Cold Shower Therapy for Anxiety

I have always had a very hard time feeling relaxed or comfortable in social situations. Whether I am in a busy public place like a supermarket or a nightclub, I am usually hyper aware of my surroundings. I can usually get by and manage my anxiety but I am far from comfortable and often longed to feel the way I imagine other people do in those situations. I never thought that this was possible for me and found the idea hard to even imagine in my head; I always thought that it must just feel like when you are at home or around friends or loved ones that you are completely comfortable with. This concept sounded almost absurd to me, being someone who felt under constant pressure once I walked out my front door.

The first time I had a taste of this kind of peace in a social setting was shortly after my first visit to my doctor about my anxiety (which was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done) after which I was prescribed alprazolam (brand name Xanax). I couldn’t believe that I could walk through my local shopping complex, speaking to people and browsing shops without feeling extremely uncomfortable, it was amazing. At no point did I forget that this feeling was drug induced but it did give me a brief insight into what life could be like without social anxiety. I didn’t take the medication for long for fear of becoming dependant and so my anxiety quickly returned.

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a Joe Rogan experience podcast with one of my favourite guests, Dr. Rhonda Patrick. Dr. Patrick is a biochemist and an expert in neurology and human optimisation, she has a lot of free information on her website which I thoroughly recommend.

She was talking about the benefits of cold shock therapy (amongst other things) and some of the current research in the field (I will add links to the research papers). The things she spoke about really interested me and lead me to further research the use of cold showers for the treatment of my own anxiety. I won’t go into too many of the specifics about cold shock therapy but instead talk about my personal experiences.

I woke one morning after deciding the night before that I would start a 30 day cold shower challenge, I intended to do some shopping later that day and was not looking forward to the anxiety which was usually involved in such an activity. I’ll be honest, at this point I wasn’t at all convinced that this was going to be effective but was pleasantly surprised after just one shower. I was apprehensive as I looked at the cold water splashing in the bath tub, I knew it was going to feel like shit.. I stepped into the bath and bit by bit introduced parts of my body to the cold water until I was eventually standing directly under the shower head. It felt horrible and all I could think about was what a stupid idea this was!

I stayed in the shower for about 10 minutes and by this time most of the shock from the cold water was gone, it was uncomfortable but my breathing had slowed and I could think clearly. After getting out of the shower I felt great, I was alert and felt invigorated. I dressed and walked to town to do the things I had planned. As I got closer to town I noticed that I was feeling oddly relaxed, whereas I would usually be becoming more and more anxious. When I got to the shopping complex I became a little anxious but not to the level I would usually experience. I enjoyed the novelty of it but in the back of my mind I had already written it off as placebo.

So I began going through this routine each morning without fail. After my breakfast I would get into a completely cold shower and not get out until the water didn’t feel cold anymore. As the weeks went on I began to actually look forward to the cold water on my skin which might seem crazy but keep in mind I have always hated cold water.. I’m not some tough guy; I’m just a normal person like you.

Now I have a rule where I simply do not start my day, leave the house etc. without having a quick cold shower and the results are amazing. My anxiety has improved dramatically; I attend college each day and feel fantastic. Before I couldn’t concentrate on my work because I was too aware of the people around me, but now it feels like I am the only person in the room when I need to concentrate. My ability to absorb information in class has improved dramatically and I feel relaxed and happy at night when I think about the day I’ve had and how much I have improved my life in such a short time.

Anyone who has had panic/anxiety attacks is familiar with the rapid shortness of breath and the dry mouth that seems to come from nowhere when you find yourself in a trigger situation. The reason I believe cold showers are so effective is because the first minute or so after you submerge yourself under the cold water you experience the same shortness of breath and rapid heartbeat you associate with panic/anxiety.. in the shower this feeling quickly subsides. If you take daily cold showers you become so accustomed to the feeling that when you feel it in a trigger situation it never escalates to the point of panic. You simply take a deep breath and move on with your day. It really is amazing and it costs nothing!

For me the benefits of cold showers were instant but the long term benefits only became apparent after 2-3 weeks of daily showers. I have become so much more relaxed and comfortable in all aspects of life; I have more energy, my anxiety is completely under control and I feel more determined to carry out other daily tasks such as maintaining a healthy diet and exercising.

Remember taking cold showers will only be beneficial if you have a positive attitude and a genuine desire to improve your situation. The effects can be maximised by combining them with regular exercise and a balanced diet. Take deep breaths and try to relax whilst under the cold water and before long you’ll learn to enjoy them.

“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.”

-Bruce Lee