The Benefits of Cold Showers and How to Get There

I’ve been taking daily cold showers for about 2-3 years so far. It is truly amazing what it does for my well being. The benefits of cold showers include me feeling more alert, happier, calmer and more resilient. I can handle normally stressful situations a lot better. And an unintended consequence is that my showers are quicker now. This all comes for free, except for the price of momentary pain and discomfort I have to pay in the shower. Is it worth it? I think so.

Currently I do 1-3 minute cold showers virtually every morning. I start the shower at the coldest, so it is never warm. I’m trying to push myself longer every time to increase my time under the cold water for increased benefits. I recently noticed the benefits of pushing a little bit longer than what is comfortable.

For a long time I never pushed myself, but rather took a warm shower first and then ended it on the coldest for anywhere from 10-30 seconds. I thought that would over time build my endurance, but it didn’t. It was equally uncomfortable every time and it didn’t really change. However, after reading Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke, I got inspired to push myself more under the cold water.

Dopamine Nation, for those of you who haven’t read it (I do recommend reading it) is about the balance between dopamine and pain in the body. It pictures this balance as a scale. The more dopamine inducing activities you do (eating, doom scrolling, sex, drugs, etc.) the more the scale tips towards dopamine. However the body tries to achieve a balance so it will induce pain to make the scale even. This goes in the other direction as well. So inducing pain, like with a cold shower, will tip the scale towards pain, and the body in its attempt to even the scale, will increase dopamine levels in the body.

So after reading this, I thought ok let’s try to push the scale a bit towards pain through cold showers for this added endogenous dopamine for a natural mood boost. I started pushing myself every day. I stood under the cold water until I felt pain on my skin, and tried to endure it for a few breaths. First time I stood there for about 40 seconds. I noticed an improvement in endurance the next day. The initial shock wasn’t experienced as strongly, and the pain built up slower. I tried to push myself again, a few breaths past the strong pain threshold.

Another thing I started doing as well was move the timing of when I switched from warm to cold water earlier and earlier. As mentioned before I used to switch over to cold after I was done with soap and rinsing. But I moved it first to be after soap but before rinsing. That was a mental obstacle to overcome. After a few times doing that, I started moving it to after I shampooed my hair but before I soaped my body. And eventually I just started going into the cold water from the start. 

This is how I built up to my current state of doing 1-3 minutes every day. It took me about a month to get from 10-30 seconds to 1-3 minutes. How do I time it? I simply check the time on my digital wristwatch when I go in and then when I turn off the water. This gives me a granularity of a range of 2 minutes. To give an example, if I go in at 6:30 and go out at 6:32, It’s between 1-3 minutes. If I would have gone until 6:33 it’s between 2-4 minutes. I usually just count the minimum value, which is the only thing I can get with certainty.

This approach adds a bit of randomness to it which I think can be good for variation and the element of surprise for the body. I never let myself go less than one certain minute under the water. Some days that could potentially be 3 minutes.

After the cold shower I try not to heat myself too soon. I let myself shiver for a while while doing teeth brushing, shaving and my other bathroom morning routines. I’ve heard from the Huberman lab that this shivering and natural heating up of the body has some good health effects, adding to the list of benefits from cold showers.

So what’s in it for you? I believe that most people can get the benefits from cold showers doing this routine. But you need to do it safely and gradually increase the intensity from small doses of cold exposure. If you’re able to push your boundaries on a daily basis, I believe you will reap great benefits from this. Even if you start slow like I did for the first years you will get benefits from it.

One thing I find very interesting and probably the most useful benefit from cold showers is that the same mental strength I apply when enduring the pain from the cold water, is the mental strength I use in any other uncomfortable or stressful situation in life. In my experience that skill or strength is transferable to life. You can see the practice you do in the shower every morning as a safe space to build mental strength for everyday life.

What’s next for me? I will probably try to keep pushing myself under the cold water to increase my time under cold exposure and to increase the benefits from cold showers. However, I’m not sure where I want to put the limit. If the trend continues of the cold exposure becoming easier and easier the more I push myself, I could probably endure 5 minutes not too far from now. After 5 minutes I think it will become impractical as the time taken will have increased by a lot. 5 minutes daily is my current goal. At the moment the pain is too strong to endure that long. But I will try to gradually build up to it by pushing myself a little bit over the threshold every day.

Best of luck with your cold showers.

One response to “The Benefits of Cold Showers and How to Get There”

  1. […] addition to taking cold showers and quitting coffee, something that I’ve tried and am still practicing (although closer to 80-90% […]

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