I'm a sunshine girl. Fifteen years ago, I moved from the Bay Area of California (a region with a notoriously mild climate) to Los Angeles because I was tired of being cold. I chose to live on the east side of the city instead of the west because it's much warmer on this side of town. So the notion that, for several months now, I've been submerging myself in cold, icy water—including during the winter—is really saying something.
I first experimented with cold showers in December 2022 after a traumatic breakup. I was in a disassociated, surreal state where I couldn't function because a major facet of my life just collapsed. All my standard mindfulness practices, like meditation and journaling, weren't helping. So I decided to find a physical route to bring me back to myself.
I'd recently written about the mental health benefits of vagus nerve exercises, so I tried them. I followed along with a simple ear massage tutorial on YouTube, which worked wonders for me. I went from feeling like my emotional world had crumbled to looking forward to the future.
My Cold-Plunging Experience
I decided to look into what else I could do for my vagus nerve. Ice baths, also known as cold plunges, appeared in my search results, but I was very hesitant due to how much I can't handle cold. However, all you need to start is your shower, so I tried it. My first attempt lasted just a few seconds. On my second attempt, I counted out loud to fifty and left the shower exhilarated and euphoric. Slowly, over the course of a week, I lasted longer each time. That weekend I ordered a few bags of ice and a beautiful bouquet of flowers and had my first ice bath.
Describing how those minutes made me feel is a challenge. I shivered and shook, my teeth chattered, and I wondered if I'd survive it. Still, that first ice bath converted me. I've been doing them every week or two since, and I take a cold shower after a short, warm one nearly six days a week. My record cold shower duration is a count of 400, and I average 300-350 daily.
During the process, I count out loud and alternate between holding still and dancing around in the chilly water. I leave the shower every morning ready to tackle the day, excited for whatever life throws my way and feeling like I'm taking good care of myself.
The Benefits of Cold Plunging
Cold plunging has numerous proven mental health benefits, like reducing depression and anxiety and increasing one's ability to tolerate stress. It does this by flooding your body with norepinephrine, which is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. That chemical flood, in turn, makes you feel relaxed yet upbeat. In addition to the mental health benefits, cold plunging has plenty to offer your physical wellness. It reduces systemic inflammation and enhances your immune system by helping your body create more white blood cells, which fight illness.
Why You Should Try Cold Plunging
I completely understand if the thought of standing under freezing cold water (or jumping into a bath full of ice) makes you pause. My friends call me a "lizard" because I love to lay by the pool for hours every summer. I keep my heat set to 74 degrees through the cold season, and I won't even eat ice cream between November and May because it feels too chilling. So if anyone can make a case for how amazing cold plunging is, it's me.
Cycling through wellness routines is normal; I've done it many times. I meditated daily for about five years until the pandemic altered my focus, and I haven't worked out as much post-quarantine as I did during. I can't say for sure that I'll always do cold plunging.
Still, I can say that it got me through a terrible time and has enhanced my mental health to the point where I can't imagine life without experiencing that daily boost. It's become something that I get to do, like enjoying a delicious cup of coffee in the morning. It keeps me in a great mood, costs basically nothing, and has excellent benefits for my mind and body. Who could ask for an easier way to improve their mental well-being than merely turning down the shower dial?
Cold exposure (Ice plunge) - mental health center of america [Internet]. 2022
Lombardi G, Ricci C, Banfi G. Effect of winter swimming on haematological parameters. Biochem Med (Zagreb). 2011;21(1):71-78.