4 Ice Bath Benefits for Mental Health: A Cold Plunge For Wellbeing

You may already know the typical benefits of taking a cold plunge: reduce muscle soreness, and inflammation, and improve your metabolic function.

While these are amazing  benefits of cold showers and ice baths, there are a ton of other pros being forgotten! 

Research shows that there are many cold therapy benefits surrounding mental health.

So, f you’re ready to how cold therapy can improve your mental health, start reading!  What are you waiting for?

Key Takeaways

Exposure to the cold can help in three big ways:

  1. They immediately boost mood chemicals when you get in the cold water. This brings instant relief from depressive or anxious feelings.
  2. Reduces inflammation, which is tied to increased depression and anxiety/
  3. In the long term, they train your mind and body to deal with stress. This makes you more resilient to anxiety and depression.

What Are The Ice Bath Benefits For Mental Health?

1. Mental Resilience 

Brain Cartoon Holding Weight

Dragging yourself out from under the covers on a cold winter morning? Brutal. Choosing to jump into an ice bath after? Pure insanity.

But, that’s exactly what makes ice baths powerful for building mental strength. They’re uncomfortable, they suck,  and they make you want to curl up in bed. But, you do them anyways.

After consistent cold water exposure, you realize your mind gives up way before your body does. Before long, you seem to be mentally stronger than ever before (I speak from experience). 

Once I started daily ice baths, my workouts improved a ton (yay, gains!) My mind would tell me to stop a tough set. But I knew my body could keep going.

So if you’re looking to hit mental and physical gains, start incorporating cold water immersion into your routine. I know you won’t regret it!and 

2. Mental Clarity

Cold showers are a great way to improve your mental clarity. You know that feeling when you sit down to in front of your computer to get some work done and end p blankly staring at it, words jumble together, and thoughts are all over the place?

*Poof* – take a cold shower, now they are gone.

Okay, it’s not as straightforward as that. However, taking an ice bath or just a regular cold shower can work wonders. Your body responds by releasing norepinephrine, the hormone responsible for increasing alertness and creating an awake-like feeling. It plays a pivotal role in activating your fight-or-flight response.

Studies show that cold immersion can increase  norepinephrine levels up to 500%!

I’ve noticed big improvements in my headspace after taking cold showers. If I’ve been stuck at my computer for ages (or at least it feels like ages), yet have only managed to scroll through my emails in a zombie-like manner, a quick shower wakes me up and helps me focus. 

It’s like hitting the reset button on your brain fog. Next time you need a mental pick-me-up, don’t reach for coffee – hop in a cold shower instead!

You might be surprised with the results you get.

3. Depression and Anxiety

Cold shock has been shown to have effects on your mental state. Let’s digress a bit, what is cold shock?

Put simply-it’s your body’s natural response to being immersed in freezing cold water.

The initial shock of the cold water causes a gasp reflex and rapid breathing, along with an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This response is a survival mechanism that helps conserve body heat and maintain vital functions.

Ok, very cool and all, but how does cold shock relate to depression and anxiety?

This therapy has been shown to stimulate the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain.

On top of the endorphin release, cold shock therapy is also thought to activate the body’s sympathetic nervous system, increasing noradrenaline production.

Noradrenaline is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in attention, focus, and mood regulation. By increasing noradrenaline levels, cold shock therapy may help alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Cold exposure has also been shown to activate the body’s parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and reduces stress.

This can potentially help individuals with anxiety disorders feel more calm and centered.

Woman grabbing her head because she is stressed

Surveys conducted on open-water swimmers showed that they tend to be happier, have a more positive outlook on things, and have better moods overall.

This could be due to the physical and mental health benefits of taking exposure to cold water seriously. 

It’s important to note that while there is some evidence suggesting the benefits of cold shock therapy for mental health, it is not a standalone mental health treatment. 

4. Breaking Habits

Building new habits and sticking to them is no walk in the park – trust me, I’ve been there.

When that cozy blanket and Netflix binge is calling your name, motivation can fly right out the window.

I remember a time when I was stuck in an unhealthy cycle of binge eating. I tried everything to resist those strong urges to overeat, but I always seemed to cave.

Then, in a moment of desperation, my friend recommended I try taking a cold shower whenever a binge craving struck. I looked at her like “You’ve got to be joking…”

The shock of cold was so intense, it completely took my mind off eating. I was happy but confused that it worked, considering I had tried everything.

