In this Just Melissa episode, I share all the details of yet another self-experiment with life-changing results—cold showers. When I vowed to take a freezing cold shower every day for 30 days in February 2020, I hoped they would be the missing factor in finally overcoming my health challenges. What I never expected is how much I’d grow to love them, and how much they’d play a major role in my self-care during the pandemic. Today, I’ll dive into the research that led me down this path, what that very first shower looked like, how my cold showers have evolved since then, and the shockingly real benefits I’ve seen. And at the end, I’ll tell you exactly how to structure your own cold shower experiment. Note: Ed Sheeran songs not required… but they help.
Connect with Melissa
For more on cold therapy, see these websites:
The Wim Hof Method (breathwork and cold therapy)
XPT Training (founded by Laird Hamilton)
This episode was sponsored by LMNT Recharge Electrolyte Hydration Powder
What Doesn’t Kill Us, Scott Carney
The Wedge, Scott Carney
Hi, my name is Melissa Urban and you’re listening to Do the Thing, a podcast where we explore what’s been missing every time you’ve tried to make a change and make it stick.
I originally recorded this episode in early May, to launch the reboot of Season 2. Back then, we were still in the midst of the global pandemic, many under strict shelter in place orders, with other states that were just beginning the slow and awkward process of reopening. It’s fair to say that we were all experiencing tons of uncertainty and that the stress of this pandemic had taken a real toll on our mental health.
But then, on top of the pandemic, this country bore witness to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Tony McDade… and since then, even, Riah Milton, Dominique Fells, Oluwatoyin Salau, Rayshard Brooks. Across the world, we’ve been protesting, advocating, learning, and taking action, not quite forgetting that the effects of the pandemic—unemployment, fear, financial insecurity, exhaustion, illness, death—rage on.
While stress resilience and self-care are more important now than ever, I didn’t know how to relaunch a podcast in today’s world by talking about cold showers. So I went back and recorded a new episode for last week—some of my own anti-racism work I’ve been doing over the last year as part of Whole30’s diversity, equity, and inclusion curriculum. The practice of self-inquiry I shared there has been a staple in my self-care for more than five years now, and certainly has brought me peace, a sense of empowerment, and capacity in this difficult time.
And still, I’m taking my cold showers. Every single morning, haven’t missed a day, in over four months. It’s become another part of my daily self-care, and the benefits have been staggering. Increased energy, a happier mood, improved tolerance for stress, and a relief in depressive symptoms. The best part is that it’s totally free, can be done anywhere and (almost) anytime, and you’ll feel the results immediately—although the benefits just keep accumulating with time.
It feels important to share this other self-care practice in this moment, too. We could all use a little more of “paying ourselves first,” and the best part about this practice is you don’t have to do anything new—it’s just taking something you’re already doing, and doing it a little differently. Of course, there is a catch… it’s kind of sucky, at least at first. But I promise, the benefits outweigh the suck a hundred times over.
So today, I’m talking about my cold shower experiment—30 days of freezing cold showers, which has morphed into a normal part of my everyday routine. If you are a fan of Do the Thing, you know I love my self-experiments. First, there was the Whole30, then my Talking to Strangers experiment then my No Phones in the Cedroom experiment and my, I’m not Drinking Right Now experiment, but I have to say that my cold shower experiment was harder than all of them, even the whole30.
But I’ll also say this, it has been one of the most impactful additions to my routine, basically ever. It helped my mood, it helps my immune system, it helped my energy, it lifted my depression and the best part about it was that it started working basically immediately. I’ve been doing my cold showers now every single day for 85 days and I can’t wait to share the ins and outs with you—some of the benefits of cold showers, how I structured my experiment and how it went along the way, the results that I saw, and how you can design your own 30 day cold shower experiment.
But before I go there, let’s go back to January, 2020 and talk about where I was just a few months ago. So back in January I was traveling the country in the middle of my book tour and basically the minute the tour started, I started to get really, really sick. It was the first day of a two week tour and I was like, Oh my goodness, I am really in for it. I was still battling lingering concussion symptoms, so if you followed my journey, I got a concussion in December, 2018 I’ve had post concussion symptoms ever since and the stress of travel and all of the events really made my concussion symptoms ramped back up, so I was dealing with that.
