Tweak This Daily Habit to Fight Stress

·Special Contributor

Hydrotherapy has been around for centuries — maybe it’s time you try it! (Photo: Getty Images)

Water — it does a body good. But it’s not just about drinking the stuff. You can use your shower or tub time to boost your health in some fascinating ways, says Vicky Vlachonis, author of The Body Doesn’t Lie

As an osteopath and pain expert, Vlachonis pays close attention to how health is impacted by a convergence of factors in our lives — emotions, food, exercise, relationships. She believes that by unwinding some of the negative forces, such as stress, we can significantly improve our wellness and happiness. 

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And because water has long been associated with purification and emotional release (think of the ablution practices common in many religions), it makes sense that spending a little extra time splashing around would make you feel good. 

Here are two ideas for turning your daily bathing rituals into de-stressing opportunities:

Hot and cold rinsing

“Alternating hot and cold water stimulates your blood vessels to expand and contract, boosting your circulation,” says Vlachonis. “The changing temperature, along with the pressure of the water, triggers the same effect in your lymphatic system, which has no pump.” 

Studies have shown that regular hot-cold bathing tones the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, ultimately decreasing levels of stress hormones and inflammatory cytokines (cell-signaling molecules).

How to do it: At the end of your shower, turn the water as hot as you can stand it, making sure to hit every part of your head and body. Then, turn the water as cold as it gets (“Don’t worry: No matter how cold the water is, it won’t hurt you,” assures Vlachonis.) Instinctively, your lungs will expand to take in a deep breath in reaction to the temperature shock, increasing your oxygen supply, explains Vlachonis. Keep the cold water on as long as you can bear it, and then switch it back to hot. Do three to five full cycles of hot and cold rinsing (aim for making each interval about 30 seconds in length). Then finish with a bracing, cold drench. 

Salt-and-pepper baths

This type of bath helps to relieve pain and inflammation in your muscles, and it also has a healing effect on your mind. 


Just say ahhh: He looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world. (Photo: Getty Images)

According to Vlachonis, a 10-minute bath after work or late in the day is like pressing the reset button. She cites a research review article in the journal Current Directions in Psychological Science, which concluded that washing your hands or taking a shower can help you release feelings of doubt and regret. 

How to do it: Draw a bath as hot as you can stand it. Add two cups of Epsom salts and three to five drops of aromatherapy black pepper oil. Although there isn’t a lot of hard science to back it up, many athletes and health practitioners swear by the power of the salts (magnesium sulfate) to help with bloating, stiffness, and soreness. Regardless, submerging your body in warm water loosens your muscles. The aroma of the black pepper oil will both comfort and energize you with its warm, stimulating properties.

Vlachonis suggests holding yourself to a short bath because “you’ll be more likely to do it more often,” she says. And that will help you reap the cumulative benefits of taking some well-deserved time out.