After a while, I actually started enjoying my daily cold showers – they gave me a ton of energy and helped me build mental toughness.

I realized the cold exposure was helping me increase my willpower not just around food, but in all areas of life. I became more resilient to stress and felt more in control.

The power of small daily discomforts to create life-changing habits astounded me.

More research needs to be done on using cold therapy to change behaviors. But I’m living proof that cold therapy can be an incredibly effective tool for breaking unhealthy cycles and building willpower.

The cold hard truth (see what I did there?) is that a little discomfort goes a long way.

How can ice baths help reduce anxiety and depression?

Ice baths can help lower anxiety and depression. 

That anxious feeling when your heart just won’t stop pounding before …a date, presentation, or important interview we all know well.

But did you know anxiety may be tied to inflammation too?

Now, this inflammation thing is pretty fascinating. It’s your body’s way of protecting you when you face occasional stress (working out, getting wounded, etc.).

But in our 24/7 nonstop world, inflammation never takes a break – it becomes chronic. Whether it’s work deadlines, family obligations, or just the constant pinging of notifications on our phones. Stress is everywhere these days.

That’s where the trouble starts. Chronic inflammation has been linked to increasing inflammatory markers that can cause or worsen depression.

But here’s a silver lining: cold water plunging has been shown to reduce those inflammatory markers. So not only does it calm your anxiety, but it also helps counter the inflammation that could lead to depression.

Tired man crossing his arms

Research shows that cold water immersion can actually lower your heart rate by up to 15 percent. So taking a quick cold plunge can leave you feeling calmer and less anxious by physically cooling you down.

On top of this, a cold bath activates your parasympathetic nervous system. This system releases “feel good” brain chemicals like serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine 2-3 times higher than base levels. 

Ice baths build mental toughness over time too. Facing the cold regularly gives you confidence and self-esteem. The more you practice, the easier it gets to handle discomfort.

Long Story Short:

I know, I know – taking an ice bath sounds about as fun as running headfirst into a brick wall. Trust me, I felt the same way before I tried it!

But hear me out! As crazy as it seems, ice baths and cold plunges can improve your mental health and do your body some serious good.

The boost in focus, reduction in anxiety, and sense of accomplishment I got from taking regular ice baths was totally worth it. 

Now, it won’t work the same for everyone, not is it a replacement for mental health treatment, but most can reap the benefits of cold plunge somehow, even if it’s just physical benefits like reducing muscle soreness.

So why not start slowly introducing some cold therapy into your self-care routine? You’ve got this! Just begin with short amounts of time and slightly cool water, then work your way up at your own pace. There’s no need to officially take the plunge right away (pun intended).

Mental Benefits Of Cold Water Therapy: FAQ

What are the health benefits of regular ice baths?

Regular ice baths offer numerous health benefits, including improved mental health. They can enhance recovery after intense physical activity, reduce inflammation, boost the immune system, increase circulation, and improve overall well-being.

Do Ice Baths Lower Cortisol? 

Yes, ice baths can help lower cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress, and it plays a role in the body’s “fight or flight” response. Cold exposure has been found to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes relaxation and reduces stress hormones like cortisol. However, the effects may vary from person to person, and further research is needed to fully understand the extent of ice baths’ impact on cortisol levels. 

How can I incorporate ice baths into my routine to experience the mental benefits?

To experience the benefits of an ice bath, you can start by gradually incorporating them into your routine. Begin with shorter durations and lower temperatures, and gradually increase the duration and temperature over time. It’s important to listen to your body and make adjustments as needed.

Are there any alternatives to taking ice baths for mental health benefits?

Yes, there are alternatives to taking ice baths for mental health benefits. Cold showers, cold water swimming, or even placing cold packs on specific areas of the body can offer similar benefits. Experiment with different methods and find what works best for you.

About the Author, Sophia Victoria
About the Author, Sophia Victoria

Sophi is a health, wellness, and lifestyle blogger who uses, research, and tests products and theories to help others improve their mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing. With her own eating disorder journey, regulating her hormones, and working with 10+ nutritionists, she deeply understands the health and wellness. Sophi is also well-knowledged in self-development and committed to sharing her knowledge, experience, and expertise with her readers.

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