But also dealing with immune challenges, the stress of travel and the stress and inflammation of my brain injury, reactivated Epstein Barr virus in my body. It’s a mono like virus that leaves me or left me completely exhausted. I don’t think I’ve ever been that sick in my whole life and that was essentially the entirety of January. I was doing everything I could think of to try to help get me back to a place of health. Working with my functional medicine doctor, we were focusing on my diet. I was sleeping a ton. I was doing a ton of supplementation, smart supplementation as prescribed by my doctor. I was doing red light therapy and when I got home I started to feel better, but nowhere near back to normal. I mean I was like, if I was at a 0% on book tour, once I got home I was at like 40% but that was nowhere near feeling good enough to go back to the gym, to come back to my podcast to get back to a normal work schedule.
I felt like nothing was really helping at that point. It was really depressing how sick I was. Now, you know sometimes I’ve talked about this before, when the universe thinks something is for your highest good, it gets kind of pushy. At least my universe does. That was me and cold therapy. I was no stranger to ice baths. I actually used to take regular ice baths after my training sessions at Gym Jones and I remember after the initial shock of settling into an ice bath that it felt really good. I remember getting out of them feeling invigorated and energized and I really liked them, but I haven’t been in an ice bath in years. And what the universe was throwing at me wasn’t exactly ice baths. It was cold showers and that did not sound good to me at all. And it was like one of those comical things where I’d be like, I would do anything to feel better and the universe would be like, how about a cold shower?
And I’d be like, nah, not that. So it’s early February. At this point I’m feeling still pretty crappy. Nothing I’m doing is working and it seems like the universe decides to take matters into her own hands. Everywhere I turn. Someone is talking about cold. They’re talking about Wim Hoff. They’re talking about ice baths and most of all they’re talking about cold showers now would probably be the right time for an interlude into the benefits of cold therapy.
First. Cold therapy has an awesome impact on your stress resilience and here’s how that works. When you expose your body to a stressor and then you adapt to that stressor, your nervous system gets stronger. It gets used to handling that of stress, which allows you to navigate other stressors with less effort. Getting into a cold shower is a stressor, so the theory is like, look, if you can train your body to be calm and relaxed during this cold shower, stressful experience, then your nervous system learns and adapts from that and takes that stress resilience into other areas of your life.
Cold showers are also awesome for your mood, energy, focus, and even productivity. I don’t have to tell you that blasting yourself with cold water will be invigorating, but there have been some really cool studies on cold therapy and things like depressive symptoms and anxiety. One article talked about cold water providing relief from pain and inflammation and another talked about cold showers, increasing productivity, and even reducing sick days. For me from day one I found cold showers better than caffeine.
They immediately lifted my mood, made me feel energetic and made me feel so alert and focused. Cold showers can also do wonderful things for your immune system to boost immunity. And honestly, this was my primary reason for starting this cold shower experiment in the first place. Cold showers in general can increase your metabolism so as the body tries to warm itself up both during and after your cold shower near metabolism speeds up, which activates your immune system leading to the release of more disease fighting white blood cells.
Still other studies show that cold therapy can provide an improved adaptation to oxidative stress and a reduction in inflammation, which again, in the case of my concussion and my immune response was a huge impetus for me starting this cold shower routine. Cold therapy is also awesome for your circulation and studies going as far back as the nineties show that cold showers and ice baths may even provide relief from depression, autoimmune conditions and neurological conditions like Parkinson’s. Now I’m not going to talk about boosting your metabolism from cold showers in terms of fat loss. That’s not my wheelhouse and that’s not why I started this experiment, but there are some really cool things that happen when you activate your Brown adipose tissue or BAT as the body warms itself back up and the self regulates after a cold shower. If you are interested in that sort of thing, you can Google.
There are tons of resources available. Now let’s go back to where I was in January, 2020 immune challenges, check inflammation, check stress, check depression, check, check, check. It seemed like the more I read into cold showers and the more the universe threw them at me, it really seemed like something I should be adding to my morning routine and something that could provide me with tremendous benefit and still I resisted because it sounded so, it sounded really uncomfortable and I just didn’t want to do it. Pro tip, the fact that it’s uncomfortable is kind of the point. Anyway, the turning point came one evening in early February, I was scrolling through TikTok watching dance videos, watching duets, keeping it light. When a video came up with a guy talking all about how cold showers had changed his life, like on TikTok, the universe was not pulling any punches at this point.
