A few days before the election, my coworker, senior health editor Anna Borges, wrote a thoughtful article encouraging SELF readers to create a post-election self-care plan. I read the piece. I enjoyed it. I sent it to friends and family. But, on Election Night (and in the wild days that have followed), I’ve come to regret not actually taking her advice.
“The last thing you want is to wake up after election night, desperate for a way to feel a little more human, only to realize you don’t know WTF to do,” Borges wrote, adding that we likely wouldn’t know the outcome immediately.
She was right on all counts. It’s hard to know WTF to do with nothing but hours between us and any definitive resolution. However, I made a tiny choice on Election Night that served me well, and I’m sharing it with you, dear reader, during the longest week in American history. I decided to take a bath. You should, too.
Before I go on, let me state the obvious: Baths won’t fix the electorate. They won’t fix voter suppression. Baths won’t alleviate climate change, anti-Black violence, or the new coronavirus pandemic. And as a Black person in America, I’m never unaware of how my body is vulnerable to state-sanctioned violence, abuse, and neglect. Willful ignorance and pure consumerism couched as “self-care” make me cringe. There are too many things a warm bath can’t fix.
What I do know? Relaxation is imperative. A bath can help folks fall asleep. I’ve also learned the difference between what’s within my control and what is not. So if you’re glued to the television as if sustained attention can impact the outcome, if you’ve been searching for a sign that you’re allowed to do something indulgent, and if this electoral process has you craving 20 minutes to breathe—consider it time to take a bath.
I know relaxation can feel self-indulgent, but it actually promotes better health. When you’re stressed (like during a volatile presidential election), your adrenal glands release hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, the Mayo Clinic explains. Adrenaline increases your heart rate and blood pressure, the Mayo Clinic says. Cortisol dampens many bodily functions that aren’t “essential,” the Mayo Clinic explains. These changes help you focus on getting away from the perceived danger. But what if you can’t run away from your stressors? With enough time, sustained exposure to heightened levels of these stress hormones leaves you at risk for ailments like anxiety, depression, sleep issues, heart disease, and headaches, the Mayo Clinic says. So we have to find ways to reduce the way these stress hormones can tax our bodies. Tuck this recommendation to take a bath into your arsenal, along with other relaxation techniques (meditation, exercise, etc.).
It’s also worth mentioning that, if sleep has evaded you over the last few days, a bath might help. When day turns to night, your body temperature drops a few degrees. As SELF previously reported, this drop involves melatonin, a hormone that your body produces to encourage sleep. Sitting in hot water might sound counterintuitive because it raises your core temperature, but it promotes sleep when you do it 1-2 hours before bedtime. “When you get out of the bath, your body wants to cool down rapidly afterward,” Rajkumar Dasgupta, M.D., assistant professor of clinical medicine and the associate program director of the Sleep Medicine Fellowship at Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, tells SELF. “And that really helps you fall asleep.” During this election season, when sleep is evading many of us, a bath might be worth a try.
Even though I am here to extol the virtues of taking a bath specifically, I understand that not everyone has a bathtub (or wants to sit down in one). If bathing isn’t an option for you, lean into taking a long shower or soaking your feet for a while. In fact, Dr. Dasgupta mentions a 2019 literature review published in Sleep Medicine Reviews that shows sleep benefits related to warm showers and foot soaks, as well. If neither of these things sounds appealing, locking your bathroom door and having some much-needed privacy is also acceptable. My deepest hope for us all is that we find a few moments of escapism right now wherever you can find them.
Your bath doesn’t need to be ultra-luxurious for you to reap the benefits. And I know I also mentioned being wary of consumerism masquerading as self-care. With that said, if you want to lean into baths as a restorative, spa-like experience with a few strategic purchases, I’m in support. My coworker, editorial assistant Sarah Madaus, created a round-up of her favorite bath products—from bath balms to inflatable pillows. Additionally, if you’re looking for a bath soak or a bubble bath, you might consider Dr. Teal’s Foaming Bath With Pure Epsom Salt ($5, Amazon) or a bath soak like Herbivore Botanicals Coconut Milk Bath Soak ($18, Dermstore).
Ultimately, the next few days and weeks will likely be uncertain, and—no matter who wins—we’re going to be in for a rough few months. Take a bath, wrap yourself in a blanket, and fortify yourself for the fight ahead.