In today’s world, nobody can escape anxiety and stress. These are mental health disorders that have been around forever, but society is now also finding the vocabulary to describe them.
The sauna, as a concept, has also been around forever. It has always provided various kinds of benefits to the body, but we may now be recognizing specific benefits through new research. Given the sauna’s de-stressing abilities, it only makes sense that it can be an essential way to manage anxiety. The following is how sauna is essential for managing anxiety:
There is some evidence to suggest that saunas increase the levels of beta-endorphins in the body. Beta-endorphins are natural opioids that are produced in the body which act in the same way that external opioids do. These are chemicals that make the body feel more relaxed, are effective pain relievers and are also associated with the runner’s high associated with the adrenaline one feels after a good workout session. These are chemicals that take care of one’s well-being and are categorized as ‘happy hormones’.
Beta-endorphins also interact with opioid-like peptides like dynorphins that have an effect on the body’s stress response. There are also some theories that suggest dry saunas can increase the levels of beta-endorphins more than exercise alone can.
Brain-derived neurotrophic factor or BDNF levels in the body are said to have a direct correlation with depression and anxiety. These are special proteins that play an extremely crucial role in the brain and have a strong correlation with long-term memory and anxiety levels.
The heat stress from the sauna releases BDNF in the body. If you are using the sauna to supplement with your regular workout sessions, the expression of BDNF is even more pronounced, since exercise also promotes BDNF. Studies have found that when the BDNF system is adversely affected, it makes one vulnerable to various anxiety disorders and also has an impact on regular hippocampal function. Therefore, prolonged use of the sauna can help ensure a healthy expression of BDNF.
One of the most important ways in which saunas help with managing anxiety is by promoting good sleep. A sauna session right before you go to bed can be one of the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep. The heat from the sauna will dilate your blood vessels and relax the body, improving blood circulation through the body.
Improved circulation also sends oxygen to the cells which helps the body relax and ease out for a good night’s sleep. Good quality of sleep, especially REM sleep, is associated with low levels of anxiety. Insomnia and anxiety are interrelated and feed off each other in a vicious circle. Anxiety may cause insomnia, which will in turn aggravate anxiety and vice versa. When you sleep well, you break that chain and let the body rest so you can combat the anxiety better.
Myelin does not get discussed as much when it comes to conversations about mental health. Myelin is a protective layer of a lipid-rich substance that forms like sheaths around nerves. Myelin sheath insulates the nerve cell’s axons and has a direct correlation with how fast an electrical impulse travels along the axon.
But psychological stress also causes myelin degradation, studies have found. When the sheath is damaged, it makes one even more vulnerable to anxiety. While saunas do not promote myelin regeneration in the body, the sauna heat does increase the levels of prolactin in the body which in turn promotes myelin growth.
While stress can impact myelin sheaths anyway, a good sauna session can go a long way in repairing the damage done to the myelin sheath and protecting the body from being vulnerable to anxiety.
Improved Thyroid Function
Studies have demonstrated that sauna use improves thyroid function. Thyroid health is one of the most important things to take care of when it comes to managing anxiety. In fact, often when you notice symptoms of anxiety and proceed to diagnose it as a more complex mental health disorder, it may simply be the case that you are harboring a greater quantity of anti-thyroid antibodies.
The heat from the sauna is able to help thyroid function because the sauna has several detoxifying benefits. When you sweat profusely in the sauna, you are able t0 release toxins like heavy metals, uric acid, ammonia, sulfuric acid, etc. through the skin—the largest organ at the body’s disposal.
Sweating in the sauna also releases cholesterol, sodium, ammonia and certain types of fat-soluble toxins. When these toxins are released, the thyroid gland is able to function more efficiently.
The Sauna as a Social Activity
One of the most relaxing and de-stressing aspects of the sauna is that it can create an intimate and comfortable space where people can leave their inhibitions behind. When you are in the sauna with another person, whether a close friend or a complete stranger, the shared space of the sauna allows you to connect with the other person with an intimacy that would not be possible outside.
This may be a byproduct of the sauna experience, but forming deep connections with other human beings can also be a great antidote to anxiety. It is no coincidence that saunas and sweat lodges are regarded as cleansing rituals in many cultures—the cleansing also extends to one’s mental health.
The Last Word
A sauna is a form of heat therapy that has several proven benefits when it comes to de-stressing and managing symptoms of anxiety. Even if the benefits do not directly combat anxiety, they may strengthen the body enough that it is able to manage the anxiety.
The sauna is useful for releasing certain chemicals and promoting the production of other proteins that have a direct relation with stress, anxiety and depression. Even without those technical reasons, the sauna is an excellent way to de-stress and relax by simply allowing your blood vessels to dilate and improving blood circulation. You learn to breathe right in the sauna and sometimes that may be the only antidote to anxiety you may need—breathing.