‘I Took Cold Showers Every Morning For A Week—Here’s What Happened’
Research even lends some legitimacy to the idea that blasting yourself with cold water can be invigorating: One small study from Virginia Commonwealth University indicated that cold showers might help alleviate depressive symptoms by sending electrical nerve impulses to the brain, resulting in an uplifting effect, sort of like a (much) milder version of electroshock therapy. And according to an article in Psychology Today, one French study also found various types of hydrotherapy (including cold) to be helpful in relieving anxiety. A recent article in The North American Journal of Medical Sciences found that cold water produced documented relief for everything from pain and inflammation to aiding and abetting almost every system in the body. In the Netherlands, a study found cold showers to increase productivity and reduce sick days.
In my current more sedentary, adult commuter life, I often struggle making the transition from sleep to wake using more conventional methods like an alarm clock, a cup of coffee, and a hot shower. Even regular gym workouts don’t seem to give me the same instant jolt of alertness as quickly or efficiently. So when I heard that there was a surprising amount of research in favor of the mental and physical health benefits of cold showers, I was intrigued enough to want to try it for a week and to take note of whether I felt any changes. Maybe this would be the answer I had been looking for all along.
My first day trying a cold shower, my husband knocked on the door to see if I was okay because apparently I was making “monkey sounds” such as, “Whoooo!” and “Haaaaaah!” Once he realized what was going on, he thought it was pretty hilarious.
Normally, I’m someone who normally actually enjoys showering and bathing (I know many people find it a chore)—and I shave every day out of habit from my swim days and because I like staying in the shower or tub as long as possible and find it relaxing. But on this first day, it was pretty hard for me to stay under the icy water long enough to shave or do my other rituals. I skipped the exfoliating scrub, the shave, and anything else that wasn’t absolutely necessary to get in and out as soon as possible. On the one hand, this felt like a loss, I love my morning rituals and self-pampering, especially before a hectic work day. On the other, there was no risk of spending too long in the shower by accident and using up too much of my morning time, which sometimes happens if I get really into trying out a specific beauty mask, soak, or other home spa treatment, as I’m wont to do.
My cold shower was over in three minutes flat and left plenty of time before my train to make and eat a healthy breakfast. I only stood under the water when I absolutely had to and huddled in the far corner of the shower to soap up—away from the cold. Not the greatest start, I thought. But Katharine Hepburn was an advocate of cold showers, according to The Telegraph, calling them “exhilirating!” (I suppose that’s one word for it.) So I decided I needed to tough it out for the rest of the week.
Having missed shaving, exfoliating, and deep conditioning, (so, all non-essential shower activities) the day before, I entered this morning’s cold treatment determined to stay in the water and not huddle in the corner. I still hemmed and hawed and couldn’t seem to make myself go through anything but the essential soap, face wash, and conditioner (I have naturally wavy hair, so I condition every time I shower, but I only shampoo every two or three days), but I was quiet enough that my husband didn’t hear me in the next room and come running in, and it felt less shocking, just cold. I still wasn’t seeing any of the purported mood-boosting benefits, but day two did feel easier than day one.
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As I opened the curtain to go inside, I realized I wasn’t feeling the same level of what my grandfather used to call, “apprehension and trepidation.” It was a cold shower, and I was going to take it. I mused on how one can get used to almost anything as I took the extra minute to use my exfoliating body scrub, shampooed, and then conditioned my hair, without huddling in the corner at all. I was pretty proud of staying under the water the whole time and also enjoyed the shower more when I wasn’t trying to avoid it at the same time I was in it. Staying under the water was still not easy, but it felt more like when you jump into a cold pool or dunk your head under the waves in the ocean as opposed to when you slowly adjust—my body felt like it acclimated to the cold quicker because I wasn’t jumping in and out of it.
Determined to shave, I decided I was going to do it and stay under the water no matter what. Thanks to my swimming days, I normally shave my whole body in the shower every morning as a matter of habit. I like the way it feels, and I can do it pretty fast at this point. Needless to say, having not shaved for three days was unusual for me.
To my surprise, the shaving was fine, and the way the cold made my hairs stand on end in goose bumps even seemed to help me get a closer shave. Once I committed to it and got it done, I kind of forgot that I was supposed to not like being in a cold shower. This was the first day I thought, “I could do this regularly,” and decided it was just something to get used to, not that bad in and of itself. After staying in the cold water that long, I could also feel my blood pumping. (Speed up your progress towards your weight-loss goals with Women’s Health’s Look Better Naked DVD.)
I made a point to stay under the water to shave, and take a shower as long as I would if it was hot—so about 10 full minutes under the water. To my surprise, I enjoyed it. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and was stressed about a difficult work day ahead, but that long, cold shower seemed to really help with my anxiety and stress about the upcoming day. It was impossible, it seemed, for my thoughts to keep circling while under water that cold, and pretty damn hard to stay sleepy, too. Perhaps because of my stress and sleepiness upon waking, and the way I could feel them physically dissipate and make way for the feeling of just pure, clear cold, this was the first day I really liked the cold shower and saw its purpose. Research from the journal PLOS ONE about cold showers and increased work performance and attendance really seemed to make sense. The cold helped to clear my head and calm me before my long, hard day.
I actually woke up looking forward to my cold shower. As I enjoyed feeling my usual early morning stress and anxiety dissolve, I decided I would incorporate them into my routine. For the same reason that people used to take cold showers when they needed some reason to skip sex or not be turned on, the effect of a long cold shower in tamping down other kinds of heatedness: anxiety, anger, and racing thoughts, seemed really apparent and valuable to me during a busy and stressful work week. My husband also asked me how I was feeling after I got out of my long, cold shower, and I took stock and noticed that my face was less puffy than it usually is early in the morning, and that I could still feel a kind of tingly tightness all over, even an hour after getting out of the shower, which was cool, because I tend to always feel like I’m at war with various kinds of puffiness when I’m tired.
On Sundays, I like to take a nice, long, hot bath, and this one was no exception. However, I can tell you that on Monday morning, I started my shower hot but finished cold for the benefits of both—that comforting warmth when getting out of bed, and the increased alertness, awakeness, lack of stress, and de-puffing that I’d become accustomed to during my week of all cold showers. I don’t think I’ll be taking exclusively cold showers again anytime soon, but it turns out I actually like the way I feel after ending my shower cold: de-puffed, alert, awake, and ready to face the day.