Cold showers and cold water plunges are all the rage right now with everyone from Mel Robbins to Tik Tokers extolling the benefits, but there are less extreme (and safer) ways to combat anxiety.
Proponents of hydrotherapy (water therapy) claim that cold-water exposure can boost your immune system, improve circulation, and help fight anxiety and depression.
One way cold showers may improve your mood is by increasing endorphins, a.k.a. the feel-good hormones in your brain. Cold exposure may also decrease cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone.
So the science does seem to support the claims that taking a cold shower might in fact help in all of these cases.
However, if you suffer from severe anxiety – is it really necessary (or healthy) to go to this extreme? Personally, I don't believe the benefits outweigh the risks.
Plunging yourself into cold water sends your sympathetic nervous system into the fight or flight response – which is exactly what happens when we feel anxiety. This could easily cause someone with severe anxiety to have a panic attack from the sudden stress on their system.
It's also important to note that you are putting added stress on your heart which could lead to an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia that could prove deadly, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.
Just because it's trendy right now, doesn't mean it's the best option for everyone. So if you're like me and prefer a gentler approach, here are five ways to combat anxiety that don't involve cold water.
1. Use Nervous System Regulation Techniques
When we're stressed or anxious, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) can activate our “fight or flight” response. When this happens, our body's energy resources are shifted to address the threat at hand and our other needs are deprioritized. The issue is that our bodies aren't meant to stay in this state. This is why chronic stress can cause wear and tear on our bodies and lead to serious health problems.
You can help stabilize your nervous system by utilizing vagal toning exercises such as humming to vibrate the vagus nerve, exercising, rubbing and clapping your hands on your body, and deep breathing with an extended exhale. These techniques can help in the moment to reduce anxiety and can also be used to strengthen vagal tone over time. Better vagal tone means a more resilient nervous system.
2. Daily Movement
One of the most effective ways to bring down your stress levels is daily movement. Exercise increases the production of endorphins, your body's natural mood-booster, and decreases cortisol levels. Even just 10 minutes of exercise every day can boost your mood and reduce your stress and anxiety. Can't get motivated to exercise? Keep it fun! All movement is good, so choose an activity you love – whether that's walking your dog, dancing, yoga, or hula hooping. Anything is better than nothing, so start with just 5 minutes a day if you have to and celebrate the win!
3. Five Senses Mindfulness Meditation
An active meditation technique that can be very helpful to ground yourself in the moment and reduce anxiety is the 5 Senses Mindfulness Meditation technique and it can be done anytime, anywhere. You simply use your sense of sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste to shift your focus away from your anxious thoughts.
Name 5 things that you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste. When you're feeling anxious, you're not living in the present moment, you're living in the past or future. When you pause and use your five senses, you're changing your brain state and can stop your thoughts from spiraling.
4. EFT Tapping
Emotional Freedom Techniques (or EFT Tapping), involves using your fingers to tap on nine points on your body (mostly on your head and face) while focusing on the issue troubling you. Addressing your anxiety on both the physical and mental levels simultaneously, EFT is highly effective.
Tapping is able to send signals directly to the stress centers of the mid-brain, according to researcher Dr. Dawson Church, which allows it to immediately lessen your anxiety. With over 100 peer-reviewed studies on its effectiveness since its inception in 1995, EFT is a proven self-help technique. It has even been shown to be more effective than cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) with fewer sessions needed for results in a large-scale study on anxiety and depression.
Grab a free guide to learn EFT Tapping here.
5. Use Your Imagination To Conquer Fears
If the appeal of a cold shower is proving to yourself that you can do hard things and cope, I've got good news, there's still a less extreme option.
If you're up for a challenge but want to put less stress on your body, try using your imagination to conquer your fears. While it might sound far-fetched, studies have shown that when we imagine a stressful situation, our brains and bodies respond much like they would if we experienced the real thing.
That's right, when we face our fears – real or imagined – in a safe, controlled setting we can begin to overcome them.
To try this out, sit or lie down in a comfortable position. Get into a relaxed state by taking nice, deep belly breaths. Once you're completely relaxed, begin to bring to mind the fear you've chosen to work on. Take in the scene using all of your five senses to bring it to life. As you feel your anxiety rise, bring yourself back to a calm, relaxed state with deep breathing or EFT tapping techniques.
If you have an extreme fear or phobia, start small. For example, if you're deathly afraid of dogs, don't start by imagining petting one. In your first session, simply imagine seeing one in a photograph. In later attempts, progress to seeing one on TV, then in person at a distance, then closer up on a leash, and lastly imagine holding a puppy or petting a dog. Take your time building up to the most uncomfortable scenario in your mind.
Start by doing this for ten minutes at a time. Once it becomes easy to imagine the first scenario, you can progress through your list over time, eventually overcoming some of your biggest anxieties.
There you have it – five ways to reduce anxiety without submerging yourself in cold water! If you suffer from chronic stress or anxiety, try one out today to bring some much-needed relief to your system.