De-stress and reduce anxiety with Cold Water therapy

The popularity of cold water therapy has increased largely in recent years. Cold water immersion involves either full or partial immersion into cold water (between five and fifteen degrees celsius) as a form of management for mental health conditions, pain relief treatment and to stimulate specific health benefits.

This form of therapy dates back to Ancient Greece, where cold water baths were used not only as a way to relax and socialise but also as a form of pain relief. Certain benefits of cold water exposure continue to be recognised today. Studies have shown that regular exposure to cold-water in a controlled environment can help to reduce the symptoms of both anxiety and depression.

There are many ways to start your journey into cold water exposure therapy. The Wim Hof method is often used when exposed to cold water to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress through practising deep breathing and meditation. This method typically involves soaking in an ice bath or cold shower, which is probably the easiest way to introduce yourself to cold water therapy. Research shows that even brief cold-water exposure every day can aid in the attenuation of anxiety and depression levels due to the endorphins and dopamine released. Cold showers have also been shown by research to benefit our skin and hair, which is an added bonus.

There are of course some who are now starting to use the Wim Hof method in a more active environment as a way to regulate anxiety and depression. A British group, Mental Health Swims, regularly organise cold water swims throughout the country. In an interview, the founder of the group stated that she feels the benefits of the cold water on her mental health instantly: ‘On bad days I really don’t want to get out of the water because it makes such a difference to how I feel.’

Of course, with cold water swimming you need to know your own limits and it also relies on mobility and accessibility. If this is not an option for you, then the health benefits can easily be achieved in the comfort of your home.

Even just immersing your extremities into cold water – such as your feet or face – can similarly reduce symptoms of anxiety and promote health benefits. As exposure to cold water promotes improved circulation, it has been shown to alleviate pain and reduce swelling and inflammation. This form of cold water exposure may also be more suitable for the elderly or those with limited mobility.

It is worth noting that these actions may not be beneficial to someone experiencing anxiety symptoms at that moment. Similarly, if you were to simply plunge yourself into cold water and jump immediately back out, it’s likely you will not notice many benefits – apart from successfully waking yourself up! It is with prolonged exposure over an extended period of time that the benefits may begin to emerge.

There are of course risks and precautions should be taken before participating in cold water immersion. Research on the scientific benefits of cold water immersion is still ongoing and therefore many of the benefits we hear are anecdotal. Cold water exposure can pose serious risks to those with heart conditions and should only be done in groups as the body’s shock response can put one at risk of drowning. A review paper published by a group from the Arctic University of Norway explores the health benefits of exposure to cold water. It warns of the risks to those who have heart conditions and the prevalence of inducing hypothermia if the correct precautions are not taken. However, the review found that participants of cold water immersion and cold water swimming were reported as being more ‘energetic, active and brisk’ and that swimmers who suffered from conditions such as rheumatism, fibromyalgia or asthma reported pain relief.

So, do you think you can brave the chill? The benefits of cold water exposure are undeniably enticing but it might not be for everyone. Research is still ongoing so please consult your GP if you have any concerns or health conditions before engaging in the cold water plunge.

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