3. Mental Health and Socialisation

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08 Jan

A problem that negatively impacts the lives of millions of people in the UK during their lives; mental health issues are another key reason many people choose to sauna. Whether it is used as a direct treatment for mental health via its relaxing influence and pro-social environment, an indirect treatment through its ability to lessen and even remove many symptoms of physical pain, sauna’s positive impact on mental health issues is well documented [1].

The increased release of endorphins and the relaxing heat and steam of the sauna’s atmosphere can be incredibly beneficial for anyone, regardless of health. But for those suffering from mental health disorders, these effects can be hugely impactful – especially combined with sauna’s ability to transport bathers away from the stresses and hassle of the outside world. 

Multiple studies have found that frequent sauna bathing can significantly improve the health of individuals with depression [1][2]. Alongside their pleasant and relaxing atmosphere, sauna baths are believed to invoke the increased release of ‘feel-good’ endorphins and hormones (including serotonin) to create an entirely natural anti-depressant [3][4]. As a result, most individuals who have been involved is sauna studies report increases in mood and wellbeing after as little as one sauna session, and many make sauna bathing part of their weekly schedule [4].

Sauna Mental Health and Socialisation

Regarding anxiety and stress, Finnish sauna bathing has been found to significantly reduce levels of cortisol (the primary stress hormone) whilst simultaneously increasing levels of endorphins (feel-good neurotransmitters) [5][6][3]. This is beneficial for anyone who wishes to relax and relieve stress, and indeed is the reason many people enjoy sauna so much. But it also means relief for the many individuals who suffer from mental health disorders influenced by cortisol, including anxiety and chronic stress. By significantly reducing the severity of the disorders, alongside decreasing the extent of many of its physical symptoms, sauna bathing can cause a dramatic increase in life quality. 

When it comes to psychosis risk, it was found in 2018 that men who sauna bathed several times a week had a 78% reduced risk of developing psychosis in later life compared to those who did not [3]. For those at higher risk of developing this debilitating disease, for example, people with a family history of the disease, people who were exposed to toxins such as marijuana during their teen years (while the brain is still developing), and people who have experienced consistently high levels of stress and/or depression, these results are extremely reassuring [7]. It is just one of many different studies that demonstrate how frequent sauna bathing as part of a healthy lifestyle can have a drastic effect on wellbeing in later life.

As for its pro-social aspect, it has been well-established that significant channels exist between strong social and familial relationships and happiness [8-10]. The results of a global sauna survey conducted from 2016-2017 found that socializing was one of the key reasons people enjoyed and perused sauna bathing [11]. Having a place to regularly gather and bond with friends and/or family can have a huge impact on mental wellbeing and is likely one of the reasons Finnish sauna culture has survived for so many millennia. 

References

[1] Hussain, J and Cohen, M (2018) ‘Clinical Effects of Regular Dry Sauna Bathing: A Systematic Review’ Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine. 970 Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29849692

[2] Kukkonen-Harjula, K and Kauppinen, K (2006) ‘Health effects and risks of sauna bathing’ International Journal of Circumpolar Health 65(3) pp. 195-205. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/ijch.v65i3.18102

[3] Laukkanen, T; Laukkanen, J; Kunutsor, S (2018) ‘Cardiovascular and other health benefits of sauna bathing: a review of the evidence’ Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 93(8) pp. 1111-1121. Available at: https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(18)30275-1/fulltext

[4] Lowdry, CA; Lightman, SL; Nutt, DJ (2009) ‘That warm fuzzy feeling: brain serotonergic neurons and the regulation of emotion’ Journal of Psychopharmacology 23(4) pp. 392-400. Available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0269881108099956

[5] Leppaluoto, J et al (1986) ‘Endocrine effects of repeated sauna bathing’ Acta Physiologica Scandinavica 128(3) pp. 467-70. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3788622

[6] Kukkonen-Harjula, K et al (1989) ‘Haemodynamic and hormonal responses to heat exposure in a Finnish sauna bath’ European Journal of Applied Physiology and Occupational Physiology 58(5) pp. 543-50. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2759081 

[7] Laukkanen, T; Laukkanen, J; Kunutsor, S (2018) ‘Sauna bathing and risk of psychotic disorders: a prospective cohort study’ Medical Principles and Practice 27(6) pp. 562-569. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6422146/

[8] Kier, C et al (2011) ‘Searching for Happiness: The Importance of Social Capital’ Journal of Happiness Studies 12(3) pp. 443-462. Available at: https://link-springer-com.ezphost.dur.ac.uk/article/10.1007/s10902-010-9208-8

[9] Coleman, J. M. (1988) ‘Social capital in the creation of human capital’ American Journal of Sociology 94 pp. 95-120. Available at: https://www-journals-uchicago-edu.ezphost.dur.ac.uk/doi/abs/10.1086/228943

[10] Putnam, R. D. (2000) Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon and Schuster.

[11] Hussain, J; Greaves, R; and Cohen, M (2019) ‘A hot topic for health: Results of the Global Sauna Survey’ Complementary Therapies in Medicine (44) pp. 223-234. Available at: https://www-sciencedirect-com.ezphost.dur.ac.uk/science/article/pii/S0965229919300998?via%3Dihub

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4. Chronic Pain & Fatigue

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