Fine. This is my sign and I decided right then and there that tomorrow was going to be the day. Tomorrow was the day of the cold shower, but I didn’t stop there. See, I am both a Gretchen Rubin upholder and an Enneagram type eight so when I commit I commit my face off. I decided that I was going to do a whole30 ish experiment. I was going to wake up and take a cold shower every single morning, first thing every morning for 30 days in a row, no excuses, no days missed. So the next morning I get out of bed, I make my bed like I always do and I immediately go into the shower. I get into a hot shower, I let myself get toasty warm and then I turned it to cold and I used my waterproof watch to time myself for 30 seconds.
Oh, it was just as bad as I thought it was going to be. I stood so completely still because every single spray felt like a tiny ice dagger. And if I stayed still, at least it would only hit like one part of my body. I watched the clock like a Hawk. I could not control my breathing. So I was like gasping for air. And at the 30 second mark, I was so happy to turn around and turn that water off, but I did it and I gotta tell ya, even with just 30 seconds, I felt pretty good. Part of it was the self confidence of like I said, I was going to do something and I did it. Part of it was just surviving something that felt really sucky, but part of it was like, all right, that woke me up. I’m ready to start my day, so at this point call me intrigued.
Now I decided, which I don’t normally do for self experiments. I decided to keep a journal for this one just so I could track how long I was staying in the shower and how I felt afterward. So over the course of the next few days, I repeated the same cycle. I would get into a hot shower, I would get myself warm, I would turn it to cold and I would stay in. Now I’m in salt Lake city and this was February, so my cold water was pretty darn cold. I measured it at one point, the temperature, and it was 50 degrees. That’s cold. By the three or four day mark, I was staying in the cold part of the shower for two or three minutes and getting more used to how it felt. Now I’m still gasping for air. I am still facing only away from the shower head and standing as still as I possibly can.
So the water only hit one part of my back, but I’m in there for two or three minutes, which is progress and accounts. So at the five day mark is when I decided I was going to start controlling my in the shower. I was going to focus on how I was breathing at the time. I had just picked up a book from Scott Carney, the author of what doesn’t kill us. He’s in a different episode of this podcast talking about breath work and cold therapy and his experience with Wim Hoff. But I was reading his book in the middle of this experiment and he talks about the benefits of controlling your breath during cold therapy. When you get into a cold shower, it’s natural to gasp for air and you’re breathing really shallow and really fast, high up in your chest, and that sends a signal to your body that you are in this fight or flight mode.
If you can conscientiously calm your breathing down and focus on deep breaths into the belly, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, thus calming your body and it’s that response to stress. It’s that conscientious override of your body sending you into panic mode and you saying, no, it’s okay. I can breathe deeply and relax. That provides you with that stress benefit that I’ve talked about. Can you in the face of this stressor, train your body to react in a different way? Can you train it to be calm and centered and grounded instead of panicking? And if you can, then you’ve created that stress resilience that’s so beneficial. So on day five, I get into the hot shower, I turn it all the way to cold. I still gasp as a natural reflex, but I very quickly focus on breathing deeply into my belly and calming my breath and relaxing my body.
By the way, at this point, I am getting out of the shower and I am feeling frickin awesome. My mind is so clear. My mood is so pumped. My energy is so high. Basically at this point I have trained myself like Pavlov’s dog to instantly perk up at the sound of the shower running in my bathroom first thing in the morning because I know as soon as I get into that cold blast, I am going to feel so great. This is just five days in when you can get this kind of immediate gratification with any habit change. It is so motivating to want to continue five days in and I am feeling like a champ. So now we get to day six a game changing day according to my journal because on the morning of day six I remembered something. I remembered something that my friend Dr. Nicole LePera, The holistic psychologist said in one of her YouTube videos, she was talking about how in the face of stress and when we get into this fight or flight mode, we can call them our bodies down and activate the parasympathetic nervous system by stimulating the vagus nerve.
And one of the ways to stimulate the vagus nerve is to hum or to sing. And I thought, huh, I’m getting into the shower. My body senses a stressor. I’m gasping for air and trying to call myself down. What if I activated my vagus nerve in the shower by singing, and this was the start of me taking a shower with Ed Sheeran.
