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Why taking a bath can improve your mental health



Ellen Willson Hoover - published on 02/16/18

Remember those lovely bathtime memories from childhood? We were on to something!

“So what stories are you working on right now?” My dermatologist asked during a recent checkup.

I paused, knowing what I was going to tell him would sound completely subversive to a doctor whose time and performance is measured all day long in  small increments. “I’m going to write about the benefits of taking baths,” I said.

The doctor and the nurse stopped everything and looked at me like I had just told them I use kitty litter for facials. “Really? Eww, baths are just gross,” they both agreed. “And, who has time for that?” the doctor shook his head.

“You’re missing out, then,” I replied airily. I love the moment I may know a little more than my doctor.

“Okay, fine. Tell me everything you know,” he smiled.

Like my doctor, bathtime for me was a big nope, something left behind in childhood along with my rubber ducky. Baths just sounded like a waste of precious time, a little bit boring, and also a great way to collect mysterious bacteria all over one’s body.

Baths are so unpopular these days, there’s been only one semi-recent survey about them and it turns out only one-third of us actually take baths. And, unless you’re a high-flyer who would pay an eye-watering $46,816 for that perfect soaking tub, the rest of us are dashing in and out of the shower and on to the next to-do on our lists.

But, when I think back in time, some of my warmest, fuzziest memories of childhood are from bathtime, in a simple tub, playing with toys and scrubbing off the day’s playtime dirt from under my fingernails. Anyone else remember that feeling of utter relaxation, especially after the bath and getting into our jammies? It was the same for my children too when they were very young. If for that feeling alone, why have most of us adults given up on baths?

For one, adulting is busy and the loss of free time for ourselves multiplies if we have children. And, yes, there is the ick factor of not feeling clean enough after a bath. But let me tell you so you don’t have to bother with figuring it out yourself: baths are TOTALLY worth your while (hint: stress relief), you DO have time for them, and they don’t have to feel icky. I found all of this out from an osteopathic doctor after my beautiful firstborn arrived with a rough emergency c-section, feeding problems, ear infections that never ceased, and an incident of severe anaphylaxis at 30,000 feet. I had been living on adrenalin for months and wondering when I was going to feel good again. I practically arrived on her doorstep with a “Fix Me” sign around my neck. After blood work, the doctor told me one of the most important things I needed to do was take a bath, particularly with Epsom salts, for 20 minutes, at least once a week.

I recall my only question for her was: “Aren’t Epsom salts for old people?” Furthermore, I really wasn’t even sure what Epsom salts were. But when she told me these baths could decrease the unhealthy levels of cortisol (stress hormones) inside me and restore magnesium to help me sleep better, I tossed aside any further questions and bought myself the biggest bag I could find. (Bonus: Epsom salts are pretty cheap.)  I followed her directions: Fill the tub with warm water (preferably not too hot), pour in 2 cups Epsom salts and swish them around so they dissolve evenly in the water. Immediately after stepping into the bath, smooth water all over your body, then relax for 20 minutes. Rinse in the shower afterward and repeat as necessary, at least once a week.

Whether the medical benefits are genuine or it’s simply the act of unplugging from the world, this small ritual has been my favorite de-stress method for 14 years now. As for my dermatologist, he seemed convinced except for one hangup: “Is there a way to get the tub to fill faster? It takes so long!” I rest my case. Grown-ups, you need to find the nearest tub and relax.

Read more:
Life stressing you out? Vacate It!

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