My mother used to say, “you should never make a major decision before having a big sleep and a long bath”. As one is want to do with parental advice, this simple statement sat quietly in the recesses of my mind without much attention. That is until this year and the shit hit-eth the fan.
And, now that I happen to be a mother myself, all these little homilies of advice have started sprouting up and taking root in my everyday life.
The miraculous thing? This simple activity usually helped in one way or another. And, like everyone who hates to admit their parents right, I needed a second opinion.
So, here are the science-backed reasons you need to take a bath when life throws a pandemic at you.
What’s up brain?
First, let’s take a minute to talk about a happy little part of our heads called the ‘medial prefrontal cortex’. Also known as your creative hub.
Imagine it sitting up there, wearing a string of Love beads and lazily strumming a guitar just waiting for you to play hacky sack with it.
Only, you don’t get much free time to hang out with it because when faced with some of the trickier challenges of everyday life (such as work, family, a global pandemic) our ‘dorsolateral prefrontal cortex’ usually pushes the creative hub aside like an ultra-caffeinated Tiger Mum, determined to take over handling the nitty-gritty planning, organisation, stockpiling of toilet paper (just kidding, you’d never do that).
As our day to day lives usually involve a lot of this kind of strategic thinking the creative parts of our brain get switched off. Bye-bye creativity, hello to-do list.
But here’s the good news. When faced with a problem or need some inspiration, you can force your more meticulous side down and rev up the creative part of your cranium faster than it takes to type ‘Ravi Shankar’ on your iTunes.
And all it takes is submerging yourself in warm water.
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A little positive distraction goes a long way
Before we delve into the distracting brilliance of a good bath we’re going to take a minute to talk about freestyle rap.
What does getting naked and warm have to do with Eminem? Turns out quite a lot.
Researchers Katherine Swett and Siyuan Liu studied the brain activity of freestyle rappers to see what parts lit up when they had to be creative on the spot.
What they found is that during mid poetic flow the rapper’s dorsolateral cortex is put largely at a standstill, letting their medial cortex do its thing (coming up with creative responses) without distraction from the responsibilities of life.
Here, friends, is the clincher: Distraction from day-to-day life.
Submerging yourself in a warm bath not only instantly puts you into a relaxed state of mind but it quickly allows you to disengage from pressing issues, allowing your subconscious mind, which is constantly filing away information, to filter through the noise and reach the surface of your consciousness.
As Mark Fenske, professor of neuroscience at the University of Guelph, says, “you need to be able to focus to shut off distractions but sometimes you focus too hard. You get stuck on something that is not helpful.”
Essentially you’ve got to let your mind wander to get it to wonder.
Or as the bard of our times, Eminem, says, “you’ve got to lose yourself.”
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More Dopamine = more ideas
Along with free wi-fi, we place Extra Dopamine near the top of the list of ‘Things We All Endlessly Hunt For’.
But there’s a larger, more life-affirming, reason for dopamine beyond simply making you feel good. It is THE key to creative solutions.
Neuroscientist Alice Flaherty confirmed that “people vary in terms of their level of creative drive, according to the dopamine pathways of the limbic system.”
Put simply, you need more to do more. It’s part of the reason people struggling with depression often don’t feel like doing anything at all.
What does getting wet have to do with it? Here comes some more science.
Researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany asked a segment of 45 people with depression to soak in comfortably warm water for 30 minutes twice a week. Eight weeks later? These participants scored 6 points lower on the depression scale than the control group, who didn’t get so lucky with the bathroom breaks.
Daydreams aren’t just for kids
As an adult, you rarely get a moment to ‘free associate’—which is just a grown-up way of saying ‘daydream’.
Much like going to bed on a problem and waking up with the answer, daydreaming works the same way as regular dreams by forging fresh neural pathways and connections for new ideas.
How do you achieve this pinnacle of inner zen? You need to create ‘cognitive surplus’, a fancy way of saying ‘time to yourself’.
And one of the few remaining places a person and acquire solitude in today’s world? The humble bathroom. Although, it’s a testament to our addiction to technology that 75 per cent of millennials actually bring their smartphones into the bath with them.
But before you line up another episode of Community, take a few minutes to lie back and lean into the inspiration that comes from being somewhat slightly bored.
To get you inspired, here are few bath time hacks to inspire your next soak:
Bring a face mask.
Not only improves your skin condition but give yourself a mild activity will inspire creativity.
Drop in a few essential oils.
Life might not always be roses but it can smell like it is.
Bring a drink
Herbal preferably but anything that keeps you hydrated is going to help. If that’s a glass of wine, then power to you.
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