Dear Asking For a Friend,
My sister-in-law moved in with us last spring. She’s a lovely person and easy to get along with, but she’s always been a little high maintenance when it comes to personal hygiene and appearance. She barely leaves the house, but yet, she showers multiple times a day. She says that multiple daily hot and cold showers throughout the day are good for the mind and body. Wondering if I should be worried about her.
Signed, Excessive Self-Care
Dear Excessive Self-Care,
When it comes to showers, there is no universal rule on how often you should be doing it. Personal hygiene is a broad concept that means different things to different people.
Most would agree that hitting the shower can help us feel awake first thing in the morning or unwind at the end of a long day. It can also help get rid of dirt, bacteria and body odour, especially after a workout or a strenuous activity. And while there are numerous health benefits to getting clean, it appears that the experts can’t seem to agree on whether you should or shouldn’t soak yourself in some spray every day.
That said, hot showers can help burn more calories, lower blood sugar, clear nasal passages and relieve respiratory issues, and help clear skin blemishes. Cold showers, on the other hand, can help increase mental clarity and alertness, improve metabolism, improve circulation and fight off common colds and flu. If you alternate between hot and cold water in the shower, it can also help reduce inflammation, support detoxification and promote lymphatic drainage, which can help remove waste and toxins from the body. You should know, though, that while there are numerous benefits to having a regular shower, using harsh soaps or staying in the shower for longer than ten minutes can cause dry skin and hair breakage.
Sometimes it’s hard to understand the actions of those closest to us, but unless your sister-in-law is in distress, her daily routine probably makes her feel grounded, energized or productive. Perhaps those daily showers are a form of meditation — an opportunity to clear her head and calm her mind. In times uncertainty, when we have a sudden lack of structure — such as we have seen during the last year — daily routines can help us feel more organized and in control.
“Routines are an effective way for us to regain a sense of security, by anchoring us with more predictability and autonomy in our day-to-day lives,” explains Aiden Ansarian, registered clinical counsellor at the Anxiety Relief Centre (ARC). “By taking charge of the elements in our lives that we can control, we free up space for dealing with the elements of our lives we cannot control.”
Ansarian says that routines provide an opportunity to practice consistent self-care habits and have a positive impact on mental health and emotional resilience, both of which are important during times of uncertainty.
While repetitive behaviours can sometimes be a clue that something else is going on, such as the presence of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), unless those actions interfere with daily activities and cause significant anxiety, you probably shouldn’t worry.
“If the behaviour serves as a container or soothes one’s thoughts and emotions so they can better cope with life’s stressors, then the routine serves its purpose,” explains Joseph Eliezer, registered psychotherapist, clinical counsellor and author. “If the behaviour seems to exacerbate a person’s symptoms — for example, no matter how many times the hands are washed, they still feel anxiety or more anxious, then we could say it’s a form of OCD.”
We can all agree that the pandemic has impacted our lives and altered our daily routines. It has also upped the ante on safeguarding our mental health. Your sister-in-law’s showering might just be her way of finding a little peace in a whole lot of crazy.
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