I began bringing my waterproof phone into the shower with me and queuing up. For some reason I picked Ed Sheeran. I really like his music. I like singing along to him. So he’s been like my shower buddy this entire time. But I picked an Ed Sheeran song and I played it during my cold shower. So now a couple things are happening, right? I am in this cold shower, gasping, but I’m learning to control my breath and now I add singing to the mix and it does two things. First, it definitely calms me down. It’s kind of hard to feel like you’re panicking when you’re singing along to a really peppy Ed Sheeran song. And then two, it helps me pass the time and I don’t mean it distracts me, I just mean I’m not staring at my watch the whole time. So before you know it that Ed Sheeran song is over and I take a look at the time and I’m like, wow, I just stayed in for four minutes.
Awesome. Now we’re going to fast forward because things moved fast and furious from this point. We’re going to skip ahead to day 14 when my routine really solidified by the 14th day. So the two week mark, here’s what was happening. I was cuing up my Ed Sheeran’s tunes. I was stepping into a luke warm shower. It was not freezing cold, but it certainly wasn’t warm. I was getting my whole body wet, so just like turning around for maybe 30 seconds immediately turning it as cold as it would go and I would stay in there for the span of two Ed Sheeran songs. I was partial to the songs Sing and Don’t, but occasionally I will do the entirety of Be my Husband, which is the live version and that’s like seven minutes and 50 seconds. Basically. I’m now in the shower, the cold part of the shower for seven to eight minutes and I’m not just in the shower.
I am taking a shower so I bought three new body washes in different sense because I thought that would be a fun addition to the routine and I am fully immersing my body in the shower. I am scrubbing up, I’m rinsing off, I’m turning around, I’m getting my face wet. I’m not washing my hair because I’m going to the gym or going to work out immediately after, but I am doing everything else. This is my cold shower routine now and I have continued to do this exact routine, seven to eight minutes of the coldest part of my shower every single morning for the last 85 days. I haven’t missed a day. So here is my morning routine now start to finish. I wake up, I make my bed immediately and then I go straight into my cold shower. I do the cold part of my shower for two Ed Sheeran songs, seven to eight minutes and then I get out and I always end on cold.
We’ll talk about why later. Now here’s a little bit of TMI, but after I get out of the cold shower, I dry myself off and I walk around naked for a little while. The point of the cold shower in terms of the benefits that it has on your metabolism is that you use your own body to heat yourself back up. So if you get out of the cold shower and immediately put on fleecy pants and a wool cap or a big fuzzy bathrobe, you’re kind of defeating the purpose. My house is pretty chilly in the morning. It’s usually about 66 degrees and I walk around naked for a while. So I am legitimately using my own body to warm myself back up, thus maximizing the benefits to my metabolism and my immune system. So I want to talk for a minute about shivering because I’m sure you’re wondering as I get out of this cold shower and walk around naked, aren’t you shivering?
So there are two schools of thought when it comes to cold therapy and the act of shivering, and it kind of depends on what your goal is. If your goal is fat loss, then yes, the act of shivering will massively burn calories. And that’s one of the reasons that cold therapy can be effective and fat loss. That is not why I began my cold shower protocol. I was in it for the stress relief and the idea that I could train my nervous system to respond to stressors more effectively. And if that is your goal, then you want to try to suppress the urge to shiver. Now shivering is a natural body process. As your body gets over the initial shock of the cold interest to warm itself back up, it’s going to instinctively start to contract its muscles rapidly. And you’re going to shiver. But I began focusing on trying not to shiver.
So you know how when you have to sneeze and it’s just an inconvenient time to sneeze so you can hold back a sneeze or you can delay an orgasm if you are so inclined. Our bodies have these automatic processes that we can train ourselves to override. And in the case of cold therapy and shivering, my goal was to command my nervous system to exert influence over my nervous system. So when I got out of the shower and began to shiver or felt the urge to shiver, I really thought hard about suppressing that urge. Doing that I think went a long way to helping me navigate stressful situations. So I find myself in a stressful situation and I realized that I have way more power over how I choose react in that stressful situation than I thought I did, which carries over into other areas of my life.
And then another mental benefit is that you know, you find yourself in this situation that is really uncomfortable, but when you continue to subject yourself to that situation, it grows less and less uncomfortable. You build stress resilience. So I continued to take these cold showers. I continued to allow my body to warm itself up and I got pretty good at not shivering. In the beginning it was definitely hard to not shiver and I would find myself showing up at the gym with my key card in hand, kind of trembling. And Nick at the front desk would be like, are you okay? And I’m like, I just got out of a cold shower. But as the days went on, I got better and better at just going about my normal routine and feeling cold but not uncomfortably so. And even more than that, not even feeling cold after a while, there was one morning I woke up, I had forgotten to turn the heat on at all.
