As you probably know, there are many physical benefits to ice baths, such as improved circulation, reduced inflammation, and decreased muscle soreness. But did you know that cold water therapy can also improve your mental health?
In this post, we’ll tell you all about the mental health benefits of ice baths and give you the scientific breakdown behind it.
Mental Health Benefits of Ice Baths
Dipping yourself in cold water to improve your mental health may sound a bit unreal at first, but it works as a supplement to other treatments. There are many mental health benefits you can experience from cold plunging.
Ice baths can:
Alleviate Depression and Anxiety
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health disorders, affecting millions of people around the world. Cold water therapy has been shown to be an effective supplemental treatment for both conditions by decreasing the stress hormone cortisol (which we’ll talk more about later).
Studies have shown that those with depression who take regular cold baths had a significant improvement in their symptoms compared to those who did not take cold baths. The mental benefits of cold water therapy were so great that the participants continued to experience improvements even after they stopped taking cold baths. Another study found that regular cold showers and ice baths helped reduce anxiety and improve the mood of participants.
Improve Your Mood and Reduce Stress
After the initial “shock” of stepping into an ice cold tub of water, many people experience an elevated mood. This is likely due to the release of endorphins, hormones that act as natural painkillers, which have been shown to improve mood and reduce stress.
Improve General Brain Function
Taking regular ice baths can help improve your focus, concentration, and overall cognitive performance. Talk about a triple threat.
Build Stress Resilience
While ice baths reduce stress, they can also make you more resilient to stress. This is because it regulates the release of stress hormones long-term.
The Science Behind How Cold Plunging Improves Your Mental Health
Now that we’ve told you about the mental health benefits of ice baths, you may be wondering how exactly plunging yourself in cold water gives you these benefits. Here’s the science behind its effects.
Cold Water Regulates Your Hormones
Overall, ice baths affect your hormones by:
- Reducing cortisol - the stress hormone
- Increasing endorphins - a natural painkiller
- Increasing norepinephrine - regulates emotions and boosts focus
- Increasing testosterone - promotes energy, muscle development and bone growth
Cold water therapy regulates the release of hormones which is important because hormone imbalances can lead to a variety of health problems, such as anxiety, depression and weight gain.
In one study, participants who took cold showers had a significant decrease in cortisol levels compared to those who took hot showers. It also found that those who took regular cold showers and ice baths had a significant decrease in cortisol levels (a stress hormone) compared to those who only took hot showers. This decrease in cortisol is why ice baths can improve your mood and alleviate anxiety and depression.
Another study found that taking regular ice baths can help to increase testosterone levels. This is important because low testosterone levels are linked to a variety of health problems, such as low energy levels, infertility, and muscle weakness which can negatively affect one’s mental health.
Cold Water Calms the Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is a long nerve that runs from your brain to your stomach. It's responsible for a variety of functions, such as controlling your heart rate, blood pressure, and stress response. When you're stressed, the vagus nerve signals your body to release stress hormones.
When you take an ice bath, the cold water has a calming effect that activates the vagus nerve to decrease stress levels and to help reduce tension and anxiety.\
Don't have access to an icebath? Cold showers or winter ocean swims have a similar effect.
*Note: If you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, or other mental health struggles, please consider seeking help from a professional. Information in this post is for educational purposes, and should not be considered medical advice.