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Mental Health Benefits of Taking an Ice Bath

Redwood Outdoors - Feb 14th 2023

Ice baths are common for athletes and those who frequently experience sore muscles. You may know how they benefit you physically, but what about mentally?

Science is beginning to show the benefits of ice baths for mental health. After learning about these benefits, you may just invest in a cold plunge tub yourself! 

The Benefits of Cold Therapy 

Taking a cold plunge has several benefits, both physical and mental. However, it should be used with other treatments, especially if you suffer from clinical depression or anxiety. When in doubt if this is the right treatment for you, be sure to consult your doctor.

Here are 4 science-backed benefits of cold plunge that you'll want to know about.

Reduced Stress

People tend to feel better after the systemic shock of an ice bath. There is science that suggests that a hormonal buildup and release is what contributes to the benefits of an ice bath. Afterward, people may experience many endorphins that spread throughout the body, relieving stress and putting people in a better mood.

This is mainly because cold water can soothe the vagus nerve. You may have heard about the vagus nerve, but perhaps you are unsure about what it does. The vagus nerve is important in stress response since it controls your heart rate and blood pressure.

This is what releases those pesky stress hormones causing you to feel what you know as stress. Cold water counteracts some of the negative effects of the vagus nerve. 

Improved Brain Function

Ice baths have been found to help the elasticity of your brain as well. Just like an ice bath can help your physical muscles, your brain can be considered a muscle as well, which also needs TLC from time to time. Improved cognitive performance is a major benefit of an ice bath.

If you find that you're struggling with focus or concentration, say when you are working or studying, consider jumping in a cold plunge tub to assist in your abilities.

Functional System Reset

Since anxiety can cause a jump in blood pressure, an ice bath is effective because it can lower your blood pressure. After you get out of the cold water, your body will begin to get fresh blood, which can help reduce your blood pressure. It acts as a functional bodily system reset.

It also allows you to take your mind off things that might be stressing you out for a few minutes. Even just those few minutes can be enough to shock you into a better mindset.

Improved Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression

For people struggling with anxiety or depression, taking an ice bath may sound like the last thing they would want to do, especially because there is the mental hurdle of stepping into cold water when you already do not feel good. But after the initial dip, it can be very soothing to be relieved of symptoms for some time.

Studies have shown that ice water is far more effective than a hot shower in reducing symptoms of several mental disorders.

In a case study of a young woman in the UK, after 4 months of cold water swimming, she no longer required medication to treat her clinical anxiety and depression. There have even been groups established to do cold water swimming as a sport and mental health exercise.

How Do Cold Plunge Ice Baths Work?

During an ice bath, your vessels will constrict after your body comes into contact with the cold water. Once your vessels have constricted, your body will go into a bit of a survival mode. This will slow down your heart rate and slow down the overall functions of your internal organs.

It will help alleviate physical pain, and once you step out, your vessels will return to their normal size. As they return to their normal size, they can clear out lactic acid, reducing overall discomfort. This will cause a sensation of relaxation, which helps you relax after a nice bath.

Jumping the Mental Hurdle of the Cold Plunge

If you're nervous about an ice bath, note that you don't have to do it for long. Only 2 to 5 minutes in the tub is needed to feel the benefits. If you're having trouble with even that length, start at a short time and slowly work your way up to a longer time.

It might also be helpful to combine your cold plunges with a little light exercise before feeling the full mental and physical benefits.

Try an Ice Bath Today!

The best time to try is today. Start slow, and take stock of how you feel before and after an ice bath. As always, speak with a trusted medical professional before taking any holistic medical steps.