It was 62 in my house and I didn’t notice until like two o’clock in the afternoon. That’s pretty remarkable for someone who used to be cold all the time. All of that is to say there is something really magical that happens when you are able to exert will over your nervous system. So I already mentioned that after just a few days, I felt a lot better. I felt like my mood had lifted, my focus was better, my brain fog was improving, my energy was getting better. But let’s talk about what was happening by the two week Mark. First, my concussion symptoms, which I had been battling all of 2020 were gone, gone, which was a miracle in and of itself. Also, my Energizer bunny status was fully restored. I was waking up without an alarm, leaving my shower, getting ready to crush my workouts. I was working out harder than I had in ages.
Recovering really well, sleeping great at night. I didn’t do more blood work with my doctor at this point because now we’re in the middle of COVID19 and it didn’t seem like I should press him for routine blood work, but I felt like for the first time in a long time I was 100% healthy and let me tell ya, my depression symptoms also lifted tremendously. Even in the face of all of this stress that we have been under with this global pandemic, my mental health got so much better and I 100% credit the cold showers. It’s the only thing I did differently during this period and it made a huge, noticeable, measurable, immediate impact and that is the summary of my cold shower experiment. I started off committing to 30 days. I felt so amazing at the end of the 30 days that I of course decided to just keep rolling with it.
And I have done it every single morning since for the last 85 days. Haven’t missed a day. I won’t say I’ve looked forward to every single one of them. Cause every once in a while I still am like, Oh, it’s going to suck. Mostly if I like wake up cold or if there was one morning where I went to do a winter hike, I was going to be snowshoeing and I was like, do I really want to take a cold shower and then go out in 30 degree weather to do this like three hour hike? But I did it. And there’s not a single instance that I haven’t stepped out of that shower and felt so much better. A hundred percent every time. All right. So I think that’s the summary of my experience. I wanted to share with you some of the reasons why I started the experiment in the first place.
How I structured my experiment, how it went along the way and some of the science behind why I chose to focus on things like stress, resilience and immune support, and now it’s your turn. Yes, I’m going to invite you to do your own cold shower experiment. You knew this was coming, right? You had to. This is me. Anyway. Listen, you’re here for a reason. You are listening because you’re intrigued. You may not be psyched about it. You may worry that it’s going to suck. Pro tip, it’s probably kind of suck, but only at first and that’s honestly a huge part of the benefit. Imagine stepping into a cold shower and freaking out. You’re gasping, you’re panicking. Emotions are coming up. You hate it, you’re angry and then you get out and you survived. How you show up in that cold shower is how you show up in other areas of your life that are bringing you stress.
Now imagine walking into that cold shower and being calm and grounded and centered and in control of your body and your responses and you stay in it like a champ and you get out feeling like a million bucks. Who wouldn’t want to take that energy into every other area of your life? You would, I know you would and I’ll give you one more little nugget, a little tidbit to push you over the edge and say, okay, yeah, I’m going to try it. I went through my own cold shower experiment and found a lot of things that I would do differently if I were to do it all over again, and I’m going to highlight those for you here, so I’m going to help you avoid some of the missteps that I made in my experiment to make it just a little bit less sucky for you.
You’re welcome. Okay. The first thing I want you to do is I want you to turn it into a whole30-ish experiment, meaning you are going to take a set number of days, I’m partial to 30 and you are going to commit to doing a cold shower first thing in the morning before you do anything else every single day for 30 days. No excuses. Here’s why I want you to structure it like that. First of all, willpower is highest in the morning. It replenishes while we sleep and when you up, your willpower bank is full. That means you should take the task that you are the most focused on. The most important thing, the thing that you absolutely want to get done, but you’re kind of afraid that it’s not going to be comfortable or fun. The thing that you’re procrastinating, put it first thing in the morning.
In this case, it’s your cold shower. It’s the thing that you’re looking forward to the least, but you’ve committed to it and it’s the most important. If you don’t create some kind of really rigid parameter around it. If you say something like, okay, I’m going to do a cold shower three mornings a week. Here’s what’s going to happen when you wake up every morning, I guarantee it. You’re gonna wake up, you’re gonna be all toasty in your bed. You’re going to think of the idea of a cold shower and you’re going to go, I don’t want to do it this morning, but you said you would do it. Yeah but I don’t have to do it today. I can do it tomorrow. But that’s what you said yesterday. Yeah, but if I don’t do it today and I do it tomorrow, I’ll do it for the next three days straight.
