What's the Secret to Feeling Good? Try Cold Water Therapy
The secret is out! Our culture seems to have recently stumbled upon cold water therapy and we’re all hooked. Cold water therapy is by no means a new practice, but it’s definitely been popularized to the point that probably 90% of us have seen a targeted ad for an at-home cold plunge while browsing the web or social media. It’s no wonder why so many people have adopted cold plunging in their day to day! The practice itself is addictive, releasing a rush of endorphins and dopamine with each chilly dip. Many people swear by the mental and physical benefits of immersing themselves in cold water. So let’s get into exactly how cold water therapy impacts our brain's chemistry and supports our mental health.
Boosting Your Health: Cold Water Therapy Benefits
There’s a lot of chatter about the benefits of cold water therapy, and most of it seems to focus on the physical benefits of the practice such as, immune system support, reducing inflammation, improving circulation, and more. However, the list of mental health benefits is just as long and just as cool!
Cold Water Therapy & The Brain Effect
First, let's take a look at the science behind cold water therapy. When our body is exposed to cold water, our sympathetic nervous system activates, triggering the "fight or flight" response. This response releases adrenaline and other stress hormones, which can help increase alertness, boost mood, and reduce inflammation.
One of the critical neurotransmitters impacted by cold water therapy is dopamine. Dopamine is often referred to as the "feel-good" neurotransmitter because it plays a crucial role in regulating our mood and motivation. Research has shown that cold water exposure can increase dopamine production in the brain, leading to an improvement in mood and a decrease in depressive symptoms.
Balance Mood & Relieve Stress
Dopamine may make you feel GOOD, but there are so many other chemicals in your brain that work to simply keep you stable. Cold water therapy has been found to stimulate the release of norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood and stress. Norepinephrine helps to increase focus and alertness, which can be particularly beneficial for individuals with ADHD or other attention-related conditions.
Cold water therapy may also be helpful for individuals who experience chronic stress. Chronic stress isn’t that feeling of a near miss on the interstate, it’s the constant worry associated with things like a job that isn’t going well or constant difficulties at home. It’s the stuff that keeps you activated 24/7. So it should come as no surprise that chronic stress can have some pretty severe negative impacts on our physical and mental health, resulting in the development of conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes. Cold water immersion activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the section of your nervous system that helps relax your body after a period of danger or stress. In other words, a quick cold plunge is sort of like hitting “force quit” on your stress circuit, counteracting chronic stress's effects on the body.
Boost Immunity with Cold Water Therapy
Cold water therapy has been found to give your immune system a little boost, like an energy drink for your body's defenders. One of the key benefits is the stimulation of white blood cell production. White blood cells are like the superheroes of your immune system. They fight off nasty invaders, like bacteria and viruses, to keep you healthy and happy.
When you expose your body to cold water, it's like ringing the alarm bells for your immune system. The sudden change in temperature acts as a wake-up call, and your body responds by producing more white blood cells. It's like recruiting an army of miniature warriors to help you fight off any potential threats. Cold water therapy also works to flush out your lymphatic system by constricting lymphatic vessels and pumping fluid through your lymph nodes. The lymphatic system, and all the stops within it, serve as a fancy transportation network for your white blood cells, moving them around the body while they conduct surveillance!
What is Cold Water Therapy & Why Should You Integrate it Into Daily Life
While cold water immersion may not be for everyone, it can offer a range of benefits for those who are open to trying it out. Whether you're looking to improve your mood, boost your immune system, or manage stress, cold water therapy may be a useful tool in your wellness toolkit.
If you're interested in giving cold water therapy a try, start by gradually exposing yourself to cold water for short periods of time. The easiest jumping-off point is simply turning your shower to cold at the very end for just 10 seconds, and slowly acclimate to more time as you’re able. If you have access to a cold plunge or even a chilly river, attempt a submersion up to the shoulders, maintaining controlled breathing, and work your way up to a 3 minute session.
Cold water therapy can have a positive impact on our brain's neurotransmitters, supporting our mental health and overall well-being. While more research is needed to fully understand the benefits of this therapy, there is evidence to suggest that it may be a helpful tool for individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions. So, why not give it a try and see how it can benefit you?