Saunas provide a wide range of physical benefits, such as easing pain after an intensive workout, healing wounds and skin abnormalities, improving cardiovascular health, and flushing out body toxins. But what can saunas do for anxiety and mental health in general?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic, there’s been a rise in mental health disorders, affecting more than 40 million adults in the United States alone.
Mental health is often neglected and regarded as less important than physical health. However, it should get the same amount of attention, if not more, than our physical wellness.
There shouldn’t be a hierarchy regarding our overall health and well-being.
The good news is that saunas can improve both through the heat that they give off. As a result, they are becoming increasingly popular as a secondary treatment for reducing stress levels, anxiety, and other mental health disorders.
The following article highlights the potential benefits of using a sauna as an additional aid in alleviating anxiety and improving other mood disorders.
Additionally, we look at whether different sauna types are more effective at treating anxiety disorders or if they provide the same level of treatment across the different types.
Serotonin, also called the “happy hormone,” is a hormone that carries messages between brain nerve cells and your entire body.
Serotonin is responsible for mood stabilization and function. Additionally, it’s vital for inducing and enhancing feelings of well-being and happiness.
Serotonin regulates our sleep cycle, reduces nausea, aids in wound healing, reduces anxiety, and increases bone health. Interestingly, the hormone also plays an important role in the ability to clot blood.
Therefore, low serotonin levels are associated with fluctuating moods, increased anxiety, and, in some cases, extreme sadness or depression.
The good news is that regular visits to the sauna can prevent anxiety and other mood disturbances and serotonin imbalances. Additionally, it has been shown that the heat given off by saunas stimulates the release of serotonin in our blood vessels, improving our overall mental health and mood.
We all feel symptoms of anxiety from time to time, and the way it affects us depends on the coping mechanisms we’ve developed through life.
However, not all of us have the tools to cope with feelings of anxiety for a variety of reasons. For some, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have made states of mental calm difficult to attain; for others, chronic hormone imbalances keep them feeling anxious no matter what they try.
It’s important to note that saunas, no matter how effective, cannot replace other treatment methods for anxiety management. Going to therapy, taking medication, and following a healthy lifestyle are all crucial parts of maintaining good mental health. Regular sauna use is an adjunctive treatment, not a comprehensive one.
In addition to increasing serotonin levels, saunas increase other natural antidepressants within our brains, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, ultimately resulting in a heightened state of happiness and euphoria.
Saunas allow us to get a workout in without doing anything physically. They make us sweat and cause our heart to beat faster, simulating something similar to a cardio workout. Therefore, sitting in a sauna will release the same euphoric hormones that you get from a runner’s high, which plays a massive role in reducing anxiety levels.
The doctors often advise those suffering from depression and persistent anxiety to visit a sauna in addition to taking their antidepressants.
Taking your prescribed antidepressants and regularly visiting a sauna increases your serotonin levels in your brain, lifting your mood and reducing your anxiety and stress.
A study done Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman using an infrared sauna on patients with severe depression showed that their symptoms reduced by approximately 50%. Furthermore, it was found that the reduction in their depressive symptoms was due to body hyperthermia, which acted as a fast-acting antidepressant treatment.
Further studies have shown that there are endorphin boosts associated with sauna therapy. Specifically, it has been shown that there’s a significant increase in beta-endorphins in our brain, which are responsible for feelings of euphoria and relief.
Another way that saunas improve your mood is by stimulating the release of brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF). This naturally occurring protein found in the brain lowers the risk of developing mental illness and improves overall mood.
In addition to increasing serotonin levels, saunas appear to reduce the cortisol levels in our bloodstream. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that’s referred to as our “stress hormone.”
It plays an essential role in regulating our metabolism and immune responses. However, it has an even more pivotal role in how we respond to stress.
When we are in a stressful situation, our bodies’ adrenal glands produce cortisol pumped into our bloodstream, causing anxiety and stress.
Stress is similar to anxiety-causing feelings of irritability and emotional strain, but it’s also brought about by physical strain and exhaustion.
The heat emitted by a sauna suppresses the production of cortisol, ultimately preventing us from feeling stressed and reducing the symptoms of anxiety.
Several studies have shown that sauna therapy can reduce the levels of cortisol in our bloodstream to a whopping 40%, which significantly lowers our stress levels, allowing us to be more relaxed and stress-free.
High cortisol levels also result in a lack of sleep which further impacts our mental health. Thankfully, using a sauna regularly can induce deeper periods of sleep and reduce sleeplessness caused by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, better known as ADHD.
Infrared saunas have been shown to calm your body and mind, relieving you from stress. Additionally, your face, neck, and shoulder muscles become relaxed, further reducing your stress levels.
Ultimately, the heat of the sauna is responsible for taking your mind off your daily stressors and focusing on your body. It improves our awareness and puts us in a complete state of zen, causing prolonged periods of body and mind relaxation.
This is why hotel chains all over the world have saunas installed in their rooms. It allows their guests a stress-free stay and increases the chances of them returning.
Always keep in mind that a sauna won’t work as a primary treatment option for anxiety and other mood disorders. If you are experiencing severe mood disorder symptoms, it’s advised to first visit a mental health professional before making the decision to visit a sauna.
Believe it or not, not all sauna types have the same beneficial response to our mental health. There are four types of saunas, and their mechanism of heating varies.
Wood-burning saunas are the most common and heat the entire room through heating sauna rocks. Electrically heated saunas are also standard saunas that use an installed electrically heated panel to warm the room. Steam saunas are widely used in gym facilities and use moist heat to heat the room.
Of course, there are positives associated with these saunas on our physical being. Still, the best sauna for our mental well-being is an infrared sauna because of its mechanism to heal the body.
Infrared saunas use specialized lamps that emit infrared light, similar to the sun, to warm our physical bodies instead of the environment around us. This results in deeper tissue penetration and an enhanced state of relaxation.
The other sauna types might even induce stress and anxiety because the hot air makes breathing more difficult.
This is the reason that infrared saunas have been the predominant sauna type used in mental disorder studies. So, if you have the option, always choose an infrared sauna if you’re feeling a little stressed or anxious.
Saunas provide a wide array of benefits to our physical health and, more importantly, our mental health.
Much of the world’s population suffers from depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental disorders. Thankfully, visiting a sauna regularly and taking your prescribed medication, can give your mental health the boost it deserves.
Many studies have shown that infrared saunas boost the hormones responsible for making you happy, such as serotonin, and reduce the ones that make you feel stressed and anxious, like cortisol.
Infrared saunas have been shown to be the most effective in improving our mental state because of the mechanism they use to heat the human body. Their warming effects are more gentle than a traditional hot stones sauna, making them the go-to in heat therapy for mental illness.
Visiting a sauna regularly will not only boost your mental health but also ensures that you have a proper good night’s rest. This is because the red light given off by the infrared sauna causes your body to produce high levels of melatonin, the sleeping hormone.
Remember, it’s always good practice to follow the guidance given by your health professional. They will often advise you to visit a sauna to help reduce the severity of your anxiety.
If you’re curious to find out more, Temperature Sensei has a wealth of information about all sorts of saunas and their benefits to your health and wellbeing.