Cold Showers are Essential

I’ve been writing about taking cold showers for at least ten years now, and they are a primary practice in my e-book The End of Social Anxiety (not that I remember much else of what’s in that e-book, mind). I began trying out the Wim Hof method around five months ago and, while I was not particularly enthused by the breathing practice, the return to daily cold showers gave instant results and I have kept them up ever since, even throwing in the occasional cold bath. I think the cold exposure is probably the main working component in Wim Hof, though I admit I only tried the breathing method for a week or so (it just didn’t do much for me).

A daily cold shower has the following benefits:

  • It will cool you down if you are hot.
  • It will heat you up if you are cold. This thermal effect lasts several hours.
  • It improves mood via endorphin release and vagus nerve activation.
  • It reduces stress and anxiety via hormesis, a process in which the body creates an adaptation to a toxin or stressor (in this case, the body becomes resistant to stress through exposure to low-level thermal shock).
  • It will wake you up quicker in the morning.
  • An additional cold shower before bed induces sleep quickly because, as explained by this sleep expert, circadian rhythm is actually more strongly tied to ambient temperature than it is to light.

The positive mental effects of a cold shower last for several hours afterwards. Meditation is far easier and more productive during this time.

The colder the shower, the better. You are aiming to expose every bit of your body to cold, until it stops being uncomfortable. Unfortunately, most electric showers heat up the water a little bit, even on the zero setting (still, this is better than nothing). A cold bath, however, will take water at mains temperature, which is usually pretty cold, especially here in England. A few minutes spent under cold water is all that is needed to get the benefits.

I have known about the endorphin response from cold water exposure for at least 30 years, because I experienced bliss every time after swimming in the sea on holiday. I also sleep with the window open even when it’s cold outside, because it produces a kind of hibernation response which induces rapid deep sleep. Interestingly, I had my temperature taken recently as part of the UK’s COVID “Track and Trace” programme, and it was 35.9°C, which is low compared to the average 37°C. I hardly ever feel cold.

Wim Hof’s own research is fascinating and is well worth a quick look on YouTube. Through cold exposure, he was able to climb Everest wearing only climbing boots and shorts.

Even the lamestream media is getting on board with cold water therapy, as reported on left-wing women’s blog BBC News: Sea swimming is ‘amazing’ for mental health and menopause

Cold showers are one of the quickest, easiest, and most powerful lifestyle improvements we can make, and are probably the closest we can get to a “magic bullet” in this area.

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12 Responses

  1. Pretheesh says:

    I think it, ‘cold showers,’ can also be seen as a chance to develop ‘negative capability’:a term coined by English poet John Keats. By not falling for what mind says or the reflex to avoid or find safety.

    Just like developing the capacity to face disturbing mental states.

    Perhaps that is why, one could meditate better after a cold shower; one develops the muscle to stay.

    Thank you.

    • Illuminatus says:

      @Pretheesh:

      “I think it, ‘cold showers,’ can also be seen as a chance to develop ‘negative capability’:a term coined by English poet John Keats.”

      Yep, that’s exactly what I said in my e-book.

      I am in the habit of simply flipping the shower switch to coldest at the end of each shower, so I don’t have to think about it. However, if I do stop to think, my mind will come up with all sorts of reasons not to do it. It’s a powerful thing. This is why building the habit is important, so that thought loop never gets going in the first place.

  2. Kautilya says:

    I’ve been doing this out of habit for a while now

    Actually began when I wanted to stop drinking coffee on a meditation retreat – and came across the ‘waking up’ effect in a video on the way there.

    The habit is generally exposing most of body especially head and neck for 30 seconds or so… switch to Hot Water… then back to cold… then uhh back to hot because – well I did expose myself to the cold water lol

    This is probably at the 10 press-ups is better then zero thing so it’s good but I’d wanna go further

    Would you say it’s about getting colder for longer with no limit – or could you say a set of time I.e. 5 mins really cold is what’s a ‘proper session’?

    * try the alternating hot and cold as well

    • Illuminatus says:

      @Kautilya:

      “The habit is generally exposing most of body especially head and neck for 30 seconds or so”

      Back of neck is particularly effective.

