What do you do when you're really uncomfortable?
I'm talking physically AND emotionally uncomfortable. I'm talking about feeling cold, your heart beating fast and your limbs feeling tingly. Naturally, we want to get out of that discomfort. But, do you know what happens when you earn to endure discomfort (I'm not talking pain) ?
It seems everywhere you turn, somebody's talking about the incredible benefits of cold exposure. And, for good reason this uncomfortable habit is a huge trend. But, why would you choose to do something so uncomfortable on purpose? Well, there are many reasons, but let me share my biggest takeaway with you first. I've been ending my hot showers with cold showers for many years. My skin is softer and I'm instantly warm once I get out. We moved to Ireland over a year ago to a small ocean-side village. People all along Ireland's coast swim in the ocean all times of the year! I see people in their 70s and 80s and even kids doing it! I have met so many people who raved about the health and mental health benefits. When my husband gifted me a swim robe for Christmas, I had no more excuse not to try it. So, 3 months ago I started with a few seconds and have built up to 10 minutes. I'm totally hooked. The boost in endorphins afterwards is something else. Don't get me wrong. This is hard and so uncomfortable, but my ability to handle the discomfort has completely transformed. When I have a tough day, I go for a quick dip and I come out feeling stronger and sharper. If I can do this, then I can do other hard things too.
Here are the most impressive benefits:
Reduced inflammation and pain Cold water immersion has been shown to decrease inflammation in the body, which can lead to a reduction in pain and improved recovery after exercise or injury. One study found that cold water immersion reduced muscle soreness and inflammation following a strenuous workout (Vaile et al., 2008).
Increased immune function Exposure to cold water increases levels of white blood cells, which are important for fighting infection and disease (Brenner et al., 1999). In one study, individuals who took cold showers had a 29% reduction in sick days compared to those who did not (Buijze et al., 2016).
Improved circulation When exposed to cold, blood vessels constrict to keep warm, and dilate again when out of the cold. This repeated constriction and dilation of blood vessels can help to improve blood flow and circulation.
Enhanced mood and mental health A study found that cold water exposure increased levels of endorphins and other mood-boosting neurotransmitters (Shevchuk, 2008). Additionally, taking cold showers has been linked to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression (Onken et al., 2019).
Improved sleep Taking a cold shower before bed can lead to a deeper and more restful sleep (Harrison, 2017). This may be due to the fact that it reduces levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that can interfere with sleep.
Improved nervous system regulation. This is the big one for me! The key to enduring discomfort is to breathe yourself through it. When you take deep breaths in for 4 seconds and exhale for 4 seconds, you're letting your nervous system know that all is good. There's no need to freak out or stress. You're calming your heart rate, you're reducing stress hormone levels, you're moving from fight-or-flight mode into calm mode. That's where your body thrives. You're 'toning' your nervous system in a powerful way. And, when you can endure this 'chosen' stress and discomfort, you're better equipped to handle the stress that shows up out of the blue. This is single-handedly the biggest reason I'm doing this.
Brown Fat - The Type of Fat You Want More Of
Brown fat is a type of fat that generates heat by burning calories. Unlike white fat, which stores energy, brown fat helps to burn calories to maintain body temperature. Recent research has shown that cold water exposure can stimulate the activity of brown fat, which has important health benefits. For one, it may increase your metabolism and help you lose a little (don't expect miracles here...), but it also improves your insulin sensitivity (that's your body's ability to use sugar as energy) and reduce your risk of Type 2 diabetes.
Brown fat is mainly located in the neck and upper back, which are areas more likely to are exposed to cold.
How To Get Started | A Step-by-Step Guide:
Start with your limbs: Begin by exposing your arms and legs to the cold water for a few seconds at a time. This will help your body adjust to the temperature gradually and prevent shock.
Move to your torso: Once you're comfortable with the cold water on your limbs, move on to your torso. Start by exposing your chest and back to the water for a few seconds, then gradually work up to longer periods of time.
Finally, move to your head: Once you're comfortable with the cold water on your torso, you can start exposing your head and face to the water. Be sure to avoid getting water in your eyes or ears.
Gradually increase the duration: As your body adjusts to the cold water, gradually increase the duration of your cold showers. Start with just a few seconds and work up to a minute or more.
Remember to listen to your body. It's an uncomfortable practice for sure.
Keep in mind that the benefits of even just 30 seconds to 2 minutes are powerful enough to perhaps help you endure a bit of discomfort.
Because we all know how we change the most when life gets uncomfortable, don't we?
Let me know if you give this a go!