Self-Care Q-Tip: Take The (Cold) Plunge
I’ve heard about the benefits of taking cold showers for awhile. Years ago, a massage therapist in NYC told me I should alternate hot and cold water during my showers to give my body “a massage on the inside.” The theory being that it opens and closes the blood vessels, getting your blood pumping and ridding your body of toxins.
Since then, everyone from problematic life coach Tony Robbins to my chatty Uber driver have extolled the virtues of cold showers, or even better, a cold plunge.
In the New Rules of Aging Well, Dr. Frank Lipman talks about hormesis, the body’s response to small, healthy stresses that stimulate the body’s defenses against aging. A cold shower is one of his favorite ways to promote hormesis. Research shows it increases the production and health of mitochondria, which—biology lesson!—are the energy sources of our cells. Supporting optimal mitochondrial production and function is key to longevity.
The ultimate extoller of cold therapy is Wim Hof, better known as the Ice Man. The Dutch extreme athlete promotes his Wim Hof Method of breathing techniques, cold exposure and meditation as a way to regulate stress levels, boost the immune system, improve focus and mental health, sleep better—and lose weight!
Who doesn’t want that?
Maggie Q and I hate the cold. We are never not cold. Cold=torture in our lexicon.
BUT, we’ve both seen the icy light and have recently subjected ourselves to near daily cold water exposure, via shower or cold plunge pool. (If you’re lucky enough to have an outdoor pool, keep it unheated.) For the shower, you can take your hot shower, then at the end, switch to cold for at least 30 seconds. Go back and forth from hot to cold a few times, if you can stand it, taking slow deep breaths.
Q-Tip: Make it a gratitude practice that you have access to hot water at the turn of a knob.
Anyway, cold water is the worst.
Submerging yourself in cold water, especially in the winter, is a form of both masochism and mind mastery.
But the benefits are undeniable. Once out of the water, there’s an almost instant feeling of euphoria, an endorphin rush that settles into a calm and relaxed feeling. Tense and sore muscles loosen up.
Forcing myself into a cold pool, and staying there for several minutes, works wonders on my chronic anxiety as well as my knotted shoulders. Overcoming my body’s flight response and deliberately enduring the discomfort of my numbed extremities is more of a mental challenge than physical. My mind feels strong and I am less overwhelmed by the major stressors in my life.
Wim Hof has said cold water healed him after the tragedy of losing his wife to suicide. I feel that. The stronger my mind (and body) are, the less I’m triggered and sucked into the quagmire of my emotional traumas. My problems feel further away and much more manageable.
If that’s my only takeaway from cold water therapy, it’s plenty.