While standing in a cold shower may seem like a bad idea — especially if you’re a fan of hot, steamy water — there’s a reason why so many people turn their tap all the way to the left and bask in a stream of chilly H2O. It’s slightly uncomfortable, but that’s the point: The benefits of cold showers are all due to the shock you’re giving to your system, which can make you feel better in a variety of ways.
According to Dr. Holly Schiff, a licensed clinical psychologist at Jewish Family Services of Greenwich, taking a cold shower not only offers physical health benefits, but cognitive and mental ones as well. That’s because a blast of cold water to the skin sets off a chain reaction in the body, which in turn affects your physiology and mood. Essentially, cold water causes the surface vessels on the skin to vasoconstrict or open up, Schiff explains. And that pushes blood away from the surface of your skin inwards to bathe your organs and brain with fresh oxygen and nutrients.
Cold showers are also a good way to stimulate the vagus nerve, which plays a big role in anxiety and stress. “As your body adjusts to the cold water, your sympathetic nervous system declines and slows down while the parasympathetic system increases and takes over,” Schiff explains. This has a calming effect that just might make braving a cold shower worth it. Here are the other benefits of cold showers that may finally convince you to take the leap.
The Mental Benefits Of Cold Showers
Taking a cold shower may help relieve some symptoms of anxiety, depression, OCD, and other psychiatric disorders, says Schiff, who has actually prescribes cold showers to her patients. Not only does the cool temperature of the water stimulate the vagus nerve, but it also encourages the release of beta-endorphins or “feel good” molecules in your brain, which boosts your sense of well-being, she says. A brisk splash also helps reduce cortisol, aka the stress hormone that kicks in whenever you’re overwhelmed, worried, or anxious.
A chilly shower may help when you’re feeling down, too, thanks to the release of endorphins. “It’s widely believed that frigid exposure triggers receptors on the skin, which results in increased activity in the brain,” says Josiah Teng, MHC, a mental health clinician with Vivid World Psychology. “In a parallel process to electroshock therapy, where electrical impulses stimulate brain nerves, cold showers can counter depressive symptoms.”
On a surface level, the shock of cold water can be an effective form of “thought-stopping,” Teng tells Bustle. So if you’re experiencing a rush of worry, the initial shock and general discomfort you’ll feel in cold water can actually snap you out of a tough moment and provide temporary relief. Essentially, if you feel stuck in your head, a cold shower will help facilitate mindfulness, Teng says, to help you remain present.
The Physical Benefits Of Cold Showers
On the physical front, there are even more surprising reasons to take a cold rinse: According to Dr. Alyssa DeSena, a naturopathic doctor, there’s evidence to suggest cold showers can boost immunity. One study showed that a warm, five-minute shower followed by a cold, two-minute shower decreased the frequency and intensity of the common cold compared to a control group over the course of three months. This might be because cold showers boost the production of white blood cells to help ward off infections, says Dr. Steve Hruby, a doctor of chiropractic and founder of Kaizen Progressive Health.
Cold showers are also a good way to ramp up your energy levels, not only because the cold water is a shock to the system — which will definitely make you feel less groggy in the morning — but because it stimulates blood flow. Increased blood flow means nutrients and oxygen are able to make it to your cells faster to create more energy, DeSena explains.
You may have also heard that cold showers give you a “healthy glow.” And there’s some truth to that: Cool water constricts the appearance of your pores, Hruby says, and is also a lot less drying than your usual scorching shower, which may help reduce inflammation and redness on the skin. Some people do turn to ice water facials, after all (even Bella Hadid).
How Often Should You Take Cold Showers?
Thankfully, you don’t have to shiver in cold water every day to reap these benefits. All it takes is a quick dunk two to three times a week. “You can either make it part of your routine or use it when you’re feeling distressed, anxious, or overwhelmed as a hack to calm your body down,” Schiff says.
It doesn’t have to last long, either (phew). “The shower can definitely be quick,” she adds. “Up to five minutes is enough to help relieve symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as gain a multitude of other benefits.” Tack a blast of cold water onto the end of your usual shower, Teng suggests, and then rinse yourself with lukewarm water before toweling off.
Still hate the idea of standing in cold water? You could try the temperature tapering method to ease yourself in. Teng suggests starting at a comfortable temp before gradually transitioning to cold water over the course of five minutes. Stop once the shower is chilly, then stand there for a minute or so.
It’s also completely OK to listen to your body and skip cold showers altogether. It’s not something you have to do, and it definitely isn’t for everyone. Because a sudden drop in temperature constricts blood vessels, Teng says anyone with high blood pressure or heart conditions should avoid cold showers altogether. As always, it’s best to check with your doctor before giving something new a try.
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Dr. Holly Schiff, licensed clinical psychologist
Josiah Teng, MHC, mental health clinician
Dr. Alyssa DeSena, naturopathic doctor
Dr. Steve Hruby, doctor of chiropractic