Well, there’s only three days left in the week, so you’re going to have to. I promise, I promise this time I will. You have just expended an enormous amount of willpower negotiating with yourself as to whether or not you’re going to do this cold shower, and that is willpower that you could be using elsewhere in your day to great effect, but you don’t have it because you haven’t even gotten out of bed and you’re already burning through your executive function. So I want you to treat this like a rigid self experiment. You’re going to do one every single day for 30 days no matter what. Listen, it’s not like I’m asking you to do something you’re not already doing. You already take a shower every day. I’m not asking you to go for a run or add meditation to your morning routine. I’m telling you, do this thing that you do every day anyway and just do it a little bit differently.
All right, so now that that’s out of the way, I’m going to give you two options for actually doing this cold shower. The first option is to get into a hot hot shower. Stay in as long as you like, do your business, wash, shave, wash your hair, get warm and toasty. And then at the very end of your shower, turn it all the way to cold and stay in it for 30 seconds. At the end of those 30 seconds, and I want you to time yourself, use your phone, use a watch. At the end of the 30 seconds, you turn the shower off, you go straight from cold to off. There’s no rewarming and you get out of the shower and go about your day. That’s option one, and that’s how I started my cold shower experiment. But honestly, that’s not how I would counsel you to start it.
I actually think it’s harder and more uncomfortable to have a bigger contrast to get into a hot hot shower and then go super duper cold. It makes it feel even colder. Now. Look, if you’re up for that, if you’re like, look, I want this to be as like memorable and experience as possible, go for it. But if you’re looking to get into this in a bit of an easier way, trust me on this, get into a lukewarm shower. Here’s your option to get into a lukewarm shower. It’s not hot, but it’s also not freezing cold. It’s tolerable. Get your whole body wet, spend like 30 seconds getting all of your body wet and used to that water and then turn it to cold. Spend the same 30 seconds in the coldest temperature, turn your shower off and get out. That’s the exact routine I’ve been doing for the last 70 days and that’s the one that I would recommend.
I find it’s less of an unpleasant experience to just never get really hot in the first place. That’s just me. The goal, however, is to spend 30 seconds in the coldest part of the shower. It is not this like incrementally make it colder and colder until your 30 seconds are up. The goal of this is to shock the system, so whatever you step into. If the shower is Luke warm or hot, you go straight from that dial to as cold as your shower goes. If you are brave enough and you want to step into the coldest setting on your shower, that would probably be ideal. I haven’t done that yet and I frankly haven’t felt a need to do that because not just even to me that just sounds miserable, but if you want to go for it, that would be like the most hardcore version of this and probably to be honest, provide the most benefit.
Man. Now I think I have to do that. I think I just talked myself into doing that. Tomorrow I will let you know how it goes. Okay, so day one, your only goal is to spend 30 seconds in the coldest part of the shower. Awesome. Mission accomplished. As the days go on, you can kind of hack this any way you want with an idea that every day you spend a little bit longer in the cold part of your shower, but you can also add other dimensions to this so you can do what I did and instead of staying perfectly still, you can start rotating and maybe getting your shoulders or your sides wet or turn all the way around and get your front wet. You can start getting into a colder and colder shower and spending less time getting warm before you turn it cold.
You can just decide to add 30 seconds to the clock every day or every couple of days that you’re in the shower, but the goal, the eventual goal is to work up to three to five minutes in the coldest part of the shower. Now, there’s no magic behind the three to five minute mark. Kelly Starrett told me when we were talking that like when it comes to ice baths, anything more than three minutes is just showing off. Okay, fine. I’ve seen other forums and experts talk about the three to five minute Mark as being kind of the sweet spot, but still others like Tim Ferriss talk about staying in the cold for 10 minutes at a time. If your primary goal is fat loss, I enjoy staying in for seven to eight minutes. It doesn’t feel like overkill. It lets me get all my business done.
I sing along to my two Ed Sheeran songs and I’m happy, but I don’t necessarily know that my seven to eight minutes provides exponentially more benefits than if I were to stay in for three to five. So for the purposes of this experiment, if you can get to three minutes at the very coldest setting by the end of your 30 day experiment, I will call it a success. Now here are a few points that might be different for you than they are for me. First of all, your cold water may not be the same as my cold water. It depends on the time of year and where you live. So it’s actually a great time to start this experiment now because no matter where you live, your cold water isn’t going to be anywhere near as chilly as it gets in the winter. So, you know, I’m in salt Lake city.
