Mental Health Benefits of Cold Plunges

Even though it is common for athletes to jump into a post-workout ice bath, immersing oneself in almost-freezing water has only become increasingly popular lately. Celebrities like Lady Gaga, Alyssa Milano, Brooke Shields, and Madonna are some of the big names to jump in the cold plunge trend. 

While cold plunges have garnered much attention on social media lately, this practice is hardly new. 

Physicians and medical specialists recommended cold plunges to treat muscle soreness and ease fatigue in the early 1700s. In recent years, cold plunges have gained popularity as a way to reduce stress and improve mental health. 

And on that note, the following are some of the mental health benefits of cold plunges:

Less Stress

Prolonged exposure to stress is linked to leading causes of death, including liver cirrhosis, cancer, lung ailments, heart diseases, motor vehicle accidents, and suicides. Your body does everything possible to escape the predator whenever you’re stressed. However, since this predator is inside your head, you can’t outrun it. This explains why some people tend to eat, drink and smoke more when they’re stressed so that they can feel better. 

Fortunately, a cold plunge happens to be one of the best stress relievers you can find. Understandably, taking a cold plunge for the first time can be a huge stressor since your body is unfamiliar with it. Your nervous system will likely become shocked, and your breathing erratic. This means that your body needs some time to adapt to this new practice. 

However, with each passing cold plunge session, your body will become more tolerant to the cold temperatures, your breathing will slow down, and the biochemical shifts will reduce your stress levels in the long run. The best way to accelerate your body’s tolerance to cold plunges is to control your breathing and fully embrace the discomfort. Doing so will help balance your sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

Improves Mood

We all face low moods and sadness for various reasons, including grief, stress, or even Seasonal Affective Disorder. While this may come as a surprise, cold plunges work great to improve your mood and alleviate sadness. This is because the cold water covers your body when you take a cold plunge, triggering norepinephrine to be released. 

Norepinephrine, also known as adrenaline, is an anti-stress hormone and a neurotransmitter that affects various aspects of your body, including your mental health. This hormone is released during a cold plunge and helps elevate your mood. 

Due to the chemical and mental body interaction, you’re likely to have a much better day. As a result, people who take cold plunges regularly are more likely to feel happier and healthier than those who don’t. 

Improves Neurocognitive Function

Taking a cold plunge is a much-needed positive shock to your body and mind. When you take a cold plunge or shower in the morning, you’re likely to feel more awake, tingly, and alive than before. When you’ve been sleeping for a long time, the synapses inside your brain interfere with your neurological pathways. This can easily cause mental issues such as dementia and Alzheimer’s and impair overall cognitive function. 

Therefore, when you immerse yourself in cold water in the morning, your brain’s synapses are repaired and reinvigorated. Additionally, regular cold plunges will help improve your cognitive function and make you feel more alert during the day. 

Relieves Symptoms of Depression

Generally, mental health involves much more than what you feel or think. Even though relying on cold water alone doesn’t cure severe mental health conditions, recent studies have shown that cold plunges can alleviate some symptoms of depression. People who regularly immerse themselves in cold water are more likely to cope with depression than those who don’t. 

In addition to elevating your alertness and clarity, taking cold plunges can also increase your energy levels and help your body release mood-boosting endorphins. When you do this two or three times a week, you’ll notice that your depressive symptoms will start decreasing, and you’ll become happier. 

Trains the Vagus Nerve 

Another mental health benefit you get from immersing yourself in cold water is being able to train your vagus nerve. This nerve runs from your brain via your face and thorax to the abdomen. The vagus nerve is vital to your parasympathetic nervous, and its most significant function is overseeing critical bodily functions such as heart rate, emotional response, digestion, mood, and many others. 

This nerve mainly connects your brain and the gastrointestinal tract and delivers information regarding the state of your other body organs to your brain. By taking regular cold plunges or showers, you’re training your vagus nerve and brain to deal with stressful situations more calmly. 

Improves Your Sleep

High cortisol levels caused by stress make it difficult for some people to fall asleep or go back to sleep after waking up at night. Fortunately, regular cold plunges can dramatically help the quality of your sleep. This is because cold water immersion helps your body relax, soothe your tired muscles, and reduce stress levels. 

Additionally, cold plunges and showers help reduce unnecessary tension, slow down your heart rate and improve your feeling of comfort. Once your body has fully adjusted to the cold water, it will produce melatonin which helps you fall asleep faster. 

If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, consider incorporating cold plunges into your daily routine, and you’ll reap the benefits. 

Wrapping Up

There are so many physical, emotional, and mental health benefits you can get by immersing yourself in cold water from to time. All you need is the right mindset and preparedness to jump into that cold shower and receive these benefits. If you’re hesitant to take a full cold plunge, you can always start slow and move your way up. 

For instance, you can start with a warm shower and then turn down the shower to cold water. You can also take advantage of an alternating shower and switch from warm to cold water after every 5 minutes. Once your body has become tolerant to the cold water, you can jump into a cold pool and eventually start taking ice baths.

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