However much we want to deny it, stress is an unfortunate part of the human experience. As most of us juggle responsibilities that range from work deadlines to healthy eating, we all have stressful times and days that feel overwhelming. There are several stress relief tactics out there, some better than others, but one source of stress relief often goes overlooked.
Hot tubs and saunas get the bulk of the attention, but did you know that ice baths can help you destress too? Traditionally, cold therapy has been reserved for sports medicine and athletes, but a new trend of cold water immersion is beginning to branch out into other aspects of life!
Besides their use as a post-workout recovery tool or daily mental health boost, ice baths have proven to be helpful in the world of stress. A quick soak in ice-cold water can provide some surprisingly effective stress relief, and building a cold plunge habit might just lead to an overall reduction in stress.
Keep reading to get the low-down on ice baths and stress. Plus, what you can be doing to push back against the day-to-day stressors that can bring you down.
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Short Term Stress Relief
When most of us are looking for a break from stress, we tend to turn to comforting things. For this reason, we often turn to warm and soft things, like blankets, hot baths, and cups of tea, among other things. There’s nothing wrong with these stress-relief solutions, but if you’re looking for other solutions, you should be looking at the other end of the temperature spectrum: cold!
Ice Bath Benefits
At first, you will question every aspect of cold plunging (trust us, so did we), but once you get past the first initial shock of the water, you might start to notice something else; a sense of calm. This is due to many reactions that occur in your body when you encounter cold temperatures.
Upon the first contact with cold water, your blood vessels constrict to bring blood closer to your vital organs. This natural constriction helps keep heat within the body, and it is increased by a hormone and neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Also known as noradrenaline, this chemical is released when your body is under stress (like being in icy water), increasing the constriction of your blood vessels. When you leave the cold, your body naturally reheats, reopening those blood vessels, and improving circulation and blood flow.
Cold baths and plunges also help reduce inflammation and swelling, in the same way that ice packs can help a fat lip or swollen joint. In this way, just one ice bath can do a full-body tune-up on your nervous and cardiovascular systems, flushing out the bad stuff and allowing your body to recover.
To reap all of the ice bath health benefits, however, you should build up a daily routine of plunging.
Long Term Stress Relief
Did you know you can actually “stress train” your body to respond more effectively to stressful situations? This is the main principle of the infamous Wim Hof Method, developed by the “iceman” Wim Hof, one of the cold therapy movement originators. By putting your body into stressful, but controlled situations, you can train your body’s response to future stress, both mentally and physically.
Like we said before, when you dip into any cold water, whether it’s an ice bath, cold shower, or one of our very own PLUNGE tubs, your brain will release a flood of chemicals, including norepinephrine. As a neurotransmitter, norepinephrine helps facilitate your “flight or fight” response, a response that plays a vital part in stress control.
This principle has been studied, using multiple different methods, to the tune of some exciting results.
In 1999, a study on cold water swimmers discovered that cold water exposure produces a reaction in the body called oxidative stress. The same survey showed that over an extended period of time, the bodies of the cold water swimmers began to adapt to the oxidative stress, lower the levels of certain chemicals, and allowed the swimmers to adjust more easily to the water.
A different study conducted in 2001 examined the hormonal changes of cold water swimmers over time, finding a strong decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone) and better adaptation to the “flight or fight” response in the body. Put simply, extended time in cold water helped these athletes adapt to the stressful situation and allowed them to be calmer and more relaxed as time went on!
So… are ice baths good for you?
These studies and many others found that the body can adapt to the stress of cold water by regulating the hormones that control stress. Every time you take a dip into the freezing water, you can teach your body to control its stress response. Research into the benefits of ice baths is still ongoing, but the list of its achievements is steadily growing. Physically, ice baths can lead to improved performance in sports, as well as reduced pain and muscle soreness. Mentally, they can help develop better responses to stress and work to boost your mental health! The proof is in the pudding, and if you don’t believe us, try it out for yourself!
It’s our mission to make cold plunging as routine as coffee in the morning, and with an ever-growing wave of support for cold therapy, we’re excited about what the future holds. Come check us out at our blog, answer any of your questions with our FAQs, or try a Plunge tub today!