For the last 30 days, I did not touch the hot water knob in my shower, instead spending at least 5 minutes under icy water each day. Why would I take on such a masochistic experiment?
General curiosity. Yes, curiosity may kill cats but has served me well as a scientist and the person who often presents the strangest stories at parties.
A well-timed fundraiser for Traumatic Brain Injury posted by my favorite health and fitness guru, Ben Greenfield. I deliberately ignored the first 2 emails about this challenge, but then while cursing Ben, I decided that I couldn’t NOT do this and still feel good about myself, so I committed to it.
Numerous studies showing the beneficial health effects of cold exposure, which range from reducing inflammation, increasing cognitive performance, improving insulin sensitivity, and even shifting your microbiome. Taking cold showers has been linked to improved stress resilience and shifting white fat to brown fat.
Perhaps most importantly, this cold shower challenge fit into my life philosophy of moving towards fear. I recognized the resistance to committing to 30 days of discomfort as a sign that I should do it to make myself stronger.
So, as I’m prone to do, I went all in. The first 5 days were ROUGH. I only lasted 3 minutes the first day, and I think I cursed more in the first week of this challenge than cumulatively in the past few years.
However, my 6th cold shower was strangely enjoyable, especially as I added in loud, upbeat music to sing along to while I was freezing (a great tip from the Facebook accountability group into which I was posting daily shivery selfies).
About a week in, I started noticing some of the benefits. First, my energy was off the charts! Not only did I get the expected swift kick in the pants in the morning, but I wasn’t ever tempted to go for an afternoon coffee or sweet treat, as I felt energized all the way up to bedtime.
I also started to notice that my hair and skin looked and felt moisturized and, frankly, beautiful. My knuckles were no longer dry, and my hair began drying in smooth, fabulous curls.
An interesting benefit was how much my mental chatter shifted to the affirmative. After the first few cold showers, I exchanged my cursing for extremely encouraging, positive self-talk (and/or loud singing), which I truly think translated to kinder conversations both in my mind and towards other people. You can really only be kind to yourself when trying to endure a full 5 minutes of cold! I also think my singing/yelling led to increased expressiveness overall, as my shower outbursts paved the way for me to more easily speak my thoughts and feelings.
Some showers were quiet and became a very interesting form of mindfulness meditation. I know some practices encourage you to focus on feelings in your body, and a cold water/skin interface is quite easy to notice and explore!
I can’t overlook the increase in mental toughness that this cold shower challenge has conferred. Every morning, I override my resistance and logical thoughts (“why are you doing this? No one will know if you skip it! Why not take a hot shower; that’s what normal people do!”) and honor my commitment. Knowing that I completed a difficult task in the morning makes my day’s difficult tasks much easier to tackle. I also think I’ve been calmer and more compassionate in various situations, lending credence to the increased stress resilience studies.
I must admit that a few mornings, I really didn’t want to jump into the cold shower. I was sleepy and cozy, but the accountability of the Facebook group and my prior knowledge that I always felt better after led me into the cold shower every day. This habit was especially needed on a day that I was dreading a difficult morning meeting and had been kept up the night before with anxiety, and my cold shower that morning was the instant mood turnaround I needed!
On the 22nd day of the challenge, I realized that I had only drunk half my usual coffee (I drink 1 cup with breakfast and take 1 more for mid morning), but I felt totally fine. Since then, I’ve reduced my coffee intake to 1 cup per day 🙂
Now I’m that I’m through the 30 days, I plan on continuing taking cold showers, because not only do I strangely look forward to them (most days), but also because I’ve noticed so many benefits. And voluntarily taking cold showers further confirms to people how crazy I am 😉
I should note that many people take on cold showers, or cold thermogenesis in general, to lose weight and improve muscle tone. While I was tempted to weigh and measure myself before and after this challenge, I’ve learned that stepping on a scale makes me feel bad. Therefore, because feeling good is more important to me than gathering as much information as possible, I don’t know if I’ve lost weight or fat in this month, but I do think my face looks a bit slimmer and happier, so I’ll count that as progress 🙂
So, try a cold shower (with a chlorine/heavy metal water filter!) if you want to enjoy any or all of these:
- mental toughness
- fabulous-looking hair and skin
- huge boost of sustained energy
- mandatory positive self-talk
- increased expressiveness
- lower caffeine requirements
- increased tolerance to cold temperature
- a new, interesting form of meditation
- higher stress resilience
- instant anxiety turnaround
- willingness to take more chances
- fun stories to make people think you’re tough a/o crazy
the TL;DR version of this post 😉