Written by 4:35 pm Mindfulness

What Are The Benefits Of Ice Baths On Mental Health?

Ice bath surrounded by snow-covered mountains

Ice baths may not sound like a pleasant experience, but they have many benefits for your mental health! Using ice baths to improve mental health became popular in the late 2010s when the Polar Plunge movement gained massive popularity.

While the oldest known instance of people taking an icy plunge during winter occurred in 1904, the official Polar Plunge practice didn’t start until 2001. It gained peak popularity in 2016 and raised over $300,000 for charity!

With all the hype surrounding immersing yourself in icy water, people began to wonder if this practice had any real benefits. It turns out that ice baths don’t just give you a physical boost but a mental one as well. Let’s dive in and explore the benefits of ice baths on mental health!

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What Is An Ice Bath?

Ice baths are exactly what they sound like. Sometimes known as cold water immersion or cold therapy, ice baths have been used to help athletes recover from high-intensity workouts for ages. 

This practice typically involves soaking most of your body in ice-cold water for a limited duration. Ice baths have plenty of well-known physical benefits, including reducing inflammation, flushing lactic acid from the muscles, and stimulating muscles to repair damaged tissues due to high-intensity activity.

While ice baths used to be reserved for athletes and those involved in the Polar Plunge, people have begun to seek out ice baths for their mental health benefits in recent years. 

Are you looking for more fascinating ways to improve your mental health? Keep checking back with Healing Marketplace for the latest tips and resources. 

What Aspects of Mental Health Are Helped By Ice Baths?

Woman wiping her face with a towel

Several aspects of your mental health will be improved with a regular regime of ice baths. Depression and anxiety disorders are two of the most commonly diagnosed issues in the mental health field in the US. These disorders affect millions of people every year, and millions more were diagnosed due to the stress and trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic

Ice baths can help lower your cortisol levels, which will improve symptoms of anxiety and depression. Studies have shown that cold water showers improve metabolic and catabolic processes, neurotransmitters and hormones, and more.

The effect of cold water improving these bodily processes is shown to greatly improve mental health and overall well-being for participants. Aside from those aspects, ice baths also promote a shock to your system when you first submerge yourself.

After that initial submersion, many people feel a rush of euphoria, which is probably due to your body releasing a bunch of endorphins. There’s also a theory that ice baths can help you build a tolerance to stress, as repeated exposure to such intensity trains your body to respond to stress more quickly and efficiently.

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How Ice Baths Improve Mental Health: The Science

If those benefits sound too good to be true, you might want to read about the science behind them. There are real reasons why ice baths affect people they do, so read on to learn more about these fascinating physiological processes.

Regulates Hormones

Regulating hormones is one of the biggest reasons ice baths are effective at improving symptoms of mental health problems. Instead of taking supplements or prescription medications, ice baths can help your body naturally regulate hormones. A hormonal imbalance is one of the biggest contributing factors to issues like anxiety or depression. 

When your body doesn’t make enough of the “feel good” hormones, you’re likely to feel depressed, tired, and unmotivated. Conversely, you’ll feel anxious, on edge, and burnt out when your body makes too much of the stress hormones.

Ice baths regulate a few key hormones in the brain, including:

  • Cortisol- This hormone makes you feel stressed and anxious. Ice baths work to relieve cortisol through the production of certain “feel good” hormones, which we’ll discuss next. 
  • Endorphins- Our body uses endorphins as a natural pain killer. When you plunge into an ice bath, the shock to your system releases plenty of endorphins. This immediately lowers cortisol levels and gives you a euphoric feeling.
  • Norepinephrine- This hormone is a precursor to epinephrine, which works to relax your muscles, boost mood, and improve concentration. Your body will release more norepinephrine in response to the shock of the cold.
  • Testosterone: Ice baths also encourage the release of testosterone, improving muscle development and increasing your energy levels.

Calms The Vagus Nerve

The vagus nerve is a very long nerve that runs from your brain all the way to your stomach. The nerve regulates many bodily functions, such as blood pressure, heart rate, and stress response.

When your body enters a stressful situation, the vagus nerve signals your brain to release stress hormones. Ice baths calm the vagus nerve and stimulants the production of other hormones that reduce stress levels. 

How To Safely Do An Ice Bath At Home

woman laying down in a bathtub

Now that you know about all the impressive benefits ice baths offer physically and mentally, it’s time to learn about how you can try this practice at home. It’s important to be careful when taking on any treatment like this at home. If you have any concerns about your body’s ability to handle the shock or cold, please speak with a medical professional first.

Assuming your doctor gives you the all-clear, follow these simple steps to try an ice bath at home:

  1. Fill your bathtub halfway with cold water. Add 1-3 bags of ice to achieve a temperature between 50-59 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Lay out your towel and post-bath clothing. When you get out of the bath, you’ll want to warm up quickly, so it’s important to have your towels and clothes within arm’s reach.
  3. Put on a t-shirt and shorts. You need to wear some clothing to protect your skin, and some people go as far as wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants. Experiment with different types of clothes to find what works best for you.
  4. Set an alarm on your phone for 15 minutes. It’s recommended not to stay submerged longer than this.
  5. Enter the ice bath slowly. Start with your feet and slowly lower yourself down until you’re sitting on the bottom of the bath. Then, lean back and breathe deeply to help yourself relax.
  6. Stay in the bath for no longer than 15 minutes.
  7. Exit the bath and get warm!

After you exit the bath, give yourself some time to warm up before doing any physical activities. Sit on your couch with a hot, steaming cup of tea or coffee, and let yourself enjoy the benefits of the ice bath.

Learn How To Improve Mental Health With Healing Marketplace

Did you know about the benefits of ice baths? Plenty of other practices offer amazing mental or physical health benefits! Keep checking back with Healing Marketplace for more helpful information and resources. 

Related: How To Clear Your Mind Of Negative Thoughts

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