I’ve definitely noticed that my water now in may is nowhere near as cold as it used to get in February. That means that you can actually ease into this experiment. Still getting the benefits of a cold shower, but you’re not easing into it in the coldest months possible. So that kind of works in your favor. Also, if you live in like Arizona, your water may never get really, truly cold, but that’s okay. The goal is to get into a shower as cold as you can make it, so nobody needs to take temperatures and we’re not like comparing here, it’s just about you versus you in a shower, as cold as you can make it. Here’s something else that I’ve noticed over the course of my experiment. It takes about three minutes for me to get used to the temperature of the cold water, meaning that for the first three minutes I am acutely aware that the water is very cold.
And then at the three minute mark, it’s kinda like I get used to it and for the rest of my shower I don’t really even notice that I’m in a freezing cold shower. I’m just going about my business as usual. So staying in for shorter bouts, like if you’re really staying in for just 30 seconds, 40 seconds, 50 seconds, kind of creeping up from that initial timeline, you actually may be making it harder on yourself than if you just decide to suck it up and stay in for like three or four minutes at a time. By the second Ed Sheeran song, I barely noticed that I’m cold at all and there is definitely something to be said for letting your body get used to the temperature. The other thing I noticed is that I could stand perfectly still and only let the water hit one part of my body and I did that for like the first week I stood really, really still and I only let the cold water hit my back.
But since then my strategy is now to get in, get my entire body wet in the lukewarm water and then as soon as I turn it to cold, I get my whole body wet in the cold as fast as I can. So I’m kind of rotating like a chicken on a rotisserie because I have found that if I can get my whole body in the water faster covered by the water faster, I get used to the temperature a lot faster. So I actually think I did myself a disservice by standing super still. I would recommend that you get in there and just like get in there, start getting all your body parts, wet washing, rinsing whatever you do in the shower as the experiment goes on, try and it’s going to be really hard to do on the first day. But think about as early as you can, trying to control your breath.
When the cold hits you, you are going to want to gasp. That is your natural reflex. And then you’re going to want to breathe really fast and kind of panicky. So focus on those deep breaths into your belly and focus on relaxing your neck, your shoulders and your hands. So one of the things you can do as you stand in the shower is think about clenching all your muscles really tight and then relaxing them all at once. The other thing that you can do of course is to sing or to hum that stimulates that vagus nerve and helps you get a better vagus tone and that’s going to help you navigate stress. One of the things that I’ve found helpful is I kind of know when I turned my shower all the way cold, I know exactly how many seconds I have until the cold hits my body and I take a nice deep belly breath in right before that cold hits me and I let it out nice and calm. The minute I feel it hit my body, I no longer gasp in the cold shower in part because I have learned to control my breathing in that manner and the more you control your breathing, the more relaxed you’ll be and the easier time you’ll have controlling your nervous system.
There’s one more thing I want to point out. Getting your face wet in the freezing cold water is probably going to be 10 times harder than getting your body wet and I think I have an explanation. When I was reading Scott Carney’s book, what doesn’t kill us, he talks about a nerve in your face called the trigeminal nerve. It basically like comes down your cheek and then sort of branches out and that nerve connects straight to your thalamus in the brain, which is part of your brain that controls temperature regulation. The theory is that that nerve is so much more sensitive to cold. So I found the first day that I shoved my face into the cold water, I gasped, I panicked, I felt like I couldn’t hold my breath. It’s a lot harder to control your breathing in that situation, but that just means that once you do the benefits are greater.
Interestingly, when I was doing research for this episode, I also discovered tips for stopping a panic attack in its tracks by dunking your face into a bowl of ice water. So it kind of makes sense. That nerve is so exquisitely sensitive to temperature change and when you dunk your face in ice, it simulates the dive reflex. If our bodies fall into freezing cold water, they immediately sense the need to conserve energy in order to survive. And will shut down any functions that aren’t vital for survival while our anxiety or emotions are not vital, so dunking your face into a bowl of ice water can immediately calm you down. This is a just kind of interesting aside, but it might be something worth testing if you suffer from anxiety or if you suffer from panic attacks, would cold showers help in that effort anyway, the point of this was just to warn you that sticking your face into the cold of the cold shower is probably going to feel like a different experience than sticking just your body into the cold shower and that might be a level up progression that you want to take on as your cold shower experiment progresses.
