Cold Shower for Anxiety: Does It Help?
Medically reviewed by Janet Brito, Ph.D., LCSW, CST — Written by Kristeen Cherney on June 22, 2020
You may have heard of taking cold showers for muscle aches or to simply help you wake up quickly. Additionally, there’s discussion of their role in anxiety treatment when used as water therapy, or hydrotherapy.
Anxiety is a mental health condition that causes excessive fears and worries. While occasional anxiety and stress are normal parts of life, anxiety disorders can interfere with your daily activities, sometimes making it difficult to participate in work and social activities.
Chronic anxiety can be treated in a number of different ways by a mental health professional. Sometimes, complementary therapies may help, too. Cold showers are considered complementary, and their roots are thought to be traced to Ayurvedic medicine techniques.
Before you face a cold shower though, consider whether braving colder water will actually help your anxiety symptoms. Also, talk to your doctor about other ways you can manage anxiety for the long term.
Does it work?
While cold showers could, in theory, help minimize the symptoms of anxiety, more research is needed to prove that cold water is an effective anxiety treatment. Some studies have investigated hydrotherapy in treating other mental health conditions, which may suggest similar benefits for anxiety management.
One such 2008 study reviewed the role of hydrotherapy in the treatment of depression. Participants were noted to experience an improvement in their symptoms after several weeks of hydrotherapy. This consisted of 2- to 3-minute sessions of cold water showers at 68°F (20°C), one to two times per day.
Anxiety often leads to an increased heart rate. While some studies have noted that cold hydrotherapy could increase heart rate in people with depression, others have found that cold water immersion can lower your heart rate by up to 15 percentTrusted Source.
Overall, studiesTrusted Source have proven that regular cold water showers can boost your immune system. Anxiety isn’t necessarily caused by lower immune function per se, but it is linked to increased inflammation that could lead to more frequent illnesses.
How it might work
Cold showers have been proven to help improve blood circulation. When you cool down your body temperature, your system responds by moving fresh blood. Anxiety may cause an increase in blood pressure, so in theory, a cold shower may help bring it down.
Another way cold showers may work is by increasing endorphins, or the feel-good hormones in your brain. Endorphins can ease symptoms of depression and anxiety. Cold water may also decrease cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone.
Athletes have long been known to use ice baths to help decrease the inflammation that may lead to muscle soreness after an intense workout. For anxiety, a cold shower may reap similar benefits in terms of inflammation. Ongoing stress may increase inflammation, which can then lead to a cycle of inflammation-induced anxiety.
Also, a cold shower can take temporarily take your mind off the things you might be worried or fearful of. The minutes you spend focused on how the cold water feels on your body may act as a mindfulness practice, keeping you in the moment versus future events that are out of your control.
When using hydrotherapy for anxiety, you should only use cold water for a few minutes at a time. You can then finish your shower with lukewarm water.
Other tips to relieve anxiety
While a cold shower may help alleviate anxiety symptoms, this isn’t the only home remedy you can try. Consider the following home treatments that are proven to reduce anxiety over time:
Exercise regularly. Daily exercise can help improve your mood, increase endorphins, and reduce stress. The key is to choose something that you would enjoy doing regularly — you don’t want exercise to be a source of anxiety. If you’re new to exercise, talk to your doctor about the best activities suited to your abilities and how you might gradually increase the time and intensity.
Adopt meditation and other mindfulness techniques. Excessive worrying is a hallmark symptom of anxiety. By practicing meditation, deep breathing, and visual imagery daily, you may be able to ease anxiety symptoms. You may start to see some benefit after just a few minutes a day.
Eat more whole foods. Fruits, whole grains, vegetables, and fatty fish may reduce inflammation in the body while also improving your overall mood.
Reduce your caffeine intake. While a morning cup of coffee alone isn’t harmful, consuming too much caffeine during the day can worsen anxiety symptoms and lead to nighttime insomnia. Consider drinking chamomile tea in the afternoons and evenings — it’s naturally free of caffeine and may have a soothing effect.
Prioritize your sleep schedule. Anxiety is worsened by sleep deprivation. It may also cause insomnia in some people, which can lead to a sporadic sleep schedule and daytime fatigue. If you can, try to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. Make sleep as big of a priority as your work schedule.
Take time to socialize. In some cases, anxiety may increase your risk of depression and social isolation. Scheduling social activities ahead of time may offset these risks. Plus, socializing can increase endorphins and alleviate stress.
Treatments for anxiety
For severe or chronic anxiety, medical treatments may help in addition to home remedies. Talk to your primary care provider if anxiety continues to affect your daily life. They may recommend the following treatments:
Talk therapy (psychotherapy). This involves regular meetings with a psychotherapist to help explore the root causes of your anxiety and how you can overcome them. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common form used in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Medications. These include anti-anxiety drugs, sedatives, or antidepressants. Each may pose different side effects and interactions, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about any other prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs, vitamins, and herbs you may be taking. Anxiety medications are typically recommended for short-term use only.
When to see a doctor
If your anxiety symptoms don’t improve (or if they worsen), it may be time to reach out to a mental health professional. Your primary care provider may recommend one, or you can call your insurance company to see who is in network with your coverage.
You’ll also want to call your doctor right away if you feel that anxiety is interfering with your job, relationships, and overall ability to function. Seek emergency medical assistance if you or a loved one is exhibiting suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
If you’re already seeing a psychotherapist, you may still need to see a psychiatrist for further clinical evaluation. Psychotherapists aren’t doctors, so they can’t prescribe medications.
You might also need to seek a second opinion if you aren’t getting the results you’d like from your current therapist, but keep in mind that it can take weeks to start seeing a difference.
The bottom line
Taking cold showers regularly may help decrease anxiety symptoms over time, thanks to the cool water’s effects on your circulation and hormones. However, a cold shower shouldn’t replace an evaluation by a mental health professional in the case of severe anxiety.
Anxiety treatment and management consists of healthy lifestyle habits, home remedies, therapy, and sometimes medications. It can also be helpful to keep track of your symptoms to see how home remedies, such as cold showers, have any impact. See your doctor if you’re concerned about your current anxiety treatment plan.
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