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“Cold Plunging Helped Me Finally Feel Joy Again!” — Experts Reveal Why It Works + How to Benefit

Learn how just one dip can boost your mood for an entire week

If you’ve been on social media at all recently, you’ve probably seen the cold water plunge craze and how people all over the world swear by the practice to increase their overall health and wellbeing. It involves submerging yourself in a cold water below a certain temperature (more on the specifics below). Here, experts reveal the cold plunge benefits for mental health and why it’s worth it — plus, be inspired by one woman’s story how she completely changed her life and mental health for the better by cold plunging.

Why cold plunging boosts mood

Cold plunging is all the rage — and with good reason! Czech scientists found that the practice, which involves quickly immersing your body in cold water, boosts levels of dopamine, “the happy hormone,” by 250%. 

Cold water therapy also reduces inflammation, says Mark Harper, MD, PhD, a cold therapy researcher, consultant anesthesiologist at Sussex University Hospitals and author of Chill: The Cold Water Swim Cure. That’s key, as inflammation has been linked to depression. What’s more, he says, “It combines exercise, nature, water and sociability.” And his research shows that the feel-good effects of a single session last up to a week.

Related: Study: A Cold Plunge Eases Hot Flashes, Mood Swings + More Menopause Symptoms

How to get the benefits of cold plunging

“You get a strong physiological effect on the body at any temperature below 68°F, and 2 or 3 minutes in the water is all you need,” says Dr. Harper. He suggests dipping up to your shoulders. But for additional benefits, wait for the initial shock to pass — and get your breathing back under control — then immerse your face for a few seconds. People without access to a cold lake can immerse themselves at home in a bathtub filled with cold water, he says. 

Some people invest in cold plunge tubs or portable devices, like Savage Ice Baths portable pods. They’re designed to relieve body aches; boost immunity; and promote muscle recovery, blood circulation and overall well being as we age.

For even better results, plunge with others. “Cold water swimming is a social thing,” says Dr. Harper, noting that social connections ­provide a powerful mood boost. “It’s one of the reasons people keep coming back to it.” You can find groups on Facebook by searching for “cold plunge group.”

Related: Making This Simple Change To Your Morning Routine Can Ease Anxiety, Reduce Pain, and Help You Lose Weight

Cold plunge benefits success story: Amy Maus, 49

Amy Maus with cold plunge friends.
Amy Maus, center, with cold plunge friends.Danielle Steffey

When will this sadness go away? thought Amy Maus, as she once again sat on her sofa, feeling paralyzed. “My plan was to grocery shop or work out, but I would sit for hours, wondering when I was going to do this stuff,” she recalls. “I didn’t have the motivation. There were a lot of dark days.

“That was in 2021. I had just quit my job of 23 years in government due to burnout, and I was surprised at how difficult it was to go from 80-hour workweeks to not having structure in my day. I had been in a leadership role, and without work, I felt I’d lost my identity. 

Depression took hold

“More than 20 years earlier, my brother died by suicide, and I was aware of my tendencies to dive into depression. In the past, I had learned to get myself out of it by being active in nature, going for long bike rides and hiking. 

“But after I left my job, my sadness continued to grow, and I didn’t make the time to get out and move like I should. Then in August of 2022, my daughter’s father — whom I had left 16 years prior due to domestic violence — was killed by his girlfriend, who claimed that she too was a victim of abuse. 

“This incident brought to the surface the trauma I still felt from my time with him, and it made the depression I was experiencing even worse.

“A few weeks later, a friend encouraged me to try a cold water immersion therapy workshop, which involved learning breathwork and how to cold plunge with certified instructor Timothy Mann in the frigid waters of a lake. She said it would be good for me, so I agreed. I hate the cold and especially cold water. I thought I’d show up for that November workshop and just learn about it. I don’t need to go into the water, I thought. They have a sauna there, and I’ll enjoy that. It’s the only thing that got me through the door. The idea of getting into the water, which was in the 40s, really scared me. 

“But seeing everyone else go in, I thought, I have to do it. I was terrified. How was my body going to react? Would I have a heart attack? There was some prayer involved to get me in.

A surprising solution 

Amy Maus with friends cold plunging in water.
Alex Petrin

“I walked into the water and felt so cold, with pins and needles all over my legs. But I kept going. As I got deeper, the water covered my shoulders and I suddenly felt completely in the present. Everything going on in my mind was gone. A euphoria took over me. And I was in the water for only 2 minutes! I was so surprised I could feel this good so quickly. And the feeling lasted for a few days. 

“I immediately made plans to dip again with my friend in nearby Lake Superior. We started going up to four times a week, even through the winter, when the water was in the 30s and the outdoor temperature was 11 degrees. My family couldn’t believe I would intentionally expose myself to the cold. But every time I got in, I would feel peace and calmness. And when I got out, I’d feel oddly warm, even when it was freezing outside. 

“I told so many people about the amazing benefits I found from the cold water plunging that I started the Marquette Cold Water Immersion Facebook group to create a community. We are now over 800 members strong. 

“I found an endless supply of companions to dip with in Lake Superior. Even in the summer, the water remains cold enough. It became my happy place, but it also kept me from sinking into a deep depression. 

“Recently, I’ve been cold plunging about once a week, but when life’s stressors become overwhelming, I go more often. It helps me feel centered, and it keeps my mood up. 

“It’s also given me the motivation and confidence to take on a few part-time jobs. Cold water immersion has changed my life for the better.”

For more inspiring real-life health stories, click through:

Can Sound Baths for Anxiety Ease Your Stress? What You Need to Know

How Vitamin D for Thyroid Helped One Woman Beat Fatigue: “I Feel Like I’ve Aged Backward!”

Lyme Disease Is on the Rise: How One Woman Cured Herself With Biomagnetic Therapy

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