How Cold Water Immersion
Can Help Deal With Stressful Moments In Life

The common notion regarding stress is that it’s unhealthy and should be avoided or dealt with skillfully. Agreed, but we can’t always avoid stress, it is a guarantee of the human experience. Some stress may be avoidable or controllable (like workload or better sleep habits), but at other times, it just happens (you must run from the dog that is chasing you). Control the stressors that you can, and for those that you cannot, learn to have a healthy adaptive response.

One way to learn these healthy adaptive responses is cold exposure. Frequent cold exposure introduces your body and mind to a minimal amount of shock and stress and can cultivate a resilience that can be used at other times and during other stressful moments, such as encountering erratic drivers or unwanted news about an eviction. It’s in these split second moments that we can react in a poor manner or respond in a more calm and reasoned way.

This skill is honed by continued awareness and practice as it doesn’t come naturally to most of us. One way we can learn to experience and respond to stress is to put ourselves into bits of stress and learn to respond accordingly. Purposefully placing ourselves into cold water will offer the opportunity to practice that exact stressful experience.

The cold water is not bad, or dangerous (in short and controlled bursts), or even scary. It is however, cold, and that is uncomfortable, at least to begin with. The first few times we enter the cold, we may actually scream or swear or even hop right back out of the water. That’s a normal and healthy flight response for many situations; remember the dog chasing you? However, in this safe and controlled situation, we can learn to override this flight sensation and lean into the fight response. We can scream, and breathe heavy and make all sorts of contortions with our face, all while staying in the stressful situation. This is the first step of the learning process, and in time, with practice, the first response may not be to scream and run from the discomfort, rather to stay, to notice, to feel the cold and recognize that it’s simply cold, and to calmly stay.

It’s here, in the fight stage, that we may begin to make relationship to the stress, to befriend it, and to ultimately embrace it. In time, we will learn that the cold isn’t bad, but it’s doing something deeper in us. It’s training us in our stress response, it’s teaching us to experience the discomfort in the moment in a healthy way. It helps us to stay present in the discomfort and accept it, rather than run away from it.

At a certain point, the discomfort of the cold will lift and we may feel a sense of calm in the stress. A sense of peace in the storm. Once we’ve experienced this calm we may have a new level of knowing, and this knowing can help us stay beyond the flight and fight sensations and into an acceptance of what is happening and ultimately to a calmer and less reactive way of being in the world.

With practice, this cold water experience can spill over into our other day-to-day stressful moments and encourage us to stay, to notice, and to be aware of ourselves in the moment, and ultimately to respond and choose our path from there.


If you’re up for the challenge, give it 30 days. Here are 9 steps to a fantastic cold water experience.

Step 1: Embrace the dread of immersing in the cold. Stay disciplined.
Yes, some days it’s dreadful, but lean into the dread and do it anyways. You’ll be happy you did.

Step 2: Take 5-10 deep nasal belly breathes before entering the water.

Step 3: Submerge your body up to your neck (or if in the shower start with your back in and then make slow turns to ensure your whole body gets the water). Start with 15-30 seconds and each week increase your time in the cold water.

Step 4: Feel the discomfort, don’t run from it, rather stay in it and feel it.
The discomfort is the strongest for the first 30 seconds to 1 minute.

Step 5: Get ahold of your breathing.
As you acclimate, close your mouth and calmly breathe through your nose. Focus on your breathing. Be present. Don’t allow yourself to freak out anymore. Calm yourself with steady and slow breathing.

Step 6: Notice, be aware, pay attention to the sensations on your body.
Accept the cold and pay attention to it.

Step 7: As your cold exposure comes to a close (2-3 minutes), dunk your head in the water if possible and get out.

Step 8: Notice.
Once out of the water, bring your awareness to the sensations on your body as the cold slowly subsides. Feel the wind, the sun, or the goose bumps. The sensations can be exhilarating.

Step 9: Get dry, put warm clothes on, and get some warm coffee in your body.

Notice how your feel. Are you wide awake? Calmer? Excited to take on the challenges of the day? Do you notice a mood shift from when you woke up?

If you’d like more guidance with your mornings, check out my online morning routine course and get yourself some great coffee.

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