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  • Writer's pictureKaty Sunnassee

Why candlelight helps you relax (minimal science, we promise!)

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Candlelight will always trump regular bulbs when it comes to creating a romantic or relaxing environment. Humans have been using candles to light their homes, and making hearth fires to cook on and to warm their abodes for centuries.

Fire has been at the heart of human existence since cavemen roamed the earth, which is why bonfires, hearth fires and also candles tap into a primal part of our being. Staring at a roaring bonfire is mesmerising. Sitting by a crackling hearth is comforting. And candles, with their own mini flames, evoke that primal connection with the fire element, creating an almost magical atmosphere wherever your find them. And there are real health benefits to sitting in front of a roaring fire. For a start it reduces your blood pressure. Gazing at a fire also has a somewhat trance-like relaxation effect. Even simply listening to a fire can lower your blood pressure. The science of why fire helps you relax

Medical and psychological anthropologist Dr Christopher Lynn carried out a three-year study at the University of Alabama. He was looking at the effects of a virtual fire on volunteers and discovered that even watching a recording of a fireplace helped viewers relax. ‘Hearth and campfires are widely held to influence a relaxation effect. Although the importance of controlled fires in human evolution is indisputable, the relaxation aspect had remained uninvestigated,’ said Dr Lynn. ‘Fires are multisensory experiences that have numerous unexplored dimensions when considering human evolution. For ancient hominins, it would have provided the following: light to extend the day and illuminate otherwise uninhabitable dark places; heat for cooking previously inedible food, warming bodies at night, and enabling migration into colder climates; a weapon to facilitate mass hunting and stave off predators; and, according to several scholars, social connection.’ Even a video of a fire helps you relax

The research, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, involved volunteers watching a variety of virtual fires under examination. Volunteers in the experiment watched unaltered fire videos, muted videos, a blank screen as a placebo, and even a picture of an upside-down fire. The results showed ‘significant’ decreases in blood pressure among the people watching more ‘naturalistic’ fires. The benefits increased the longer the volunteers watched the fires, too. However, the muted and upside-down fire videos “agitated” the volunteers and actually increased their stress levels. Dr Lynn repeated the study three times, using 226 volunteers in total. Candles helping you relax

So with their tiny flames – some even having three or up to five flames – it’s no wonder candles can help you relax and feel calm. They tap into that primal part of your being and help you feel comforted and cosy.


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