The other day I watching Easy Ways to Live Well on BBC1 and was interested to hear about how hydrotherapy (i.e. cold showers) helps to treat depression, stress and anxiety. This was news to me, so I had to look into it further. It's apparently an old-time natural cure, that actually does work. What's more, it has many, many benefits.
Read on to find out how it works, what the benefits are and a simple way to enjoy this cheap therapy!
How does it work? Applying water of different temperatures to our skin can change our physiology and mood. Wet and cold causes are surface vessels to tighten up, making blood move from the surface of your body to the core, to conserve body heat. It also consequently bathes the brain and vital organs in fresh blood, bringing nutrition, oxygen and also detoxifying the area.
Throughout our millions of years of evolution, primates experienced physiological stresses such as temporary hot or cold temperature changes as part of daily life. Hydrotherapy is designed to take advantage of the natural body reaction to these changes, to make the body stronger.
It has been shown that lowering the temperature of the brain is known to have neuroprotective and therapeutic effects and can relieve inflammation (a known mechanism in depression).
Further, exposure to cold has been shown to activate the sympathetic nervous system (i.e. the system that relaxes us) and increases our brain hormone norepinephrine (a hormone that can help depressed people feel more happy naturally).. Cold water therapy can also help produce endorphins, our feelgood hormones. In fact, it's been thought that cold hydrotherapy has a similar effect as the proven antidepressant treatment electric shock therapy, or ECT.
Benefits: Medical research supports the benefits that hydrotherapy:
An easy way of trying hydrotherapy:
A cold shower is the easiest way. It is recommended that you start your shower with a normal, warm temperature and wash yourself as usual. Then slowly cool the water down to 68°F or 20°C, and then see if you can stay under this cold water for a minute, and gradually increase the time you spend in this cold water for up to 5 minutes. It will seem difficult at first, but your body will adapt and it will gradually get easier and easier and in fact people say they come to really enjoy and look forward to the cold shower.
It's recommended that you have a cold shower at least every other day, or even better every day.
Here's a link to the BBC programme: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p080nl3f
I'm giving it a go myself. I didn't manage long this morning (maybe nearly a minute) but I will persevere and no doubt it will get easier as I continue. Let me know if you try it and what you experience.
Maria Hancock,, Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist, Mindfulness Teacher, NLP Practitioner, MSc Health Psychology