When an individual struggles with substance use and addiction, their physical and mental health are inevitably affected. For those of us in recovery, finding ways to foster good mental and physical health is essential for maintaining sobriety.
Regular use of a sauna is one way to improve your recovery. Sauna usage is a holistic and alternative method that has been shown to have many positive benefits. It is worth considering adding sauna use to your routine to benefit overall well-being and recovery.
What Is a Sauna?
Sauna therapy, or sauna bathing, involves spending time in a sauna, a specially designed enclosed space in which your body will be exposed to elevated temperatures. The resulting hyperthermia increases body temperature, which can have many health benefits. In Finland and other northern countries in Europe, there are community saunas that are commonly frequented.
Traditional saunas use hot rocks on a fire, which are heated by burning wood. Modern saunas may be powered by electricity or other forms of energy. Opportunities to use a sauna may include joining a gym or health club or investing in an infrared sauna that you can plug into your wall. Finding a method for you to use a sauna that is convenient and works for you is most important if you want to incorporate sauna therapy in your recovery.
Mental Health Benefits of Using a Sauna
Saunas are often said to help detox, increase blood flow, and provide other physical benefits. More research into these physical health benefits is needed. However, the mental health benefits of saunas are well-known. The following three benefits of sauna use are especially important in the mental health components of addiction recovery.
#1 Stabilized Mood
Mood swings are common with addiction. This can be due to comorbid mental health disorders and/or the impacts that drugs and alcohol have on our brains and emotions.
Stabilizing our moods can make it easier to maintain sobriety. After all, drugs and alcohol are commonly used to cope with negative emotions. A summary of multiple research studies found that regular usage of a sauna improved overall mood stability.
#2 Decreased Risk of Depression
Depression and addiction commonly co-occur. Inevitably, these conditions can worsen the symptoms of one another. As we move through our recovery, we may need to find methods to decrease the risk of depression or to better manage depressive symptoms.
The effect of sauna usage on depression has been well studied. Researchers have found positive immediate and long-term effects of sauna usage on depression symptoms. It has even been called a fast-acting treatment option for mood, improving depressive symptoms immediately for many clients.
#3 Decreased Stress
When we are stressed, our nervous systems react. This may happen when we are in a stressful situation, emotionally stressed, or physically ill. Conversely, when we feel safe, our nervous system can relax. This physical relaxation can allow us to truly rest and heal. Utilizing a sauna has been shown to help our bodies shift into a state of relaxation.
Finding ways to decrease stress is important in recovery. For many of us in recovery, stress can be triggering. Unfortunately, this means stress can make us want to reach out for drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-medicate. Using a sauna is a healthy way to deal with stress. It can help our bodies unwind. Sauna bathing may be another tool we can use to manage stress in our lives and feel less overwhelmed.
Potential Adverse Effects
While using a sauna has many positive effects, it is important to understand the potential negative side effects and how to avoid them. Due to the high temperature of a sauna, some people may experience:
- Mild to moderate discomfort due to heat
- Low blood pressure
- Irritation of the throat and airway
Paying attention to how we feel in a sauna can help. If you feel like you are getting too hot or uncomfortable, make sure to take breaks. Step outside so you can cool off and only get back in if you feel like you get back to normal. Checking with your physician before using a sauna for the first time or before increasing your sauna use is always a good idea.
Integrating Sauna Therapy Into Your Recovery
When we are in recovery, we get to create new routines. These usually involve new habits for managing stress and living enjoyable sober lives. It takes time to build new habits, and if you are struggling, that’s okay! Rebuilding our lives in recovery is a learning process.
Adding sauna use to your set of new habits can be a great way to improve your recovery and general well-being. Finding a time, location, and method that works for you is important. If you are interested in adding sauna use into your routine but having a hard time figuring out how, consider the following steps:
- Research options where you could use a public sauna
- Look up costs for each location
- Choose a time and place that you think will work and try it out
- Reserve a spot at the sauna or ask how busy it is at your preferred time(s)
- Adjust the location and time as needed
- Consider finding a used sauna you could have at home
Part of recovery is learning how to support your mental health. Finding ways to de-stress often involves creating healthy routines that improve physical and mental well-being. In treatment, learning what works for you is important. At 449 Recovery, we help our clients build the skills needed to succeed in their long-term recovery. We teach clients how to discover new routines and practice habits that help them. If you or a loved one is in need of help for addiction and mental health recovery, we are here to help. Call us today at (949) 435-7449 to learn more about our holistic programs and speak to a staff member about your specific situation.
Dr. Warren Taff MD, graduated from the University of Birmingham, England School of Medicine, with a BA from Rutgers University. He then went on to UCLA School of Public Health in Los Angeles Health and Human Services and received an MPH. He also attended an internship in internal medicine, with the Veterans Administration. Dr. Taff’s residency includes General Psychiatry at USC, with elective residencies at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, Australia, and Royal College of Psychiatry. Board certifications include American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. Dr. Taff has extensive experience in both psychiatry and addiction medicine, extending from 1979 to present. He has held professional titles that include Chief of Staff and Medical Directorship in both hospitals and private sectors.