Written by Madge Maril
Ask a friend how to instantly de-stress after a long day and you’ll almost always get the same answer: light up a scented candle, turn your phone off, and take a bath.
The universally adored practice of slipping into warm water after a rough day is almost like magic—afterwards, your body and muscles can feel more relaxed, and the anxious thoughts that were running through your head all day have suddenly gone away. But why does taking a bath help us relax? What is it about shutting away the rest of the world and enjoying warm water that can be so beneficial for our mental health?
How Baths Relieve Stress
“There are several reasons that getting into the bathtub can help us unwind,” says Eliza Boquin, MA, LMFT, a psychotherapist and the owner of Flow & Ease Healing Center. “One, many of us have some sort of bath ritual we’ve created. For example, I get my candles [and] incense, and then fill the tub with bubbles and essential oils. All of this signals to my brain ‘it’s time for you to let go.’”
Moreover, don’t count out the soothing effect of physically helping unwind tight or sore muscles—a common side effect from sitting in a desk chair all day, being up on your feet, or more specific conditions such as anxiety disorders. “Warm baths especially can help ease the tension in our muscles and water helps us to feel weightless,” says Boquin. “It’s like we’re letting go of everything we’re carrying. The water can also serve as a way to cleanse our bodies and minds from the stress we’re carrying.”
How To Relax In A Bath
Though admittedly, clearing out your mind can be hard. Disconnecting from work and family life or creating a spa-like space at home not only takes time, but can be difficult if you’re not used to carving out moments of self-care. Sure, you can invest in nourishing body oil, grab your favorite book, and lock out the rest of the world, but… then what? How do you make yourself actually relax when you’re in a bath?
Boquin recommends customizing your bath so that it’s both meaningful to you as an individual and so that it incorporates all of your senses—not just the physical. Once you’ve done that, you can key your mind into what’s going on around you, rather than letting it wander back to work.
“Practice focusing your attention on the entire experience. What does the temperature of the water feel like on your skin? What sounds do you hear when you’re splashing the water, what scent is the bubble bath you’re using?” Boquin suggests. “Maybe you bring a beverage to sip while you’re in the tub—what’s it taste like? Dim the lights and turn on some candles, then watch the flames flicker. It really is about bringing entire awareness to the experience and giving yourself permission to slow down and care for yourself. Self-care is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”
“It’s not about mastering it,” Boquin adds. “And we won’t ever be able to fully turn our minds off, because the mind’s job is to produce thoughts—just like the heart’s job is to pump blood. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do. The trick with mindfulness is that it teaches us to stay present and only pursue the thoughts that best serve us. Thoughts come and go, and we don’t have to be dragged by them unwillingly.”
The Importance Of Decreasing Stress
There are long term benefits to regularly unwinding, too. At first, slowing down and focusing on self-care via a long bath might feel unnecessary or even silly if you’re not used to it—but it can be an important step to cutting back on your overall stress.
“Reducing the stress in our life is essential to our well-being,” says Boquin, who notes that decreasing stress can positively impact life expectancy, the immune system, and quality of life. “It helps us show up fully and with less irritability in our relationships,” she adds. “It’s crucial to living a healthy, long, and satisfactory life.”