The Big Idea
At the end of your normal hot shower, you turn the dial and make it cold for the last 30 seconds. A quick blast of freezing cold water that jolts your body and mind, that science suggests might be really good for us for all sorts of reasons – some we don’t even understand properly yet.
This is such a simple hack – quick, easy and you are done and dusted in 30 seconds…what’s not to like?!
Well quite a lot according to our feedback!
Imagine you are having a lovely warm shower. Maybe you can see out of the window into your frosty garden. The steam is rising. You are warm and relaxed…
Imagine how hard it is to take the simple step of turning the dial so that your shower is suddenly freezing cold. We’ve done it…and trust us…it was really, really hard to turn that dial!
Got it…What’s the Science?!
When something is hard to do because it doesn’t feel like it is going to bring us pleasure, our brains give us plenty of excuses to put it off until tomorrow. Certainly, in our experience, it is still tempting to skip a day when it’s a dark morning and there is a cold wind blowing outside!
So the science for this one needs to be really compelling. We think a number of things might be happening.
Firstly it appears that the sudden cold shock gives us an endorphin rush as a reward. Most of our ‘willing’ testers of #tip1 said they felt fantastic afterwards. Whilst this could well be connected to the temperature of the water, most of them reported that they felt proud of themselves for being brave enough to try it. Endorphins are our ‘reward’ hormones. We get a release of them when we do some vigorous exercise so something similar might be happening here. We might not know exactly why the endorphin rush happens – but happens it does – so for now, we’ll take that!
Secondly there is some research to suggest that our bodes have a ‘calling’ back to the sea and cold water. Our ancient ancestors would have seen immersion in clean, cold water as a positive thing. It appears that whilst the cold water might take our breath away initially, it may act to slow our breathing and may also trigger our mammalian diving reflect. This reflex is complicated, but suffice it to say for our purposes that it is a protective and multifaceted physiologic reaction. It might be that whilst our conscious modern brains go – “Wow, no way, you must be joking?!” to the idea of a cold shower, part of our brain that is less vocal wholeheartedly welcomes the cold water – and as a result, at some deep level, it feels really good.
Cold shower therapy is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy for anxiety and depression, but more modern science has backed up these claims. A study at the Virginia Commonwealth University found that cold showers can alleviate and even prevent anxiety and depression. The author Nikolai Shevchuk claims that the short cold showers stimulate the “blue-spot” in the brain – the primary place that noradrenaline (a biochemical that could help with depression and anxiety.)
The BBC TV show with Hugh Fearnley showed Hugh experiencing cold water swimming in a bid to reduce his own anxiety and depression. This programme was backed by scientists who suggested that the benefits may arise because being immersed in cold water is a stress trigger. When the body experiences stress by a physical ‘hostile’ external factor – in this case cold water – a healing response in the body is stimulated in the body to ‘repair’ the ‘damage’ caused by the hostile factor. In the case of the 30 minute cold shower, there is no real ‘threat’ – but our body and brain doesn’t know that. It gives us all the benefits that it would if the threat was a real and present danger – rather than a slightly shocking but probably not at all dangerous pastime which only lasts 30 seconds!
Finally, our testers suggested that they felt ‘ready for battle’ and that smaller things that might make them ordinarily quite reactive – either that would make them cry or get angry, didn’t seem to bother them as much on cold shower days. We are still investigating! However, it seems possible that our “fight or flight” mechanism is triggered by the cold water shock – certainly in our experience it is something you want to fight doing or get out of as quickly after that 30 seconds is over! Given this is the case, it may be that this physical and quite brutal cold shock ‘pre-sensitises’ that reflex. This could mean that less physical and brutal instances of things that would normally get our heckles up, are put more into perspective and our brain perceives them as less challenging because a bigger challenge that day has already been overcome!
Watch our #Tip1 Instagram Live…
Tales from our Testers…
Hi Dulcie, I have been catching up on my Instagram and saw your bit about the benefit of cold showers. Here is my story: During my secondary school years in Denmark in the early sixties we had PE every day, Monday to Saturday. At the end of each lesson, we had to run naked through two hot showers finishing with an ice cold one. Our militant horror of a teacher, fru Larsen, would place herself in front of the cold one making sure everyone was under it for was seemed like lifetimes. Living at the coast we also went to swim in the open sea early on the 1st of May each year. Viking schooling maybe, but doubt that is practised now.
Annelise Swanston, Retired Educational Advisor, Moffat, Scotland
Mostly I am a woman committed to positive family relationships.
Ok so after much protestation I just did the cold shower thing and whilst it wasn’t very pleasant I will reluctantly admit I’m feeling quite smug and good right now 😂
Update: Now on Day 8 of cold showers…and counting!
Dulcie Swanston changing behaviour one cup of tea at a time 😘
Helen Melvin, People Director, Brasserie Bar Co, Twickenham, England
Mostly I’m optimistic about the future…but, for now, mostly staying in…
I was recovering from Covid and in the same way that I started to introduce exercise gradually again, I thought I would also take a gradual approach to cold showers too. I just didn’t feel brave enough to go for it all at once. I started by turning the temperature to tepid for just a couple of seconds. Strangely the next day I felt much better about trying colder for longer! I’m still building up to a full 30 seconds but this approach might help people if they just don’t feel they can go for it straight-away!
Update: Now at fully cold!
Jane Althorpe. Virtual PA Cambridgeshire
Mostly drinking fizz with my lovely dog Dizzi
Learn More and Share
BBC TV – Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall
Iceman on Instagram – @iceman_hof
It is really hard to do! But here are our latest testing results:
Number of testers [insert number]
x% of our testers did this more than once.
X% would recommend to a friend
Average TOPTIP rating for those who tried the tip once [7.5]
Average TOPTIP rating for those who tried the tip more than once [8.0]
Our verdict: Try it before you knock it!
#the52tips are a collection of new and existing ideas – some of which are widely publicised online. Some of the tips may not be good for you if you have an underlying health condition. If you are at all unsure, please check with your doctor before trying anything we suggest.
… have a go yourself and tell us what happened.
… the tip to a friend you think would benefit from it.
… £1 to the Big Issue Foundation instead – feel no guilt and do good.