When I was younger I’d play army with friends and can remember practicing controlling my breath to make it look like I wasn’t breathing. You know, dead on the battlefield. I carried this over to when friends weren’t even around, I’d practice it… I’m still not sure what’s wrong with me.
There’s something about overcoming difficult things that helps us better appreciate circumstance and life. People who encounter actual struggle are better equipped to handle challenges. Well, if they accept the challenge… that’s just part of our agency, makes us who we are.
When I moved to Florida in 2002 (I lived there 7 years)… first thing I noticed was everyone complaining about being cold. Floridians can’t truly appreciate the bitter and the sweet. They don’t know what cold actually is. I keed… but the point is, it’s hard to appreciate the sweet if you never taste the bitter.
The Cold Shower
I decided over 500 days ago (I don’t have a perfect start date but it’s pushing well over 500 days) that I was going to ONLY take cold showers – 100% of the time, for the rest of my life. Here are my self-imposed rules: if it’s a standard shower (you know the one you take every day) it has to be on the coldest setting the shower allows. That’s it. Not much wiggle room.
Why did I start taking cold showers?
I got sick thinking about how easy I have it. Soft. Everything I want there. Yeah, I work hard and all that but I’m not out actually struggling. It wasn’t that long ago that life was hard! If we’re not struggling, is that healthy?
Let’s put this in to perspective, even for those of you that *think* you have it hard.
Prior to 100(ish) years ago, you wouldn’t have had:
- A regular hot shower
- A fridge or freezer to store your perishables
- An automobile (ability to easily get places)
- Ability to easily communicate (via technology)
- Ability to get good medical care
- And sadly: rights for women & minorities
- The list goes on.
Prior to 200(ish) years ago you would have had:
- To always worry about your safety (rival tribes killing you)
- Simple illnesses was more likely to kill you
- And so much more…
My guess is the people living 100+ years ago were tougher. They would make out a little better when the power turns off and the grocery store closes. 😉
Today, while the world rages on, I have it easy (and you do too (if you’re reading this)). We currently live in a time where we’re protected from the elements, enemies, and starvation. I wanted to add a self-imposed hardship to build appreciation for what I have… I came up with the cold shower (that’s a lot harder of a decision than you might think) well maybe not. Could you give up warm showers for the rest of your life? or… are you too soft… er smart?
In addition to what I’ve mentioned above, I knew there were health benefits to cold immersion. The first and most obvious – is the satisfaction of overcoming something difficult. There are a lot of health benefits attributed to a sense of accomplishment. If you’re suffering from sadness it’s possible that if you make an alteration to your life, and find accomplishment, you might overcome sadness. It’s worth a shot! Pro tip: service to others is at the top of the list.
Scientific Benefits of Cold Showers
Let’s start off by saying that cold immersion (being immersed in cold water) is better than a cold shower. For this post, I’m just referring to the shower (not immersion).
When cold water hits your skin, the blood quickly rushes (and for good reason) to surround your vital organs. It’s a protective measure. Your heart is forced to pump more efficiently. The heart is pushing blood through all of your vessels at a more rapid rate. This causes blood circulation to get “a workout” in. The cold water is triggering the circulatory system to get active which in turn promotes a reduction in inflammation.
Stronger Immune System
There’s good data that cold water immersion can be beneficial in the production of white blood cells in your body. White blood cells (immunity cells) help to protect against sickness. This in some degree is true for cold showers too (just not as effective as full immersion). Researchers believe that this process is related to an increased metabolic rate.
Improved Ability to Handle Stress
Cold water induces a mild stressor that in turn helps your nervous system (and mind) gradually get used to handling moderate levels of stress.
I really like this concept:
Actual life threatening situations are rare in our day and age. However, we tend to over-react to moderate and low stress situations like traffic & road rage, social media debates, a work deadline, people who offend you. We’ve really set up our primitive stress system to be trained and refined poorly (life is too easy) – (for most of us). Real ancient stress easily leads to death. Today, not so much…
We don’t even consciously try but our brain really gets to work in pinpointing the perceived threat which in turn leads us in to a negative spiraling of thought (leading to further stress). For example: you’re caught in traffic and getting angry, your mind goes to “I’m late” AND the result of being late will be bad (whatever your perceived stress is). It’s a stress cycle that may lead to depression and anxiety.
Cold water emersion (and cold showers to an extent) force the body (and your mind) to endure a stress. This is a powerful psychological adaptation that forces a change. You can positively impact your state of mind by introducing the right stress. Cold therapy is one effective option.
Reduction in Pain
Nothing like an anesthetic to ease the pain… cold water has anesthetic-like effect for pain relief. North American Journal of Medical Sciences
Blood vessels constrict when exposed to cold water, this helps reduce swelling/edema that typically causes pain. Not only that but cold water slows nerve signals conducting regular impulses. When exposed to cold water you’re reducing the rate at which nerves transmit pain to the brain.
Next time you’re having an issue with pain, try the cold shower. If nothing else, it’ll really take your mind off the pain for a few minutes.
Improved Will Power
If you can set a goal, especially one that’s difficult – and then achieve that goal, you’ll increase your ability to control your appetites (that’s will power)!
It’s takes a strong mind to endure cold (it’s uncomfortable). Improve your will power in all aspects of life by challenging yourself.
What 500+ Days of Cold Showers Taught Me
- Difficult things get “easier” with repetition
- Taking cold showers in the winter is never “easy”
- It takes a lot of will power to take a cold shower when you don’t want to
- The coldest setting on our 500ft well is consistently cold – aprox. 55 degrees (ice baths are typically 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit)
- My general mood and demeanor has been positively enhanced
- I’m in more control of perceived stresses than previously thought
- I believe my immune system has been enhanced
- If nothing else, the placebo effect of cold showers has bolstered my attitude and outlook on life
- I save loads of water by taking cold showers
How to Get Started (taking cold showers)
Try a cold/warm protocol to start. Stand in the shower and turn it on to the warm setting you’re used to but get in and endure the cold for the time it might take to get warm. THEN when you’re done washing up, turn the knob to cold and endure for as long as you can (maybe count to 30) then finish off warm.
Once you’ve mastered that, start cold, go warm to wash, end cold.
Once you’ve mastered that, start cold, end cold (maybe on a setting that’s not ALL THE WAY cold).
Then: take the plunge and get that water as cold as it’ll get and do your thang, son! Don’t look back, don’t make excuses. When it’s over, it’s over… and you’re better for it.
Favorite Aspects of the Cold Shower
I’ve grown to love the way I feel after the cold shower. In the winter, when I get out of the shower, it’s warm. There’s this euphoric sense of well-being after a cold shower, it’s an “everything’s going to be okay” feeling. I love the sense of accomplishment felt over time, overcoming something that’s tough really helps other aspects of life. It’s hard to explain but if you know… you know.