See What a 30-second Cold Shower Can Do for You Each Day
Updated: Jan 29
I'm basking in the warmth of my warm, morning shower. I'm finishing up shaving and shaking off the morning sleepies. It's warm, steamy, comfortable.
As I count down, I start breathing deeply. Full breath in. Full breath out. Breathe in. Breathe out.
Then I crank the water faucet all the way to the right—right to the cold.
After three seconds, it is very cold. Especially in January.
In the past I would tense up, shiver, shake, and shout. Now I let the cold wash over me and take in the cold sensation. I even start to relax.
Some days are better than others, but for today, I manage to keep breathing and embrace the cold running down my body. Before 30 seconds have passed, I'm no longer freezing. Instead I'm comfortable, awake, and alert.
The water goes off, and I'm out for a dry-off and then a quick exercise (push-ups, anyone?). I'm awake, invigorated, and ready for the day.
Have you tried a cold shower in the morning? I mean, all the way cold?
There are many who tout the benefits of cold water therapy to your skin, immune system, circulatory system, and mental health. As a scientist, I cannot formally vouch for any of these claims based on my current knowledge.
However, as a practitioner and experimenter with habits, I will tell you 3 benefits that I've found from taking a cold shower in the morning.
1. It Wakes You Up
You believe this one already, don't you?
While there are many ways to wake yourself up in the morning, it's hard to beat a blast of cold water.
Your heart pumps faster, your blood starts circulating. The adrenaline kicks in.
When I first started my 'icy blast' routine, I would do a little shout and get my body moving. While I've since learned to take a more 'relaxed' pose, I still like to follow up the shower with a quick bout of physical exercise.
Try beating that, caffeine!
2. Face a Fear
As a default, most of us spend our days fighting and facing fear. We go to work because we fear what would happen if we didn't. We feel anxious about a deadline and fear the consequences of missing. We fear what will happen if we say X to person Y. We don't do something for fear that something will go wrong.
One of the benefits of a cold shower in the morning is the opportunity to face a proximal, controlled fear and then have the courage to overcome it.
Until you've had a lot of practice, you will have a hard time not feeling the fear of a cold blast of water. As a result, the cold water routine becomes a daily practicing ground to face a fear and overcome it.
The title of Susan Jeffers' classic book Feel the Fear, and Do it Anyway gives away a key secret to overcoming fear. Acknowledge the fear, and then just do it. Don't sit around and stew. Once you face down a fear, you gain confidence that you can do it again.
Shortly after I started my shower routine, I wanted to have a personal, sensitive conversation with a colleague at work. I wasn't quite sure how well this conversation was going to go.
While at work, I kept thinking of all the reasons to put it off. What if this happened? What if that happened? What if my colleague thinks poorly of me?
Part way through my dilemma, I remembered my cold shower. I remembered Feel the Fear, and Do it Anyway. I acknowledged my fear, and also recognized that delaying or hesitating wasn't going to get it over any faster.
Instead of delaying, I immediately contacted my colleague, and we had the conversation. And...it went just fine. I was grateful I didn't postpone it to later, extending my mental misery.
Sometimes, you just have to take life by the shower handle, turn it to cold, and move on. Life is too short to wait around worrying yourself into inaction.
3. Mind Over Matter
I am not a Zen-master. I do not have the mental control to drive my body into a cathartic state oblivious to pain. However, for those of us in non-Zen status, I have learned that our minds have much more control over our bodies that we often recognize.
Recent research into pain is beginning to show how much of the pain we feel can be driven by how we think about pain. It turns out that pain is only in your mind, because, well, everything we experience is in our mind.
You may have had the experience, like I have, of being shivering cold in a light coat at a slightly chilly temperature. You may have had a similar experience of heading outside into very cold winter weather with no coat on and feeling just fine. You brace for the cold, and your body bears it. The mind's expectations are met in the body's response.
By taking a cold morning shower, I've been able to practice embracing the cold and letting my mind have control over my body. Instead of reacting with shivers and shouts, I let myself feel the cold and observe. Rather than reacting, I notice.
I relax, breathe, and perceive the cold sensations all over my body. There is this moment of appreciating that my body has all these sensors giving input. I don't have to respond to my immediate reflex. I can instead pay attention, feel the cold, and let go of any discomfort.
And while the laws of thermodynamics won't permit a finite body to stay infinitely warm in flowing cold water, it is amazing that your body can withstand the cold for quite some time when the mind gives it the strength.
The Challenge: At the end of a morning shower, turn the water to cold for at least 5 seconds. Do this for 2 weeks, gradually increasing to 30 seconds.
Normally, I like to give a 2-minute Habit Challenge. However, for this habit, 5 seconds is a good place to start.
Like other habits, as you practice this small, daily habit, you can let it grow.
You may enjoy learning about how others endure a cold shower (for example, here and here and here). I certainly found some of them fascinating. However, nothing beats personal experience for learning how to take a cold splash first thing in the morning.
What happens after 2 weeks? Evaluate the habit—is this something that is working for you? Let the habit grow. Challenge yourself a little more. While I like ending my shower with cold, maybe you want to add it to the middle.
Is the habit not working? No worries. It may not be the right habit or the right time for this habit. Part of the learning and growing process is to try new things, assess them, and then move on.
As with all things you read on the internet, especially those that might impact your physical body, please apply the maxim "Don't be stupid." If you don't think this exercise would be medically appropriate for you, please don't do it!
Keep stretching yourself in Body, Mind, Heart, and Spirit. Join me each week in a new habit challenge. Sign up below to get updates on the new habit of the week.