While it might not come as a big surprise that sauna use can be helpful in reducing the day-to-day stresses of modern life, you might not have guessed just how profoundly they can improve our psyche.
There is a growing body of medical evidence to suggest that the real-world benefits of infrared sauna use can help combat anxiety, and give users a platform to reduce their stress levels.
The flow-on benefits of addressing sources of stress and treating the impact of severe anxiety stretch from our psychology all the way to our physiology, which shapes how we feel on a day-to-day basis.
In this piece, we’re going to break down some of the real-life stories of infrared saunas helping users to tackle their anxiety, cover some of the growing medical evidence to support these claims, and address a number of questions around the space of stress, health and infrared saunas.
But first, let’s get an idea of exactly what the stress hormone is and how it impacts our bodies, so we can understand how infrared saunas are helpful in tackling and treating stress, anxiety and even combating mental illness.
Let’s jump in!
How Does Stress and Anxiety Impact Our Body?
Whether it’s stress stemming from our jobs, our relationships or other external factors, stress, unfortunately, finds a way to impact all aspects of our health in a significant way.
When we become stressed, our bodies release cortisol, which is an important regulator of blood pressure that also kicks in as a survival instinct of sorts, giving our body an added hit of energy to address the stressful situation we’re facing.
Even without a source of stress, small releases of cortisol help our minds concentrate on important issues, and are completely normal.
Repeated and prolonged releases of cortisol, on the other hand, have a huge number of negative impacts on our bodies.
Everything from your reproductive, digestive, immune and even nervous system.
This manifests into negative health symptoms like headaches, insomnia, high blood sugar and blood pressure, fertility problems, low sex drive, muscle pains, missed periods and increased depression; the latter of which creates a negative cycle that can be difficult to break.
This was a central theme in a recent article written by Anna Lavdaras and published in Body & Soul, who writes from the outset that “all of the self-doubt just sweat out of me,” after spending time inside one of our Sanctuary™ Saunas.
Anna was living a stressful professional lifestyle, compounded by the fact she was organising a large wedding all by herself.
She writes that a friend invited her to an infrared sauna session at Wildfire Wellness in Maroubra, Sydney, which is owned by sisters Larissa and Caitlin Stores.
They told Body & Soul that “during your sauna session, as sweat production increases and your body temperature begins to rise, your blood vessels dilate and your heart works harder to pump blood around your body, increasing blood flow and boosting circulation - similar to the benefits of continuous exercise,” Caitlin Stores said.
Sister Larissa continued to explain that “regular sauna users report feeling calmer and more capable of handling stressful situations due a decrease in the production of cortisol, our stress hormone, and boost in our happy hormones, dopamine and serotonin.”
The stressed-out author of the article, Anna writes that after her initial session, she was returning to Wildfire Wellness three-times per week, where she reported significant psychological improvements. “I started sleeping better, recovering better and feeling better,” she writes. “I can speak only from my personal experience - these sessions were my oasis.”
What Does Medicine Say About Infrared Saunas Treating Stress and Anxiety?
Harvard Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry published research in 2009 that aimed to answer the question of whether or not the psychological status of a patient could be improved with near-infrared light treatment, which is remarkably similar to the conditions that you’ll find inside a sauna.
Those researchers also wanted to plot out the relationship between the treatment and the psychological improvements, map out the increased blood flow to the front of the brain, and make sure there were no side effects noted in the process.
Their results were staggering. Of the ten patients that took part in the study, after a period of two weeks, the authors noted that the patients had “experienced highly significant reductions in both HAM-D (depression) and HAM-A (anxiety) scores following treatment, with the greatest reductions occurring at 2 weeks.” Six out of the ten patients saw their level of measured depression decrease, while seven out of the ten saw their anxiety levels decrease. These figures led the authors to write in their conclusion that the treatment “may have utility for the treatment of depression and other psychiatric disorders,” while noting that “we observed no side effects.”
These findings were the basis of a randomised trial of the effectiveness of far infrared rays stimulating serotonin production and MDA levels in depressed and insomniac patients. Researchers designed an experiment that used 70 patients with clinical depression and sleep disorders, using far-infrared rays (FIR) to test any changes to serotonin levels.
Authors of that trial wrote that “serotonin increased and MDA decreased after the introduction of FIR,” adding that “these observations indicate that the serotonin pathway is involved in the pathophysiological mechanism responsible for the damaging effects of MDA on depressed patients with insomnia.”
We can see, then, that there is a legitimate - and growing - body of medical evidence correlating the physiological benefits of the technology at the centre of our infrared saunas that translate to the reduction of stress, anxiety and mental illnesses that stem from the same source.
Does an Infrared Sauna Lower Your Cortisol Levels?
As we discovered earlier in this piece, Cortisol is a hormone released by our body in times of stress, which gives us an added boost of energy and even concentration to navigate potentially dangerous situations. Over-exposure of cortisol, otherwise known as the stress hormone, though, can prove problematic for health.
You’ll be glad to know, then, that spending time inside an infrared sauna can actually help to reduce your cortisol levels. This is down to a number of relatively simple factors, the first of which involves added blood flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain that helps provide a more stable form of homeostasis that can reduce cortisol levels.
Secondly, the simple act of a wellness routine, like spending time in a sauna, can provide enough relaxation for users to enter a near-meditative state, which helps to refocus the mind and eliminate trivial sources of stress.
What Are Some of the Other Health Benefits of Infrared Saunas?
To bring it back to the sister as the center of the Body & Soul feature story above, Larissa Stores explains that they’ve noticed a number of health benefits in clients visiting their wellness centre. She said that “sweating regularly can result in an improvement in the functionality of your detoxification pathways and assist with the removal of built up toxins and waste.” She added that “the deep sweat produced in an infrared sauna not only removes these toxins and waste products from the body but also purifies the skin, improving tone and elasticity, reducing fine lines and wrinkles, leaving you with a post-sauna glow.”
If you're interested, you can find out more about the potential health benefits on offer in a Clealight Infrared® Sauna here.
If you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed in your life, don’t forget that there is a huge number of resources out there to support you.