The miracle of shower therapy

Last week, when I was in the midst of an extreme Autistic meltdown, it wasn’t the bottle I reached for, or the cat that I kicked*, it was the shower I ran for.

In fact, if I could stay in the shower as long as I stay in bed, I would. I definitely feel better after 10 minutes under our ‘rain’ shower head than I do after eight hours of shut eye. That’s both an indictment on the quality of my sleep (a story for another time) and confirmation of how much I love having a shower.

For as long as I can remember, the shower has been one of my favourite places to be, along with, in no particular order, the country (as opposed to the city – anywhere quiet that’s devoid of buildings and housing – and people – with open spaces), the cinema, and my lounge chair (where I can read a book or sit in front of the TV).

According to research by Goto, Hayasaka, Kurihara, and Nakamura, “showering is the most common form of bathing worldwide” and provides a host of physical and psychological benefits, whether you prefer yours hot or cold.

Just some of the proven advantages include:

  • Reduced anxiety
  • Relief from depression and psychological traumas
  • Reduced levels of pain, including in instances of fibromyalgia
  • Improved immunity
  • Increased alertness

Neil Morris, a psychologist at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK, who studied the psychological effects of bathing on 80 people for two consecutive weeks, is quoted in an infographic littering cyberspace as saying:

“I found that bathing improved general psychological wellness radically. There was a significant drop in feelings of pessimism about the future and increases in hedonic tone, the internal feeling of pleasurability (sic).

And I believe that the results could have been even more impressive over a longer period of time. Baths give you the chance to stop the day for a few minutes, in a way that showers can’t. There is a wonderful combination of isolation, quiet and comfort.”

I too love to take a bath when the opportunity presents itself. As a child it was by far my preferred method of bathing and my mum would often have to come and get me out of the tub when it was time for tea (as dinner was known in my family back when I was a child).

Unfortunately though, these days, my house doesn’t have a bathtub. So the opportunity to have a soak is confined to when we go on holidays, and even then, taking a bath in a tub I know has been frequented many times isn’t something I typically feel comfortable with. And, for me, as an adult, there is something wondrous about having water fall from a height – something a bath just can’t replicate.

A recent poll showed that people from Britain spend 96 days a year in a gloomy mood because of the poor weather and short days. But what if their seemingly downbeat disposition is in fact due to their low showering frequency?

Bathing Habits by Country 2023 (yes, that’s a thing – just click the link I’ve included to learn more) found that only 83 per cent of Brits report taking weekly showers. That’s a large drop off from Brazil’s (the world’s leading showerer) 99 per cent, with an average per person of 14 showers each week.

But I don’t need studies or polls or data sets to tell me what I already know – for decades I’ve touted the therapeutic effects of ‘shower therapy’ as a means of rejuvenation. My formula is simple: a 10 minute shower = 1 hour of sleep.

Any time in my life I have needed a pick me up, I have turned not to pharmaceuticals, but to the mighty shower. And it has not once flattered to deceive.

Now that I know I’m Autistic, my views on showers and their benefits have further solidified. Bathing, whether prone or upright, is obviously an activity that presses all of my positivity buttons from a sensory perspective. It’s up there with the salt and crunch inherent in potato chips, and the spirit-lifting rush derived from a victory from one of the (many) sporting teams I support.

Of course, showers, and bathing in general, might not be every Autistic person’s panacea. You might not enjoy water in the same way I have a powerful dislike of bananas and pumpkin, two examples of texture – in this case of the mushy kind – that I just can’t stomach.

An online search for ‘Autism and showering’ and ‘Autism and water’ revealed many examples of sensory overload and other negative effects, including some Autistic people feeling every single drop of water hitting them, or being affected by the bathroom’s lights or noises. But for me water, and showering in particular, has always been eminently soothing.

My only concern now is the (weakening it seems fortunately) potential for an El Niño weather pattern to develop in Australia after three years of its cooler cousin La Niña. One might think this is good news for a compulsive showerer like me: drier, warmer weather creating the perfect conditions for long cold sessions in my 2×2 glass cubicle during Queensland’s prolonged, sticky summer.

But anyone who lived through the early 2000s will recall how South-East Queensland introduced level 5, then level 6, water restrictions when the combined levels of Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams dropped to less than 25 per cent.

And with that came the infamous four-minute shower timers, sent to every resident in 2007 as the State Government encouraged all Queenslanders to do their bit to preserve this most precious resource.

Plastic hour-glass-style timer filled with blue sand, held by a suction cap and adorned with a Queensland Government logo from 2007
These shower timers were the bane of my showering existence during Queensland’s drought in the mid 2000s

While I’m all for doing my bit for the environment – we have multiple water tanks at our place, and solar panels, and grow some of our own fruit and vegetables – I do shudder at the thought of having to curtail my currently generous showering habits.

As an Autistic person, there seem to be so many aspects of life I find triggering, overwhelming, or invalidating. It’s why I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some weather pattern named ‘the boy’ and a little plastic timer with a suction cup that won’t stick take that away from me – again.

*I promise that no cats were hurt during the writing of this blog post. As an animal lover I would never kick a cat, nor any other animal, as was suggested by the writer (namely me!) in the opening paragraph.

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