Baths are one of life’s simple pleasures. But a few key details can make your bathroom just as calming as any good spa.
It doesn’t take a scientist to prove that a good, hot bath is a balm for a tired body and mind. But if you really need convincing, research has found that immersion bathing leads to better mental, physical, and emotional health. One study conducted by medical researchers in Japan found that bathers had less fatigue and pain, better skin and bigger smiles (seriously!), and lower levels of anxiety, hostility, and depression than non-bathers.
There are concrete physiological processes behind some of those outcomes: increasing your body temperature increases blood flow and oxygenation to all the parts of your body that keep you happy, healthy, and functioning. For example, extra oxygen can help your muscles repair themselves faster and increase your body’s ability to eliminate metabolic waste. Some of the less-tangible outcomes of a hot bath — like a happier disposition — might have more to do with dedicating time to quiet relaxation. It’s why people love to go to the spa: you enter a different headspace. Things like gentle music, fuzzy robes, and woodsy scents help clue your brain into that transition: it’s time to chill out.
While any tub of hot water will do when it comes to the physiological response, those other, more ambient, atmospheric changes can be just as important when it comes to helping your mind relax. As a recreational athlete and world-class worrier, regular baths are a big part of my self-care routine, and I’ve spent years perfecting the art of a spa-quality bath at home. Here’s my advice.
Step One: Pick Your Potion
Good ol’ hot water has plenty of healing, soothing properties all on its own, but don’t stop there. One of the oldest tricks in the bathtime book is adding a generous scoop of Epsom salts to your tub. The salts — a naturally occurring magnesium-and-sulfate mineral compound — are said to have been first discovered in hot springs in a small English town called Epsom, in the 17th century. They were believed to have curative powers, and the centuries-long demand for the soothing salts began. Magnesium is good for you — it’s an essential nutrient that our bodies rely on for hundreds of critical processes.
I won’t lie to you, though: the research behind the benefits of bathing in it is pretty inconclusive.
Step Two: Set the Stage
Ambience is everything, and even if your bathroom is — like mine — nothing special, a little mood lighting, music, and cleanliness can go a long way. Start with a clean bathroom, even if that means a few minutes of wiping down surfaces and putting away clutter before you relax.
If the light in your bathroom is overly bright, drape it with a colored scarf or bring a floor lamp in from the other room. Put on your favorite calming tunes — I love this acoustic Ram Das album when I’m really trying to chill — and stack whatever book or magazines you might want to read next to your tub with a dry hand towel. Don’t forget a big jar of ice water (or wine, we don’t judge), and, of course, light a candle or four.
When you’re exhausted, precious prep work might sound like a pain, but hey — it takes some time to fill up the tub. Use those five minutes to set your stage and clue your brain in to the fact that it’s time to chill out.
Step Three: Actually Relax
Draw strong boundaries around bathtime. Everything that you’re working on, texting about, and worrying over can wait 45 minutes to be addressed. Keep your phone out of reach, and let yourself get bored, sleepy, or totally absorbed in a book. Once the water has cooled and you’re ready to re-enter the real world, don’t rush. Take time to slather on your favorite lotion, brush out your hair, and slip on your favorite soft pajamas. Remember: you’re at the spa. Nobody here is in a hurry.