Make Your Next Shower Cold
This sounds like an exercise in unnecessary suffering, but it gets easier and the benefits outweigh the first 30 seconds of hell. Plus there are some tricks that make it more tolerable.
There are several reasons people advocate cold showers. They say it promotes fat loss, increases insulin sensitivity, relieves muscle soreness, improves the immune system, helps people with chronic fatigue, and more.
And while some of those may be valid reasons to do it, that's not what I use them for. Taking cold showers puts you in a mood like no other. You feel exhilarated and ready to take on anything afterward.
They're like Mother Nature's happy pill. And while I don't suffer from depression, there are times when I'm in a funk, mood-wise, and a cold shower will pop me out of it.
So on a practical level, think about why it might do that:
Let's say you can't stop ruminating on a situation even though you know stressing over it won't fix anything. So you turn on the shower and decide to take it COLD.
You step in, and it's the worst. You have to concentrate on breathing deeply and staying under the water. You become hyper-focused on the present; everything you were thinking about before is suddenly a non-issue. Then something miraculous happens after about 30 seconds. The cold water becomes tolerable.
Once you're out of the shower, you feel like you've just slayed a dragon. You have all sorts of unbounded energy. Even better news? You've distracted yourself sufficiently from what was bugging you, and chances are it doesn't seem like as big a deal.
The shower gave you some distance from the problem, which might actually help you come back to it later with a fresh mind. Psychologists will often tell people with anxiety to find healthy distractions. And a cold shower can absolutely take your mind off the source of your anxiety.
On a more scientific level, researcher Nikolai A. Shevchuk, who's studied the effect of cold showers on depression, has concluded that this is what they do to the body:
"Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and increase the blood level of beta-endorphin and noradrenaline and to increase synaptic release of noradrenaline in the brain as well. Additionally, due to the high density of cold receptors in the skin, a cold shower is expected to send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which could result in an anti-depressive effect (1)."
- If you're new to cold showers, don't try to take one when you're already cold. Have one after you've spent some time in the heat or you're still warm from your workout. If you're chilled already, you won't want to follow through.
- Do it in silence. If you're not used to cold showers, now is not the time to try and enjoy a podcast or have a productive conversation. Certain types of music can even be annoying. Get focused on the cold shower, nothing else.
- Breathe deeply. The famous Wim Hof, who's known for his exposure to extreme temperatures, has an entire breathing methodology that he uses himself (and with clients) to endure crazy cold temperatures. So don't hold your breath.
- Get in gradually. If you're like me, you can't just throw your entire body under the water at once. I start with feet, hands, arms and legs, then gradually get my torso in, and then finally my head.
- If you're not ready to do this every day for a week, just start with 3 days a week. Then see if it's something you can do on occasion. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
- Shevchuk NA. Adapted Cold Shower as a Potential Treatment for Depression. Med Hypotheses. 2008;70(5):995-1001. PubMed.