Cold Water Plunges Are Trendy. Can They Really Reduce Anxiety and Depression?

Even if it’s not the placebo effect, it’s still unclear what component of cold-water swimming may contribute to the reported improvements in mood and well-being, said Mike Tipton, professor of human and applied physiology at the University of Portsmouth. in the UK, which studies the body’s reaction to extreme environments. Swimmers don’t just dive into icy water, they also often exercise, socialize, spend time outdoors, and take on a challenge, all of which can improve mental health. “No one has done the studies that tease out the active ingredient,” he said.

There are several reasons to think that cold water might provide mental health benefits. Immersing yourself in ice water triggers the release of stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and cortisol. This is probably why people say a dip in cold water wakes them up, Dr. Tipton said.

Some studies have also reported increases in brain chemicals that regulate mood, such as dopamine, after a cold swim, which may explain the “high” people feel after swimming. Also, immersing your face in cold water can activate the parasympathetic branch of the nervous system, which prompts the body to relax after a stressful event. This can help people feel calm and control inflammation. Various conditions, including depressionare linked to chronic inflammation, said Mark Harper, an anesthesiology consultant at Royal Sussex County Hospital, who is studying cold-water swimming as a treatment for depression.

Some researchers also hypothesize that adapting to cold water shock may improve a person’s ability to cope with other stresses. a little 2010 study showed that people who were habituated to cold water had a reduced stress response when subjected to another stress, in this case, exercising in a low-oxygen environment. However, enduring hypoxic exercise is not the same as enduring psychological stress, and more work is needed.

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Although cold water immersion clearly has some physiological effects, “There haven’t been enough high-quality studies” to recommend it as a mental health treatment, said Sophie Lazarus, a clinical psychologist at The Ohio State University. Other treatments for anxiety and depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, have more scientific support, he said. They can also be more secure.

Yes. Researchers know more about the cold water hazards than its possible therapeutic effects. One of the most obvious is hypothermia, which usually appears after about 30 minutes in adults. But cold water presents significant risks much sooner.

The initial shock of being submerged in ice water can cause arrhythmias and heart attacks. The risk of arrhythmias is increased when people put their faces under water while experiencing this initial “cold shock”. The combination activates opposite branches of the nervous system, which send conflicting signals to the heart. cold shock too triggers the gasping reflexfollowed by hyperventilation. If your airway is underwater, this can cause you to drown. Adding to the risk of drowning is the fact that swimming in icy water quickly leads to exhaustion.

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