We know the idea of submerging your body into freezing cold water might not be appealing, especially if you’ve never done it purposely before! But deliberate cold water exposure has so many benefits for physical and mental health, so we argue that it’s absolutely worth the brief spurt of discomfort.
If you are apprehensive about taking the plunge, we have gathered a list of tips from researchers, thought leaders in cold water immersion therapy, and members of our own PLUNJ community on how to conquer the cold water!
1. Exhale deeply before submerging
In her book Winter Swimming, Susanna Søberg advises first-time winter swimmers to be cautious and careful when you first get in the water.
“Just before you step into the water, exhale through your mouth, so your lungs are empty of air. When you’ve exhaled completely, put your first foot in – taking long breaths in through your nose and exhaling deeply through your mouth – and walk decisively down the steps until the water is at your shoulders. As you’re going in, continue to focus on breathing calmly and deeply” (169).
The deep exhalation before you enter the water will protect against a natural tendency to hyperventilate.
2. Try the “Counting Walls” Approach
Andrew Huberman’s approach to building mental resilience through deliberate cold exposure is what he calls “counting walls.”
What is a “wall?” A wall is a feeling of “I don’t want to do this!” or “I want to leave this situation and go warm up now.”
Can you relate?
For some people, the wall might be even before you get into the ice bath or cold shower. If you feel a wall before you get in the water but get in anyway, that’s considered traversing one wall. Inevitably, as you continue to stay in the water, you will be confronted with more walls.
You can design a protocol that will work for you over time. Since every day is different, you may decide one day to get over three walls, and the next day to get over four. The next day, still, you may decide to only traverse three walls again, but at a different temperature than before. A protocol like this will help you develop resilience and grit!
3. “Go out into the cold. Feel it. It will take you back into yourself.”
Wim Hof offers a way to approach the cold that doesn’t involve distracting yourself from the cold – in fact, his advice is to feel the cold. Allow the cold to permeate your being, and you will be thrust into the present moment of your body’s sensations so you don’t get stuck in your mind.