You may not be surprised by a recent study that found 71 percent of 1,000 British adults are "stressed out from the strains of modern life." What might be more surprising is how many of them turn to the bathroom to relax, calling it the ideal "space to switch off and escape."
At first, this seemed odd to us. The bathroom? Of course, we know that the bathroom is one of the only rooms in the house where we go gadget-free. It's the one space where neither laptop nor iPhone is welcome. But the bathroom offers an even more powerful stress-reducer than time away from technology: Water.
Taking a daily bath has been shown to boost your mood and set you up for a greater sense of well-being. But don't step out of the room while you run the bath. The sound of running water reduces our body's natural fight-or-flight instinct, a study found. If you soak to a soundtrack of a babbling brook, rain on a tent, or the sighing ocean, you compound the effects. The study's lead author, Cassandra Gould van Praag, PhD, a research fellow at the University of Sussex, even said the research improved her quality of life: "I really did find the downloaded tracks helpful for those times when I couldn't get away from my desk," she said.
Water's effects on our wellbeing are well-documented if not well-understood. "There seems to be something very special about water," Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at the University of Exeter, told The Huffington Post. "But we don't know yet exactly [what it is]."
In his book Blue Mind, marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols writes about water's relaxing power to slow the whirling of our minds. Just think of the ocean. With its vast scale and calming rhythms, the ocean fills us with a sense of awe and gives us perspective on our lives. One study showed that people who live near the ocean report feeling less stress and better health than those of us in landlocked neighborhoods.
It's not just the sound of water that has psychologically beneficial effects, but the feel of it as well–the deep calm sensation of weightlessness floating can impart. When measured with an EEG scan, people receiving flotation therapy show a move from more active Beta and Alpha states into a Theta state. But you don't have to drop into a flotation tank; you can just hit the bathroom.
This isn't just a way to beat stress. Slower brain waves can help unleash the flow of creative ideas. The meditative Theta state induced by water also engages the brain's default mode network, allowing you to daydream in a, well, free-floating associative way you wouldn't if you were more focused on a particular task, like texting or navigating rush hour. It's similar to the power of staring out the window, an activity you should try when you can't get to the bathroom. The brain's default mode network — allowing your mind to wander, free of stimulation —opens the door to some of the best problem-solving solutions our minds can generate. So when you finally do step out of the tub, you may know just what to do about that nattering problem.
Of course artists often know what science later explains. Just listen to Isak Dinesen: "The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears, or the sea."