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Ice, Ice Baby!

I do not like the cold - I am a freezer! I have a hot bath most evenings (even through the summer!) and so the idea of a cold shower every day, even through winter, is ludicrous! I mean, just the thought of it makes me shiver. But, after watching a recent podcast with Dr. Ragan Chatterjee interviewing 'The Ice Man' Wim Hof, I had second thoughts.

There is clear scientific evidence of the benefits of cold water for our bodies: reduced stress levels, higher levels of alertness, a more robust immune response, reduced inflammation, and potential benefits to our cardiovascular system. Wim talks more about this in the podcast, episode #127, on his website

I am a sucker for a novel health kick - so after listening to Wim Hof himself, with his energetic eccentricity, I thought 'I want some of that!'. Now that we are coming into winter, with colds, flu and viruses abounding it seems like a good thing to try. Also, my family has a history of poor blood flow and circulation, and together with my own anxiety, aches and pains I am always on the lookout for ways to improve my overall health as much as possible.

I took Wim's advice of building up to the cold slowly and focussing on my breath. Thankfully, Wim does not advise you to just jump into an ice-cold shower, he advises to begin with 20 seconds of cold at the end of a regular hot shower. The heat from the shower will lessen the shock and the cold-water exposure will be more gradual. He says that over a period of 10 days to increase the cold shower by 10 seconds each day. By the 10th day you will be able to stand under a cold shower for 2 minutes. Even to me, a 10 second increase each day seems do-able. Breath is also very important, the shock of cold causes us to gasp and then over breathe, making it more difficult to withstand the cold and making the whole experience very unpleasant. Slowing down your breathing, focusing on slower, calmer breaths is key.

OK, deep breath, here we go...

Day 1 - The goal is 20 seconds at the end of my hot shower. I am feeling nervous with lots of thoughts about how bad it will be and how much I won't enjoy it. I turned the temperature down gradually and breathed slowly, and at the end of it the sense of achievement was exhilarating - I feel alive and really awake! The hardest part is done!

Day 3 - Today I was surprised at how my skin felt after it had been in cold water. It was cold to touch with goose bumps, but I could feel the heat from inside my body almost like a thermal blanket working to reheat my skin - amazing!

Day 6 - I didn't want to be cold this morning, and I didn't want to do it. I thought about keeping the temperature cool, rather than cold. But then the thought of not giving up and letting myself down won through. Again, the sense of accomplishment and pushing past my negativity was a real boost to my morning.

Day 9 - I had a shower epiphany! - 'It's just water - it can't hurt me' I realised. 'It’s just fear, and it cannot harm me' - breakthrough!

Day 10 - I'm not at the 2 minutes mark just yet. But that's OK, the point is to be consistent with this, the direction I am going in is more important than the speed.

Day 11 - I stayed under for longer today and in freezing water. It felt slightly painful for the first time, but also like a milestone had been reached.

Day 12 - I was not feeling it this morning, negative thoughts and a feeling low due to the Covid situation was hovering over me like a grey cloud. It put me off the shower, I didn't want added more discomfort to my day. But, I turned the water down at the end, not willing to give in, only for a few seconds, but I did it!

Day 13 - New day, new motivation. Today, the shock was not from the cold, but from how much I was looking forward to the cold! I stayed under the water for longer and felt really good for doing it - motivated and upbeat.

Day 14 - This morning I automatically turned the heat down, without thinking about it. There was no sharp intake of breath, no dancing around to try and avoid the spray and stay warm. I just stood there and it felt brilliant.

So, what did 2 weeks of colds showers do for me:

  • I felt alive, awake and ready for the day - it created a buzz of energy I never feel after a regular shower.

  • My body actually responds to the cold, warming itself up - who knew?!

  • My joints, especially in my hands are not as sore or stiff.

  • The mental challenge is far greater than the physical, it is my mind stopping me, not my body. My body is capable of far more than I think it is.

  • The endless narrative of negative thoughts before I turn the water to cold are simply thoughts. I have found this to be true for all areas of negative thinking in my life. I can choose whether to act on them or not.

Wim says "the cold is a mirror" and I now see why. Taking a cold shower has shown me how quick I am to believe my own negative thinking, allowing these thoughts to talk me out of actions that may ultimately benefit me. Simple, but powerful thoughts (which hold a seed of truth), such as "you can't do that, you hate the cold", "you won't do it for more than a few days, so why even start", "it's nearly winter, it’s cold and dark outside, stay warm for goodness sake you crazy woman!" When in fact, not acting on these thoughts, sitting with discomfort for a moment, feeling the negativity dissolve, to be replaced by the absolute pleasure of knowing I did something difficult is powerful -and all that from a simple blast of cold water.

I have continued to add cold water to the end of my showers, whether it’s for 2 minutes or 20 seconds. I hope to reap the longer health benefits too of reduced stress, a stronger immune system and better blood flow. The image with this post is courtesy of Brownstone Luxury Glamping, where we stayed in the summer and the place I launched this blog. The outdoor shower (which is heated) was one of the highlights of my stay, standing beneath the sky under a flow of warm water was incredible. So, the next time we stay here, I hope to experience the amazing feeling of being surrounded by nature and the thrill of a cold shower - that's something worth getting out of my comfort zone for!

If you decide to give the cold a go and you have any medical conditions, seek the advice of your GP or Health Practitioner first. Take it slow and gradual and enjoy the experience. If you have tried cold showers for yourself, please share your thoughts and tips below or on my Instagram @iamsarahalexcarter

Image courtesy of Kate Tregoning @brownscombe - check them out on Instagram.

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