After a long day, many people enjoy to relieve stress with a hot shower or bath. Others prefer hopping into a cold shower or bath to start their day feeling energized and positive. But can taking a bath or shower help anxiety?
For many people, taking a shower can help reduce anxiety or stop a panic attack. Both showers and baths are types of hydrotherapy, and each has the potential to boost mood and promote stress relief. Both cold and hot showers can reduce anxiety, although they work in different ways.
While it seems that just about any temperature can have benefits, it’s important to understand which may be the best option for you. Read on to learn more and make an educated decision.
However you decide to shower for anxiety relief, you’ll want to combine the practice with our other recommended steps for anxiety relief.
Can Taking a Shower Help Anxiety?
Most of us will feel tangibly more relaxed and less stressed out after a shower or bath. But can taking a bath or shower help anxiety?
Research confirms what many of us had already expected: Taking a shower lowers stress. Knowing this, it isn’t much of a leap to infer that a bath or shower could also help to reduce anxiety levels.
Taking a Hot Shower for Anxiety or Panic Attacks
Quick personal story here.
When I had my very first couple of panic attacks, I was only about 15 years old or so. I had never heard of a panic attack before, and was so scared of the physical symptoms that I was convinced I was going to die. Needless to say, I didn’t know any methods for reducing anxiety. I didn’t know about breathwork, meditation, or grounding techniques.
One thing I remember about these first few panic attacks was just how helpless they left me feeling. They would often come in waves, and in-between the panic attacks I’d feel shaken up and exhausted. Not knowing what to do or where to go to calm down, I wound up finding respite in an unlikely place...
You guessed it: A Hot Shower or Bath.
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them. Whenever I'm sad I'm going to die, or so nervous I can't sleep, or in love with somebody I won't be seeing for a week, I slump down just so far and then I say: 'I'll go take a hot bath.'
I was already the one in my family known for taking 20-minute showers and irritating everyone else. I found the solitude and hot water relaxing. Since I didn’t even know what meditation was back then, this was the closest I could come to a meditative experience.
I quickly learned that a hot shower was a sort of “safe space” for me. Weird as it sounds, this is the place most of us can be our most relaxed and vulnerable. It’s also where we really get a chance to put the world on pause and enjoy some introspection. Long, hot showers for anxiety can be one of the easiest and most straight-forward ways to destress and unwind.
A study on college students found that those who felt more lonely or socially isolated actually took longer, warmer showers or baths. This suggests a very real and tangible benefit to physical warmth as a substitute for social warmth; we naturally use hot showers and baths as “self-therapy.” Just like a warm blanket or a hug from a friend, a hot shower for anxiety can work wonders.
Benefits of a Hot Shower on Anxiety
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Taking a Cold Shower for Anxiety or Panic Attacks
I’m going to give it to you straight – I’ve tried cold showers before and they’re not for me. With that said, can taking a cold shower for anxiety or panic attacks actually help?
Cold showers are often recommended by motivational speakers and successful people around the world. The rationale behind taking a cold shower in the morning is that it can energize you for the rest of the day. This makes sense, since cold showers wake us up better than an anxiety-inducing cup of coffee.
Cold showers might help anxiety by increasing endorphins and decreasing cortisol. However, there are no studies to suggest that cold showers can reduce anxiety directly. Alternatively, taking cold showers for anxiety could help in a less expected way…
Stepping into a cold shower first thing in the morning takes discipline. Beyond discipline, taking an ice-cold shower also requires the ability to tolerate discomfort. When someone's anxiety worsens over time, the number one reason is due to avoidant behavior; an unwillingness to face discomfort.
When we run from the things that make us uncomfortable, our comfort zone shrinks over time. When we face discomfort head-on, our comfort zone expands over time. This is the basic principle that makes gradual exposure so effective in the first place.
The larger benefit, to me, is how cold showers train us to face discomfort. By starting the day with a cold shower, we cultivate discipline and willpower which can carry us through the rest of the day. Over a period of time, this could be an extremely empowering habit that helps you confidently face other discomforts in your life.
Benefits of a Cold Shower on Anxiety
Will a Bath Help a Panic Attack or Anxiety?
Showering for anxiety and taking a bath for anxiety should both bring the same benefits, more or less. It’s unlikely that standing in a shower or sitting in a bath will differ too much with regard to mental health benefits.
Larger factors when showering or bathing for anxiety seem to be the temperature and length of time spent in the water.
If you have a method that you prefer or feel helps you decrease anxiety better, go with that option. Some people may prefer taking a shower for anxiety while others prefer to draw a bath for anxiety, replete with bath bombs and all.
There are plenty of ways to make your bath more relaxing and further reduce stress.
Showering for Anxiety: The Takeaway
You have two factors to consider when deciding how to shower or bathe for anxiety relief:
- Shower vs. Bath
- Hot vs. Cold Water
Since showering and bathing come with comparable benefits, the larger decision is water temperature. A hot shower can be more soothing and provide immediate mood-boosting benefits to reduce anxiety levels. Cold showers could potentially help us beat anxiety in the long-term by conditioning us to better confront discomfort.
Duration may also play a role here; longer baths and showers will likely magnify these benefits; provided you don’t overdo it.
Whatever your preferences, hydrotherapy will be in full play here and help you feel better.
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