In 2017, when I first learned that cold showers could significantly improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, I immediately began suggesting it to all of my clients. Exposure to cold is known to activate the sympathetic nervous system and send an overwhelming amount of electrical impulses from peripheral nerve endings to the brain, which can result in an anti-depressive effect.
It is only in the past 100 years that humans have been able to take hot showers and baths on a consistent basis. Prior to this, humans bathed in cold water. As a result, we have a large number of cold receptors in our skin and when these are activated it sends signals to our brain to calm down. Basically it shocks us similar to electric shock therapy without the frightening effects of real electricity.
For the past three years, many of my clients who did not want to take medication or felt medication was not helpful agreed to a daily cold shower and to mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy. Research shows that medication plus therapy can help clients with anxiety and depression so I felt a cold shower plus therapy would do the same.
It has been very exciting to see many of my clients make incredible improvements with this regime. I remember one client in particular. When I first met him he was a wreck. I have no idea how he went to work each day. He looked like a deer in headlights. He experienced overwhelming anxiety and depressive mood. At times I was scared for his safety. However, after 6 weeks of taking a cold shower each day and attending therapy weekly, he seemed like a totally different person. It was amazing. I still remember seeing his relaxed, smiling face gradually emerge from his dark, fearful eyes. It was like a miracle. He continued in therapy for 6 more months to develop the needed skills and tools to manage his mood. However, the cold shower was a powerful kickstart to our therapy. It calmed him down enough that he was able to apply the feedback from therapy similarly to how medication might work. After he stabilized, he only took cold showers as needed but it became a critical tool in his arsenal.
If clients are resistant to cold showers, I will have them splash cold water on their face and place an ice pack on their neck and shoulders for 15 minutes each day. Although this is useful, it has no where near the same effect as the cold shower. Clients who have taken the cold shower say its a powerful type of meditation in which they completely stop thinking until their body comes up to temperature.
The ideal way to take a cold shower is to ease into it slowly.
- Start by slowly lowering the temperature at the end of a usual shower.
- Get the water cold enough that you start to feel uncomfortable.
- Allow the water to run over your back for 2 or 3 minutes.
- Breathe deeply to decrease the discomfort in your mind.
- The next time you try this exercise, make the water slightly colder.
- Try to last for another minute or two in the colder water.
After performing this activity 7 to 10 times, you’ll find that you might even look forward to turning the hot water down.