In 2004, National Geographic partnered with longevity experts to identify the five places in the world where people live longest. The result was a list of five communities where people live beyond 100, free of disease; later they were called Blue Zones. These are not the wealthiest places in the world with the easiest access to medical care; they are places where residents live by the same principles. One of them of which is paying particular attention to offsetting the damaging effects of chronic stress.
Not all stress is unhealthy. Stress is a physiological response to an imminent threat and can actually boost the flow of blood to the brain; in times of danger, stress can protect us. In the modern world, though, our bodies experience unsustainable and excessive amounts of stress. We deal with traffic, a high cost of living, rising crime rates, pollution, and the constant overstimulation of the digital age. We’re taught that a valuable life is an extremely busy life. We don’t get breaks.
Long-term, chronic, unmanaged stress is extremely damaging to health. The body is always ready to cope with imminent danger, even when there is no danger. This kind of hyperactivity can affect the functioning of immune and digestive systems, sleep patterns, and even fertility. Chronic stress can clot your blood, affect weight loss, and even kill healthy brain cells. It can also make you tired and depressed.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, you can manage stress through exercise, social connection, and finding stress-busting routines that work for you. Managing stress not only extends your life, but it also staves off the effects of aging, including wrinkles and hair loss. It’s important to find and honor a regimen that you enjoy, whether it’s gardening or writing in a journal or taking a walk. A stress management routine should give you a break from screens and worry.
An often underestimated routine is simply taking a bath before bed. Submerging in warm water has myriad health benefits. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology shows that a warm bath before bed can enhance the quality of sleep; this is important because good sleep makes you less irritable, stressed, and less likely to overeat. Another, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, connects time in the bath or hot tub with a significant drop in blood pressure.
Plenty of studies show that soaking in hot or warm water can calm the nervous system, increase blood circulation by dilating blood vessels, relieve tension in the muscles, and even relieve pain associated with menstrual cramps and arthritis. Though validated by modern science, bathing as a stress-busting technique is not a modern idea. Traditional healers administered hydrotherapy, or warm water for pain relief or for maintaining health.
Not only is the bath scientifically proven to make you feel calmer, it also feels luxurious. Optimize your bath by dimming the lights, turning on a guided meditation or calming music, adding bubbles, or bringing a glass of wine and a good book into the tub. There are also accessories that can help enhance the experience such as trays that lay over the bath and hold up your book to keep it dry. For an even more calming experience, try adding Epsom salts or a few drops of essential oils like eucalyptus or lavender to your bathwater. Epsom salts, named for a salt spring in England, are a naturally occurring compound of magnesium and sulfate, both of which are easily absorbed through the skin and can reduce inflammation, flush toxins, and help the body to absorb nutrients. Our recommendation is Dr. Teals or any of the Herbivore salts which you can purchase on Amazon (as well as other places). They’ve been used for centuries to treat colds and heal cuts. Lavender comes from the Latin word ‘lavare,’ which means to wash, and can disinfect the skin, as well as produce a feeling of calm in the body. Just be careful you don’t add too many drops of essential oils as over-exposure can irritate your skin.
Some healthcare routines, like exercise, can feel grueling. Soaking in a warm, relaxing bath is actually taking care of your health, too, even if it does feel indulgent.