This guest post comes courtesy of Justin Faraday; blogger, health and nutrition enthusiast, and a survivor of trauma.
“As far as my health is concerned, Justin writes…I definitely didn’t win the genetic lottery. I’ve struggled with a variety of medical issues since I was young, and spent my childhood and first decade of adulthood wandering through a fog of stress and discomfort. I was anxiety-ridden, depressed, and physically felt like garbage.
A lot of my issues I was able to link back to chronic inflammation and acidic body chemistry due to food intolerances. What challenges were left over I chalked up to the sexual abuse I endured between the ages of five and nine.
What I was stunned to discover was how much better I felt once I started to heal my gut and balance my hormone levels through diet and exercise. It took several years of commitment to my new habits before my health really started to turn around. I eventually became an EMT and worked the streets of Seattle for a couple of years before moving on.
Having to fight through my health issues sharpened my observation skills and made me determined to share my journey.”
Thank you Justin for sharing your insight into this unique way of helping to deal with PTSD, Depression, and overall Mental Health. If you’d like to share your story of being a survivor, or write about any mental health topic that you are passionate about, go ahead and contact me and let’s do it!
Cold exposure therapy, or hydrotherapy, may help reduce depression, chronic fatigue, and symptoms of PTSD by directly impacting brain chemistry. This is my story of how getting comfortable with the cold helped heal my broken brain. After I tell my tale, we’ll jump into the research behind what makes hydrotherapy an effective treatment for common mental health issues.
I Never Could Stand The Cold
I hated the cold growing up. It was my kryptonite. I remember trying to swim at the local indoor pool in Menominee, MI. I could stay in the water for 10 minutes max. Then I’d spend another five huddled underneath the heat lamp (they have those in Michigan) before trying to brave the water again. I was a skinny little bugger without much insulation. An underactive thyroid was also likely part of the problem. I spent the majority of my life avoiding cold water.
Depressed and Unable To Exercise, I Was Forced To Take The Plunge
Then I decided to “teach” myself how to swim at the age of 23. I was extremely depressed and still feeling the reverberating effects of PTSD from sexual abuse. My whole life, I could never stay afloat for longer than thirty seconds, and swimming was always an uncomfortable struggle.
As my mental health continued to flounder, my physical health was getting even worse. I couldn’t run without my knees spontaneously screaming in pain. My joints and soft tissues were inflamed and calcified, especially my spine. My shoulders were locked up and not very mobile. I ended up finding out later that I had symptoms very similar to ankylosing spondylitis (AS), a condition where the spine calcifies and fuses together.
Craving exercise, and having no other option, I started getting up early and driving to a tiny puddle of a lake in Bellingham, WA called Toad Lake. I’d throw myself into the chilly morning waters and splash around until I figured out how to control my breathing. By the end of the summer, I was swimming back and forth across the lake! If that wasn’t shocking enough, the real surprise was the effect that the cold water had on my mental health.
The Cold Was Like A Jolt Of Life
I started to notice how much better I felt on the days that I swam. My brain felt alive and in the moment. I felt calmer, a feeling that would last from my 9 am swim until finishing work late at night. My memory started getting better too, probably because it was so much easier to focus. I felt emboldened to speak my mind in situations where I would typically feel stifled. I started researching to see if anyone else had similar experiences with the cold. Then I discovered a man named Wim Hof.
Wim Hof and His Pioneering Cold Exposure Therapy
Wim Hof’s wife, who had been battling the onset of schizophrenia, had recently killed herself. Hof was depressed and needed to take dramatic measures to stay mentally healthy for his three children. He began experimenting with cold exposure and breathing techniques. The cold, Hof says, “is our teacher.”
Vice Magazine has an intriguing documentary on the guy that you can find on YouTube. This Scandinavian man has accomplished some stunning feats. Hof has proven that the human brain is capable of consciously controlling aspects of the autonomic nervous system, which was previously thought to be impossible. His escapades have literally forced scholars to rewrite textbooks on the topic.
Hof’s methods are easily teachable. In one experiment, he taught his techniques to a group of new students in under five days. Then, in a laboratory setting, doctors injected Hof and the students with a strain of bacteria that should have guaranteed sickness. Neither Hof nor the students became sick. *
Hof has set records for being able to withstand cold. He has hiked well above the “death zone” of Mt. Everest in nothing more than shoes and a pair of shorts. He regularly teaches students to do the same. Hof also holds several world records for immersion in ice and is able to keep his core body temperature elevated the entire time. Hof claims that he has helped students overcome depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even bipolar disorder.
More Research Into Cold Exposure Therapy
Myself, Wim Hof, and his students aren’t the only ones who have had positive experiences with cold exposure therapy. Hippocrates recommended hydrotherapy as a treatment for mental weakness. Germanic cultures in the 1800s used cold water immersion to treat a variety of diseases. Modern research continues to carry the torch and has made several intriguing findings.
The cold and wetness cause the skin and blood vessels to constrict. This forces more blood to the brain and vital organs, oxygenating and rejuvenating them. When the vessels relax, the blood sweeps away waste byproducts. Think of it as an oil change for your brain and organs.
One study found that cold exposure therapy reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronically elevated cortisol levels are strongly linked to clinical depression, anxiety, and PTSD.**
Another study determined that bathing in cold water may help normalize the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is commonly underactive in people with depression and PTSD.***
Research conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine recommends cold showers for treating both depression and chronic fatigue syndrome.****
Give Cold Exposure Therapy A Shot!
The Virginia Commonwealth School of Medicine recommends taking one or two 2-3 minute cold showers a day at 20 degrees Celsius for depression. Ease into it by spending the first five minutes gradually adjusting to a colder temperature before blasting the cold.
Although some folks with anxiety experience a reduction in anxiety symptoms, for others, cold exposure can make anxiety worse. Thankfully, there are tons of other anxiety remedies out there including herbs like ashwagandha and alternative therapies like flotation therapy. I’ve had huge success with both of these. Thanks for hearing my story! Wishing you all the best as you strive for a healthier brain 🙂
Justin Faraday is a former EMT and massive health and nutrition enthusiast. After struggling with his health for many years, he got serious about feeling incredible. Get stellar mental health and nutrition advice at his blog, Dope.Fresh.Fit.