How To Take a Cold Shower
9 tips to make cold showering part of your daily routine
Each morning I run an ice-cold shower and I stand beside it, looking into the bathroom mirror and telling myself I can get under that freezing waterfall.
And for better or worse, each day, I do.
I’ve done this now for three years, and the mental resistance never goes away, it never becomes easy.
I began the ritual as part of the Wim Hof Method, a daily breathing and cold exposure routine that claims to boost immunity. Many trials and studies back up these claims, but as a study of n=1, I can say it’s certainly helped me with my autoimmune issues.
Whatever the case, and whatever your motivation to cold shower, I’m here to say if I can do it, you can do it. I loathed the cold. I was the guy who wore gloves in spring, complained about the air con and couldn’t stand a cool breeze from an open window.
I had to learn how to embrace the cold after avoiding it for decades. I am testament to the fact it's all possible.
Here is my advice on how to approach what can seem like the most daunting of tasks: Daily cold showers.
1. Just Do It
I know this sounds like useless advice but you must realise there’s no real way around getting into the cold water, you have to accept it. You need to get your head around the hard fact you must get cold.
If you’re desperate for a pre-shower ritual, Wim himself recommends a “horse stance” technique – a half-squat where you push your hands left and right across the body whilst breathing heavily in rhythm. I’ve done it and it does calm the mind. I don't think there's much science behind it, however.
My pre-shower advice is to get in as soon as possible. The longer you leave it, the more ominous it becomes. Don’t give your mind too much wiggle room as that’s when resistance kicks in. The last thing you want is a moaning mindset; it will only make the shower tougher.
2. It’s always going to feel cold
This is important to note. It’s a reality check. People think if you immerse in cold water daily, sooner or later it’s going to become a cakewalk. Wrong. There’s no cake and it’s never a walk. It is always going to feel cold. If you’re looking for the moment it becomes comfortable, that’s when you turn the shower off.
Accept this truth and you won’t be fighting it every morning. But this doesn’t mean it’s unbearable. This leads me to the next point…
3. The first 30 seconds are the hardest
The body feels temperature changes more than it feels temperature itself. So the initial change from warm bathroom to cold shower is going to be the most potent part of the process, your brain hits the panic button, it will want out.
Don’t be tricked by the cold water or your anxious mind, you’re in no danger, it’s OK, you will adjust. Fight your instincts, not the water. It’s discomfort, not pain, and it will pass. Stay in and you’ll soon experience what I call “the switch” where suddenly it feels as if it gets warmer. You’re fighting off shock one minute and finding it all completely bearable the next. You just have to hold on.
4. You have to get in it to get out of it
What does this mean? As mentioned, your body acutely feels temperature changes, so if you stand half-in, half-out, or with a leg out or your shoulders hunched to protect your front, you’re only going to feel colder. All parts of your body need a good soaking to become uniformly cooler so the cold becomes less noticeable. The sooner you get fully in and under, the sooner you will adjust and escape discomfort.
5. Use words to trick your brain
I turn the sink hot tap on halfway through my shower, making the water even colder. I’m assuming this is because the boiler heats the water very slightly, even if the shower is on cold, but a hot tap running puts an end to that. I don’t know how exactly, I’m not a plumber.
Anyway, at this point, the water gets so cold, it “burns”. If I say out loud “Wow that’s hot” it feels like it’s very hot water falling on me, not very cold water. This works. I know this sounds crazy but understand…
6. It’s all a mental game
How you perceive the shower will be how it feels. You are in control of the experience. I often tell myself I’m choosing to do this, it’s not been forced upon me. Somehow, it makes the process easier. I view the shower as transformative, the discomfort isn’t taking from me, it’s giving to me, in health and resilience. The colder it feels, the more benefit I’m getting. Remember in Deadpool when he goes through a lot of pain to become “superhero strong”? I think of it like that. I want the discomfort because it means I’m transforming into something hardier.
7. Breathe motherfucker (and relax)
This is a Wim Hof quote (not the relax bit, I added that myself). When you get into really cold water, it catches your breath, and you need to show your body it’s OK and to not panic. Do this by breathing slow and deep. This warms you up, it lights a fire inside. An internal heat comes from deep breathes.
You also need to relax. Easier said than done, but if I don’t focus on relaxing, I find my shoulders rising, my muscles tensing, and I subconsciously tell my mind “I’m suffering” and that’s what I then feel. When I catch myself tense and stressed, I breathe deeper, I relax my muscles and suddenly it all seems easier, suddenly I enjoy it.
8. Pay attention to warming up afterwards
When you first turn the shower off, you’ll feel great. Your skin will tingle, you’ll feel alive, alert, powerful. It’s fantastic, but don’t get distracted. It’s easy to experience “after drop” if you’re not used to cold exposure. This is when your body temperature keeps dropping as your blood recirculates to the extremities.
You've probably experienced “after drop” to some degree or another already, when surfing, wild swimming, taking a sea dip in October — nonetheless, the cold is to be respected and you need to warm up sensibly. This is when Wim’s horse stance really works: If I have a particularly cold shower I do 5 minutes horse stance breathing in a warm room and it works wonders. This prevents feeling cold to the core for an hour despite wearing a jumper and standing by a roaring fire. Do warm-up, don’t let that invincible post-shower feeling trick you. You’re still human.
9. Stay consistent
And lastly, this golden rule. If you miss a gym session or you have a cheat day on a diet, getting back to a disciplined schedule always feels disproportionately hard. This is the same with cold showers, a day or two off will have the ice-cold water seem like a monster in your mind.
So stay consistent. Revisit it daily to show yourself what can be done and to tame the beast. This doesn’t mean you can’t warm shower also, but if you decide to avoid discomfort today, it will come back double tomorrow.
And that’s it. Before we end, a small note of caution: Do not cold shower when fighting off a virus. Cold showers work as hormetic stress, but your body is already burdened when your immune system is in battle — don’t burden it further.
If you’d like to know more about the Wim Hof Method, please give it a google, cold showering is only one component of this wonderful practice.
Many thanks for reading and good luck on your journey.
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