The Psychology of Cold Exposure: How Ice Baths Impact Mental Health
Maybe it’s overwhelming family duties, a draining job role, or a major life disruption.
Regardless, you can definitely relate to the burned-out, deep-exhaustion feeling such life situations cause and their burden on your mind.
But there is a silver lining. A plunge in icy water is an effective biohack that boosts your mental health and helps you prepare for tomorrow’s challenges.
The immersion instantly causes you to shudder, take deep breaths, and spikes your heart rate. All your mind dwells on at this point is escaping the icy bath. But soon, the shuddering stops, your heart rate slows and your mind moves away from the cold and into restfulness.
This induces calmness and serenity in the brain, enhancing your state of mind.
We’ll be delving deeper into what happens to your brain during this cold exposure and how the experience bolsters your mental health. In the process, you will also learn:
- How continuous cold exposure builds your resilience and stress tolerance
- The recommended temperature ranges for cold water immersion sessions
- Cold exposure precautions for your mental health
- The best place to find indoor-outdoor ice baths
But first, a history of cold exposure and mental well-being
Historical Overview of Cold Exposure and Mental Well-being
Cold water immersion or cryotherapy isn’t a new concept in human history. The practice dates as far back as ancient Greece (Malone J. & et al., 2022) with Physician Hippocrates noting its benefits for lassitude or mental weariness.
Hippocrates wrote about the physiological and psychological benefits of cold water exposure in his works titled “On Airs, Waters, and Places.”
This popularised the idea for research by other physicians such as Claudius Galen (Roman practitioner) and started the timeline for modern scientific investigations.
Famously recent is the head-out, body-in cold water immersion study by Bournemouth University. Its conclusion was that cold water supports positive emotion processing in the brain by suppressing the release of stress hormones.
The result? An optimal mental state to tackle life’s challenges.
Today, cold water immersion is popular with medical practitioners, athletes, fitness enthusiasts and biohackers like yourself. This inspired us to start The Peak Athletics brand and help our community harness this cold water potential with biohacking equipment, including ice baths.
We’ll be taking you through some of our kits and their features as we delve deeper into how ice baths impact your mental health.
So, how exactly does the cold water impact your brain?
The Cold Bath and Your Brain: Immediate Psychological Responses
The video above portrays a father-son mentorship program involving an ice bath plunge. Jayden, the mentee, experiences a cold shock from the immersion and exhibits all the immediate physiological responses.
These include inspiratory gasps and the heart rate increase. He becomes overwhelmed by the whole ordeal and quits on the first attempt.
During the second try, Jayden appears calm and collected as the supporting mentors cheer him on. He’s no longer in shock and is coping well with the stressful situation.
But what’s really interesting is what has happened inside Jayden’s brain, the activation of the sympathetic nervous system followed by the parasympathetic nervous system.
The immediate immersion in cold water triggered the sympathetic nerves to mobilise the fight or flight response. This mode typically involves stress chemicals adrenaline and cortisol with emotions of fear and panic surfacing (cold shock symptoms).
It was at this point that Jayden exited the cold bath on the first try.
In his second attempt, Jayden bears the immediate cold shock for his brain to activate the parasympathetic nervous system or the rest and digest mode.
At this point, stress chemical production slows. Consequently, Jayden’s heart rate slows, his muscles relax and he exhibits emotions of calm and restfulness, suggesting a boosted level of stress resilience.
That’s our brains on cold and the immediate psychological responses that boost our mental health. As we practise activating the parasympathetic nerves, we improve our ability for emotional regulation and build our resilience to future stressors.
This is the concept of hormetic stress (or stressors in low doses) that gradually changes your brain makeup to become predisposed to positive emotions and have a high tolerance for strain.
In simpler terms, you become less likely to experience fear and panic emotions (which would otherwise develop into anxiety), securing your mental health.
Mindfulness, Meditation and Cold Water Immersion
The involuntary and immediate cold shock reactions of plunging yourself into an icy bath is something of a self-focused spectacle, especially for your first time.
You instantly notice your sudden deep breaths, spiked heart rate, and the burning urge to exit the cold bath as a result of the whole immersion experience. It’s like you’re an outsider looking into what is happening in your body.
However, in these moments of self-awareness, during the cold shock ordeal, is your opportunity for meditation and the mental peace it realises.
You’re able to observe your body’s fight or flight response to the cold water without reacting and instead focus on calming yourself down with breathing exercises and visualisation.
As you keep this practice up, you gain a greater sense of the present, such as anxious thoughts and worries, and develop a higher tolerance for stress by not reacting to them. The result is an enhanced mood and better still, a healthier state of mind.
One particularly debilitating long-term condition arising from mood disorders and stress is depression.
In the developed world, depression is on track to become the leading global disease burden by 2030 (Lancet, 2010). Meanwhile, in Britain, one in five adults experienced some form of depression in the first three months of 2021, more than doubling pre-pandemic levels.