      My regimen is shower as normal under hot water, then switch to fully cold for a few minutes. I think it’s best to end on fully cold so you leave the shower still in mild thermal shock (it is surprising how quickly the body’s natural heat wave will hit after this). I got used to cold water a long time ago so do not consider either hot or cold as “reward/punishment”; I am just trying to maximize the response.

      “Would you say it’s about getting colder for longer with no limit – or could you say a set of time I.e. 5 mins really cold is what’s a ‘proper session’?”

      Reason I just said “a few minutes” is because, if I don’t say that, some moron will end up giving himself hypothermia in an ice bath.
      I read somewhere that a couple of guys did Wim Hof’s breathing exercise then immediately jumped into icy water, passed out, and drowned. There’s always someone thinking “more is better” to the point where they die, so I will just leave it at, “spend a few minutes under cold water”. But, yeah, 5 mins really cold is a proper session.

      • Pretheesh says:

        Yes, forcing too much to meet a future fantasy is aggression, violence onto oneself. I think the key is to see what is our capacity for real, not what is expected of us, or not what the mind says. If I can only take 3 pushups; that is the reality, whether mind says I can’t take even one or I should force to take 30, does not matter. And then keep at it, that’s all one could do anyway; all the rest seems laziness or violence -Just feeling so 🙂

  3. Ryan says:

    Interesting that you didn’t experience much during the breathing exercise. I’m always hearing about how people love it and how it makes them feel amazing. Did you feel the strong tingling? How many breaths did you do? Maybe try increasing the count until you really feel the tingling. Whenever I do it i feel like my whole body is emanating sparks in all direction.

    • Illuminatus says:

      @Ryan: No tingling. Slight lightheadedness with a bit of “opioid nausea”, IIRC. This quickly passed. I did a session as he showed in his videos each morning for a few days. After negligible results I was not so committed so probably did less the next few days. Can you provide your exact regimen? I’ll give it another try.

      • Ryan says:

        Sure, I do it pretty much the way he teaches it. The only difference is that I breathe at a much higher pace, pretty much as fast as I comfortably can, breathing fully in AND fully out. It feels a bit like a mild workout but it helps doing the breathing while lying down. I find that I can go much deeper that way. Also, I always breathe through the mouth, which allows me to fill and empty my lungs much quicker. After the third round the tingling gets so strong that my hands cramp up and I can’t even move my arms anymore during the breath hold. It’s not unpleasant, it even feels very pleasurable. I also find I’m doing more towards 40 to 60 breaths instead of 30.

  4. Niels says:

    I’m not entirely convinced that you should see your low baseline body temperature as a good thing; normally, your body should compensate external coldness with inner heat to reach a healthy baseline again. Depending on what time of the day your temperature was taken (in the morning we’re generally colder until our circadian ramps up thyroid hormones), I would look into your thyroid hormone levels and see whether they seemed normal or not. FT3, rT3, T4 and TSH being the main values to look at.

    • Illuminatus says:

      @Niels: My body temp has always been on the low end. Doctors have not been concerned and have described it as “normal variance”.
      As for the 35.9°C reading, this was taken in a hairdresser’s on a contactless forehead thermometer, so I’m not sure how accurate it was. I asked her to read some of the recordings for other people taken that day and they were 36.6°C to 37°C, so it was possibly almost half a degree out. I just thought it was amusing that, at a time when we’re all supposed to have COVID fever, I’m getting a 35.9°C reading. “Cool as a cucumber.” 😎

      The only blood test results I have available are from 2012 and show TSH as 2.93mu/L, with “Normal” printed next to it. (The other values you mentioned are not shown.) My body temp was recorded as 36.2°C around that time, IIRC, but it was a long time ago.

  5. Xer says:

    I have been doing the cold shower thing for like 7 years. It does have an instant ‘wake up’ effect for the morning. I live in the eastern US, and the problem is, for half the year, our ‘coldest’ water is often sorta luke-warm (in urban areas, at least ..) , probably above 10 deg c (50 deg f) . Wondering if sitting in a bath of that water might have a stronger effect if needed.

    • Illuminatus says:

      @Xer:

      According to a Google search, the average mains water temperature in England is 5-20°C (this is the temperature range of my cold baths/showers), so 10°C is definitely “cold enough”. Submersion in water makes it feel a lot colder than it is. If you think about a swimming pool, it always feels very cold when you first jump in, and those are maintained at 26°C.

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