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Cold Plunge

Updated: Nov 29, 2023

Why in the world would you want to do a cold plunge?

Have you heard of the Wim hot method, which pairs cold exposure with breathing and meditation, to help manage anxiety and stress? The frigid water brings on what feels like a panic attack at first. Eventually your body relaxes and your mind quiets and the benefits of cold water leaves the person feeling invigorated, clearheaded, and better able to handle stress. It helps with grief, anxiety, and depression, and other mental health challenges. To get the most out of the method, you have to mentally invest in it.

Immersing yourself in icy water triggers the release of stress hormones, such as noradrenaline and cortisol, feeling of "water wakes them up." It increases the brain chemicals that regulate mood, such as dopamine. Putting your face in cold water can activate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which prompts the body to relax after a stressful event. It allows the person to feel calm and tamp down inflammation. Several conditions, including deperssion, are tied to chronic inflammation.

A little bit is good for you, too much is not.

When you dip into the water, your body triggers the autonomic nervous system. This system is a network of vessels and nerves, split into two parts that control your response to stress. When you begin to control your response to stress, you'll likely find that you begin to control your relaxation and sleep.

The Good

Cold shock produces hermetic stress which increases the brains sensitivity to endorphins, increases the production of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine (focus, attention, vigilance, mood) and can increase stress tolerance. Cold therapy has a multitude of mental health and physical health benefits. Cold exposure causes the body to produce hermetic stress, which serves as a "good stress" as it activates genetic pathways that help in the regulation of life stressors. This increase in stress regulation decreases the body's sensitivity to stress and increases stress tolerance. Cold exposure increases the production of a neurotransmitter called norepinephrine (focus, attention, vigilance, mood). As a result, cold therapy can produce a feeling of calm, happiness, and well-being, which can support the mitigation of mental health symptoms such as depression and anxiety. Cold exposure benefits include: reduction in inflation, improved immune response, increased energy/focus, and aids in weight loss (fat burn).

The Bad

Hypothermia usually sets in about 30 minutes in adults but cold water presents significant risks long before that. The initial shock of being plunged into icy water can cause arrhythmias and heart attacks. The risk of arrhythmias is increased when people put their faces underwater while experiencing this initial "cold shock." The combination activates opposing branches of the nervous system, which send conflicting signals to the heart. Cold shock also triggers the gasp reflex, followed by hyperventilation. If your airway is underwater, this can lead to drowning. Bring a buddy just in case you may experience water black out.

One way to stimulate the part of the nervous system that regulates the fight-or-flight response is through a cold plunge. You are using a cold plunge as a tool and medicine for your body.

Now the extraordinary part of the process happens…stepping into the cold water. As you take your first step the shock of the cold hits you and you gasp for air; this is where the mind/body come back to present. Being in the cold isn’t about being tough, it’s about getting in control of what is going on in the mind!

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