In addition to the acute injury inflicted by the pandemic on our society, its more universal effect has been to force most people to constrain pleasurable activities for an uncertain period of time. While we’re generally an adaptive species, the uncertainty is disconcerting. It makes us antsy. Uncomfortable. Frustrated. Bad things result.
How to cope? I found my cure for the COVID blues recently in reading Erik Larson’s latest bestseller The Splendid and the Vile. Focusing on Britain in 1940, it’s about how the British people coped with the bombing campaign waged by Nazi Germany on the British Isles during that year, and the leadership that Winston Churchill modeled for the British people and the world. Totally different situation from today, but a parallel in that the nation faced an existential challenge, and daily hardship that promised to continue for who knows how long. The book is a primer on great personal leadership by the head of government, a fascinating lesson on what might be. That’s instructive, but what I found equally fascinating was the insight on Winston Churchill’s personality and how he coped personally with the tremendous pressure and uncertainty he faced. Among his many adaptive behaviors, one that was particularly powerful was his daily, sometimes more frequent, habit of taking a long, hot bath. Sometimes his bath virtually substituted for his office.
I was reflecting on this recently as I soaked in a hot bath. I realized that one of my own changes since the pandemic began is the frequency with which I choose a bath over a shower. Before COVID, it had probably been years since I’d actually been in a bathtub. Too much time; not efficient. But I’ve come to appreciate both the time and the therapeutic effect of that hot bath. The Japanese have long made the hot bath a staple of their culture. If you look it up, there are multiple stories and studies on the beneficial effects of a hot bath: heart health; lower blood pressure; reduced inflammation; etc.
British researchers report that hot-water immersion — that is, a long sit in a hot-water bath — may help reduce inflammation and control blood sugar levels in much the same way exercise does. [Source]
One of the benefits I’ve found is that it’s simply a good time to think, or reflect. In a time of stress, it’s a stress reliever.
In an emergency it’s critical to focus on those in greatest danger. The challenge of our time is a pandemic that is wreaking economic and health damage across our society. It’s important that we focus first on helping those hurt the most by this unanticipated and not yet conquered danger. Meanwhile, for those of us experiencing the less-critical but still troublesome psychological trauma stemming from this pandemic, one simple step to ease the discomfort and bring some perspective is a good, hot bath.