Part 2: Cold showers for 30 days — reflections (and thoughts related to perimenopause)
I recently made it through my 30-day cold shower challenge. This consisted of taking a cold shower every morning in water on its coldest setting. Granted, starting this challenge in July facilitated my success. And since perimenopause is like riding a bucking bronco in a stadium full of ghosts (because you don’t realize the extent to which medicine truly blows off women’s health issues until you deal with perimenopause, autoimmunity, endometriosis, or other female-focused conditions), I’ll throw in some thoughts related to that as well.
Although I read Wim Hof’s book years ago, I did not follow any of his advice before my 30-day challenge. I think he has valuable information and has done some truly remarkable things with his body, I just wanted to explore this process without a script.
This journey began with plans to create a cold plunge tub. I’ve always liked swimming in cold lakes and rivers and thought it would be nice to replicate that at home. A DIY cold plunge tub consists of caulking the seams of a deep freezer, setting it up on a timer, and some other steps—you can find plenty of advice online. Then it occurred to me this sounds like a huge pain in the ass. I recently got rid of about 98 percent of my belongings and continue to live reasonably minimally as I find it brings me peace of mind. Maybe if you’re very athletic it makes more sense, although I could not find any studies to back that up.
My goal with cold showers was to stimulate cortisol release in the mornings. I struggle with chronic adrenal fatigue that I suspect is related to decades of unmanaged PTSD more than anything. I also think lifelong PTSD is a large factor in why so many women struggle with perimenopause, because you arrive at midlife neurologically demolished. More women than men have PTSD (if you’re a woman, I don’t have to tell you why), it affects women more severely, and the effects of PTSD on women is more overlooked in health care. It’s yet another condition, like autism spectrum disorders, from which science and medicine have largely excluded women.
In fact, when I began my PTSD healing journey, I felt like cold showers were a bad idea and followed my intuition on that. The macho “tough it out” approach is, I think, part of the pop culture appeal of cold water therapy. Yet for a woman recovering from PTSD, “toughing it out” can be a part of the symptomology and a barrier to recovery. After some time went by of working on overall self-care and neurological rehabilitation, getting out of a moldy environment, and moving to a new area with easier access to outdoor recreation, I felt up to the challenge.
The first 3–5 days of morning cold showers are the hardest. It’s an ugly shock, not gonna lie. Then it transitions into being initially jolting, then pleasantly bracing. The secret to the cold shower is in accepting that somewhat scary challenge each morning and moving through it. Online cold water therapy advocates make a lot of metabolic promises, but honestly all I think it does is make you feel a little better from the mild shock of the cold water and the satisfaction of having done something difficult.
As for morning cortisol activation, I do feel it has definitely helped with that. My mornings are a lot less fuzzy after one month and I feel more geared up for the rest of the day. Morning cortisol activation release is suggested as a strategy in managing chronic health conditions. I think one month is too soon to weigh in on the degree to which it has helped, but anything that makes you feel even a little bit better is therapeutic. It also makes your skin softer and less dry.
My biggest challenge halfway through my challenge was the acquisition of two rescued stray dogs. Suddenly my morning routine was radically altered by having to tend to two full bladders first thing. I even missed a couple of days from simply forgetting. But now we are settling into a routine and I shower either right before or right after walking them.
I’ve had some really bad days healthwise from perimenopause during my challenge, largely from lack of sleep on some nights. Pushing through with my cold shower anyway helped revive me and get me in a more positive mindset when all I wanted to do was blow something up.
Tricks I use to tolerate a cold shower
I have created some rituals for myself to make the daily cold showers possible, because even after 30 days, I still find stepping into that cold water daunting.
I start with three deep breaths, then turn on the water to max cold. As soon as I step in I start a series of quick deep exhalations, blowing forcefully from my mouth. I sound like a steam engine chugging its way up a steep mountain. I only need to do this for a few seconds as I rotate exposing all my skin before I can relax and shower as normal. I try and maintain focus on long deep breaths during the rest of the shower, which can help oxygenate the body and activate the vagus nerve.
I’ve noticed on the days when the outside temps were cooler the water was a LOT colder. I feel it’s ok to nudge it a tiny bit in the warm direction while still keeping it cold. In winter no doubt I won’t have it on max cold as I like to keep a cold house. The colder the water the greater the effect, but without compliance it’s all for naught, so my theory is do whatever you need to do to make it happen. One of these days I’ll get a thermometer to make sure the water is at least 60 degrees F.
Now that the cold shower challenge has transitioned into a way of life, I’ve moved onto the chewing challenge. Chewing each bite until its liquid has many great benefits for digestion and immunity. It’s also another free but powerful health hack and I’m excited to see what benefits I may notice. I will focus upcoming articles on that topic.