The last thing I’ll recommend is that you keep a basic journal just like I did to keep track of your progress and your results so you can keep track every day just like I did of whether you stepped into a hot or a warm or a cool shower. How long you stood in that hot shower when you turned it to cold, how long you stayed in the cold, and then you can track things like your mood, your energy, your alertness, your pain, fatigue, circulation or any other health concerns you’re focused on. I didn’t keep the journal up for all 85 days, but I did keep it up for the first 20 or so and it was really interesting to look back and see my progress in terms of how I was really getting used to and beginning to enjoy these cold showers really early on.
All right. There’s one more thing I want to talk about and that is the timing of your cold showers. I mentioned doing them first thing in the morning in part because that’s when willpower is at its highest, but there’s another reason that I want you to do them first thing in the morning before you do anything else. The TLDR here, the too long didn’t read or I guess in this case TLDR, too long didn’t listen is do them in the morning because cold therapy after your workout doesn’t actually help with recovery and I know you’re listening to that going, wait, that flies in the face of everything I have been told and I get it. Old school athletic training talks about the benefits of ice baths and cold showers immediately post-workout in terms of helping with recovery. However, the latest science, and I’m not talking about science from like a year ago, like pretty much over the last, Ooh, it’s gotta be 10 years now.
We’ve known that cold therapy post-workout actually blunts the recovery process. It’s not the best thing for recovery to get into an ice bath immediately after training. It may make you feel better, but it’s not necessarily the most helpful in terms of your training or recovery. Now, because I’m not an athletic trainer or a sports guru, I decided to check in with one. So I talked to my friend Kelly Starrett at the Supple Leopard himself a couple of days ago and I was like, look, I’m doing this episode on cold therapy. I think based on everything I’ve read in the last few interviews you’ve given that it’s still true that you don’t want to do cold showers and ice baths post-training. Like am I right? And he sent me back a note right away saying, yep, you are totally right. In fact, we try to keep cold therapy as far away from the training session as possible.
So first thing in the morning is really best because whether you train first thing in the morning or at lunchtime or even early evening, you’re going to get that cold shower in and get all the benefits and it’s going to be a way from your training session so you don’t have to worry about it. Blunting the recovery response. In fact, because cold showers do provoke a stress response, he recommends avoiding doing them at night in general because it might mess with your sleep. The other thing he mentioned is that there could be benefit in doing a cold shower or ice bath right before your training and that it’s a central nervous system primer. So that could be a benefit as well. So I would say this, do it first thing in the morning. If you happen to train in the morning, double bonus. If you’ve been doing cold showers at night and you do find them relaxing and soothing like okay, you can still do that.
But if you’re new to it, I highly recommend keeping them in the morning for all of those reasons. And then the last question, because every single person in my Instagram comments has been asking, how do you shave? You could shave in a cold shower, but the goosebumps that you get would probably make it really uncomfortable. So when I need to shave, I just take a second hot shower later in the day. So my first shower, first thing in the morning is pre-training. It’s super duper cold. If I get sweaty during my training session, I’m going to want to take another shower later and sometimes they make that hot and that’s when I’ll shave and do the rest of my business and occasionally I’ll end that one on a cold note as well and I think we’ve covered it all. I’m so excited to share the details of my cold shower experiment with you and I do invite you to take this on for yourself.
We are in such a difficult, stressful time and who couldn’t use a boost in mood, focus energies, stress, resilience. Right now, you know this entire podcast is all about exploring what’s been missing when you’ve tried to make changes and make them stick. And for me, cold showers were absolutely the missing piece in my mood. Stress, resilience, and immune challenges. Maybe you’ll discover they’re your missing piece too. You can do your cold showers, talk about them on Instagram, tag me at Melissa. You maybe keep a little calendar and click off those 30 days, but let me know how it’s going and how you are using cold showers in your own life to effectively do the thing.
Thanks for listening!
Continue the conversation with me @melissau on Instagram. If you have a question for Dear Melissa or a topic idea for the show, leave me a voicemail at (321) 209-1480.
Do the Thing is part of The Onward Project, a family of podcasts brought together by Gretchen Rubin—all about how to make your life better. Check out the other Onward Project podcasts– Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Side Hustle School, Happier in Hollywood, and Everything Happens.
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