Cold Showers Raise Mood

Todd Becker pointed me to this post which is negative about the notion that cold showers raise mood (“empty science”) but you can ignore the negativity and go to the comment that gives a long list of studies that support the idea. Todd has blogged about his use of cold showers.

Todd calls this hormesis. About the mood-raising aspect of cold showers, I’m not so sure. There is a broad correlation between being sleepy and being in a bad mood.  So anything that wakes us up is likely to improve our mood. But if cold showers improve one’s response to stress of all sorts — which is less clear — it does seem like hormesis in other contexts. When I think of hormesis I think of two sorts: intra-cellular (e.g., x-ray-like radiation breaks stuff, activating repair systems — radiation hormesis) and extra-cellular (microbes in fermented food activate the immune system). But there are other examples of similar stuff: exercise breaks muscle fibers (which is why you shouldn’t exercise the same muscles two days in a row) and longer-term increases them; bones when broken grow back stronger. If we need a certain amount of thermal or other stress to properly respond to stress that would be another example.

8 Replies to “Cold Showers Raise Mood”

  1. Interesting. I started having only cold showers a couple of weeks ago to see if I would still get the hives I usually got from hot showers. I no longer got the hives and I also noticed an improved mood.

    I don’t know if the heat caused the hives, or if it was prolonged exposure to fluoridated water. Cold showers are usually of short duration, so I might try some short hot showers.

  2. I’m a big fan of cold water swimming, and I surf without a wetsuit. I’m out there as many mornings as I can fit in. I never get a cold or flu, and I’m usually pretty upbeat. I never put 2 and 2 together, but it very well could be a result of all that time in the cold surf. I take lukewarm showers, but I’ll try going without any hot water to see if it kicks things up a notch.

  3. The mood elevating effect of cold immersion is a common topic among cold water swimmers. I was first exposed to this idea in 2007 by Piotr Wozniak, a sleep and memory researcher. My first experience produced an elevated mood that lasted for about 2 days; but I associated this elation with the rush of doing something that I felt to be risky and coming through it unharmed. (January; Baltic Sea) However, once I’d broken the ice, I started swimming in cold water regularly, and it always elevated my mood. Swimming is fun in general, but swimming in warm water, or swimming in cold water with a wet suit on, does not produce the same after effect of elation. I have never experienced as extended a period of elation as after my first swim; normally, the most noticeable effect lasts about 4 hours, with a lingering effect for the rest of the day.

  4. I have always loved the feeling of absolute refreshment from cold showers and cold-water swimming ever since I was a little kid. Glad to know I’m not a freak.

  5. In her book “Treating Bipolar Disorder: A Clinician’s Guide to Interpersonal and Social Rhythm Therapy”, Ellen Frank makes the interesting point that behavioral activation alone (i.e. just doing something) was equally efficacious to a complete cognitive therapy treatment in bringing about a resolution of unipolar depression. (page 102).

    Perhaps a cold shower is a good way to get someone to just do something.

  6. Hi Seth, sorry this is a little off topic, I’m commenting here since it’s the most recent entry about self-experimentation and mood disorders. My question is, in your self-experimentation, have you found any tricks that help to get over a broken heart? Thanks.

Comments are closed.