“We loved how it made us feel,” PLUNJ owner Lauren Foster said about cold plunging. “We got into it mainly for the physical recovery side, but eventually we found that the mental side of benefits from cold exposure was even more telling for us, and more beneficial.”
How It Began
Lauren and her husband Sean began a love affair with cold plunging that stemmed from their passion for running in Utah’s Provo Canyon. One summer, they began ending their runs with an icy cold plunge in the Provo River. They would sometimes even bring people to the river with them. Over time, they fell in love with cold plunging as its own activity.
Soon, they began to fill their deep freezer with ice, which they would then transfer to their bathtub for regular makeshift cold plunges. Eventually, they bought a cattle trough, filled it with ice, and started to host groups in their backyard for cold plunge gatherings.
Lauren's Struggle with Insomnia
On the Fourth of July in 2018, Lauren began to suffer from insomnia. That night, she was kept awake struggling to help her daughter Ari, who was suffering a very high fever. From then on, Lauren struggled to fall asleep at night — finally drifting at 4 or 5 o’clock AM with a required wake-up time of 6 AM — and it went on for about a year.
Lauren took several different types of medicine and was educated through cognitive behavioral therapy for insomnia about her condition and how she could deal with it. At first, she consumed every informational source about sleep she could find, including the book Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker.
She learned several tools to help her deal with insomnia, but nothing seemed to work – and she was becoming more and more obsessed with sleep.
Through all of it, Lauren continued to practice cold plunging, which became the only time her mind wasn’t consumed by the thought of sleep. But she hadn’t yet connected the dots that cold exposure might have the ability to help her specifically with her insomnia.
During her quest for a solution, Lauren started a supposedly non-addictive medication that helped her fall asleep at night. However, when she stopped the medicine due to becoming pregnant again, it became clear that she had been addicted. She went through major withdrawals that caused her skin to itch all over, again keeping her awake at night all over again.
How Cold Plunging Helped Lauren Sleep
“I remember that on one of my sleepless, itchy nights, I took a cold plunge,” Lauren says. “I went out to our cattle trough. It was already filled with water and I added a bunch of ice in there. I think I was there the longest I've ever sat in a cold plunge. I was so itchy and desperate to sleep again. As soon as I hit the water, my mind and my body calmed down."
Lauren said that in the cold plunge, she could only focus on her brain, her body, and the cold water that she was sitting in. “It was almost spiritual, honestly, that I was sitting in there and I felt relaxed,” she said. “I felt calm. I went to bed about a half hour later, and I slept great. I woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and so good.”
Lauren said that incorporating contrast therapy into her life allowed her to think more clearly through challenges. Plus, she became more present for herself, her family, friends, and her work. “And so it just became a necessary part of our routine and our regimen and we wanted everyone else to be part of it too.”
Sean's Journey with Anxiety
Meanwhile, Sean was struggling with anxiety off and on. In fact, he began dealing with it at a young age, without yet knowing what anxiety was. In elementary school and through high school, he thought his anxiety episodes were just being moody or simply having weird thoughts or anger. Only after he married Lauren did they start to realize he was dealing with anxiety. He finally had a word for what he was going through. As he was put into higher pressure situations through work, parenting, or whatever the case was, the anxiety symptoms came out more and more.
All this added stress happened to occur around the same time that Sean and Lauren started their Provo River plunges. After a few months of cold plunging, Sean noticed he wasn't having as many panic or anxiety attacks as before. He realized later that this reduction in anxiety symptoms was likely attributed to the deliberate cold exposure.
This newfound knowledge that cold plunging has helped and could help people combat anxiety seemed like incredibly meaningful information to share. With the understanding that it's not a fix-all, but rather a tool in the toolbox, Sean thought people should learn about it.
The Idea for PLUNJ
Later, Sean and Lauren both read a book called The Finnish Way by Katja Pantzar. The book touted the positive effects of not only cold plunging, but pairing it with sauna in a Finnish-style ritual known to many as contrast therapy. After no luck in finding an affordable Scandinavian-style experience they were looking for, Lauren and Sean decided to open their own — and that’s how PLUNJ got started.
Through the stressful process of opening PLUNJ and making sure everything was going smoothly, Sean said his anxiety was at an all-time high. “It was kind of a slap to the face when I realized the thing that was granting me so much relief from my anxiety brought it back full force,” Sean said.
Those close to Sean, especially when they were starting PLUNJ, encouraged him to find another tool to deal with his anxiety. So he decided to meet with a therapist. Through cold plunging, talk therapy, and breathing, Sean has been able to find his mixture of things that help him manage his anxiety.
“I think cold plunging in general is amazing, but please don't forget about some of those other tools that are so important for your mental health,” says Sean.
It is very important to Lauren and Sean that PLUNJ is a supportive place for anyone and everyone dealing with mental health challenges.
“Long story short, you're not alone. Just know there are those of us out there willing to talk and willing to help out in whatever way we can. We really do hope PLUNJ is one of those places that can continue to support you,” Sean said.