experience anxiety while in the sauna, get out and do some deep breathing exercises.
While most people relax from a sauna session, the cortisol spike may be more extreme in some people than others and cause anxiety. Exit the sauna and take some steps to calm down.
Is the sauna good for stress?
Stress is an evolutionary tool that we have to help heighten our senses in dangerous situations or motivate us to get things done. However, we aren’t very good at sorting out real danger from perceived danger.
Lots of things can trigger stress, including:
When you’re stressed, your nervous system releases hormones that induce the “fight or flight” state. Your heartbeat increases, breathing speeds up, muscles tense, and more. This is called short-term stress.
But chronic stress, or when your stress system is constantly activated, can cause legitimate health problems because of the effect it has on your body.
The sauna is good for reducing stress. Out of all the reasons to use the sauna, stress reduction is the most reported reason. Saunas are incredibly relaxing because they release endorphins and serotonin.
Stress reduction is the most reported motivation for sauna use. Finnish saunas have been used for stress reduction for at least 2,000 years!
While this is not medical advice, it’s possible to include the sauna in your wellness routine to help you relax when you’re stressed.
Is the sauna good for anxiety?
Occasional anxiety is considered “normal.” But when anxiety interferes with daily life and functioning, it begins to become a problem.
Some common signs of anxiety include:
- Intense worry
- Racing heart
Whether your anxiety is an everyday inconvenience or an occasional flare-up, it’s worth knowing if the sauna can help alleviate anxiety.
The infrared sauna is proven to have a positive effect on anxiety in those with chronic fatigue syndrome. The release of endorphins and serotonin counteract anxiety, while muscle relaxation can help ease clenched muscles caused by anxiety.
Based on a self-reporting questionnaire, two studies found improved scores for anxiety after far-infrared sauna bathing.
Although this is not medical advice, you may choose to integrate sauna sessions into your wellness routine to help decrease anxiety.
Is the sauna good for depression?
Depression is a common, although treatable, mental illness characterized by:
- Loss of interest
- Feeling of worthlessness
- Difficulty thinking
Depression impacts one in every 15 adults each year. It typically surfaces sometime between your teenage years and your mid-20s, although it’s possible to manifest later in life.
Depression can be a temporary result of a traumatic incident, like a death in the family, or a chronic illness that someone has to deal with their entire life.
Research-grade infrared heating devices can reduce depression scores. There isn’t enough evidence to say whether or not saunas have the same effect on depression. However, the sauna’s ability to help you relax may ease some of the ruminating thoughts experienced by people with depression.
Hyperthermia machines are only available to researchers in the United States, but saunas produce some degree of hyperthermia. Whether or not the hyperthermia induced by saunas is enough to recreate the study’s effects is unknown.
This is not medical advice, and there is little evidence to prove that saunas help with depression, but if you want to give it a shot you can use the sauna as part of your wellness routine if you have depression. At the very least, it will help you relax!