These facts emphasise the importance of monitoring one’s mental state and taking steps to enhance your brain function and general mood.
Fortunately, a plunge in cold water supports both goals by causing increases in plasma noradrenaline and beta-endorphin in the brain.
These are essential chemicals for mood regulation, pain relief and pleasure, and are especially critical for individuals with depression in helping them better their mood.
One group study that supports this claim is the research on winter swimmers and their general well-being, which was published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health.
After a four-month observation period, the research found, through questionnaires, that winter swimmers felt more energetic and were in higher spirits than their control counterparts.
The study concluded that stimulation of cold receptors on the skin during the winter swim sent overwhelming electrical impulses to the brain and triggered pleasant endorphin releases that created an antidepressant effect.
This is why our ice baths, such as the handmade Iced Tub iCedArc Oval Ice Bath, feature the UltiM Classic Ice Bath Chiller so you never have to worry about the water getting warm and interfering with the immersion exercise.
The unit is specially optimised for freezing temperatures and reaches low temperatures of up to 1°C at its highest setting. For perspective, modern cryotherapy studies such as the Hines and Brown paper of 1932 involved 4–5°C immersion for 30 seconds.
Meanwhile, current recommendations for cold water immersions, according to the European Journal of Applied Physiology (2022), are 10–15°C protocols for 10–15 minutes. This means that our ice bath is more than capable of delivering a truly sub-zero immersion experience.
Contact us today at 08081 685099 to learn how this iCedArc Oval Ice Bath helps your meditation routine.
Precautions for Your Mental Health
The surest way to ensure mental safety for your cold water immersion sessions is to listen to your mind. This entails recognizing the emotions you feel and realising when unwanted feelings begin to surface, for instance, frustration and self-doubt.
A typical scenario involving such unwanted emotions (frustration and self-doubt) is when you’re unable to stay inside your cold bath for too long. Much like Jayden from the cold water immersion video in his first attempt.
This inability means missing out on the parasympathetic system activation that would otherwise trigger a rest and digest response for an enhanced state of mind.
Consequently, all you experience are the fight-or-flight emotions, which take a toll on your confidence and mental health.
Therefore, monitor these feelings as they surface and accept that it takes people different times to develop enough resilience and become cold water immersion experts. Failure is part of the learning process and can’t be perceived as a measure of your competence.
More Ice Bath Options from The Peak Athletics
Your options for ice baths at The Peak Athletics are excitingly numerous to suit your different needs and tastes in terms of pricing and design. The following table highlights some of them with a breakdown of their distinct features.
|iCed42 Ice Bath
|Avantopool Kinos Ice Bath
|Avantopool Hanki Portable Ice Bath
|French oak and acacia wood
|Two-layer Polyurethane plastic
|Indoor and outdoors with layers of organic epoxy resin
|Indoor and outdoor
|Indoor and outdoor
|89 kg when empty
|147 kg when empty
|39 kg when empty
Our collection of ice baths at The Peak Athletics supports indoor and outdoor use and features different materials to fit your taste. They also have varying levels of features to match your needs.
Therefore if you’re looking for a more sophisticated ice bath with plenty of features such as auto cooling and heating and a touchscreen panel, consider the Avantopool Kinos Ice Bath. It’s a premium product with the most advanced functions to support all your cold session needs.
If you’re looking for something simpler with practical features such as a drainage point, consider the Avantopool Kinos Ice Bath. It’s a midrange product with handy features such as a step stool for easy access and an inside sitting to keep you comfortable.
Alternatively, the Avantopool Hanki Portable Ice Bath is another midrange product with unique features such as its ultra-lightweight bill of 39 kg. This makes it easy to carry and the perfect choice for you if you like to vary your setting and work with other teams of biohackers.
Let The Peak Athletics Be Your Solution for Ice Baths
So there you have it. How ice baths impact your mental health and your biohacking equipment options from The Peak Athletics.
But our offer doesn’t end there. When you buy from The Peak Athletics, you get:
- Free shipping and returns
- 30 days money-back guarantee
- A team of biohacking experts to guide your purchase
It’s all part of our customer-first approach that prioritises user satisfaction over making a quick pound.
So send us an email today at email@example.com and tell us about your biohacking journey. We’d love to help you find the best ice bath for your needs.
- Allan, R., Malone, J., Alexander, J., Vorajee, S., Ihsan, M., Gregson, W., Kwiecien, S., & Mawhinney, C. (2022). Cold for centuries: A brief history of cryo therapies to improve health, injury and post-exercise recovery. European Journal of Applied Physiology, 122(5), 1153-1162. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00421-022-04915-5
- Espeland, D., & Mercer, J. B. (2022). Health effects of voluntary exposure to cold water – a continuing subject of debate. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 81(1). https://doi.org/10.1080/22423982.2022.2111789