I Took A Freezing-Cold Shower Every Morning For A Month & This Is What Happened

Photographed by Brayden Olson.
On principle, I am skeptical of any internet health recommendation that has the word “challenge” tacked on to the end of it. These wellness fads come and go, and we’re probably all better off living our lives without giving them more than a click and a quick scroll. But there are some things out there that are too tempting not to experience firsthand.

So what’s the latest deal, you ask? Take a freezing-cold shower every morning for 30 days. The supposed benefits are improved immunity and circulation, stress relief, better mood, and relief of muscle soreness. Seems simple enough.

So I took a freezing cold shower each morning for an entire month. Here’s how it went.

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Illustrated by: Ivy Liu
Week 1

Shit
, that’s cold. And by cold, I mean my-roommates-can-hear-me-yelling-expletives cold.

Despite my best efforts to prepare myself the night before starting (It’s gonna be great! You’re taking a bold step to possibly increase your well-being! You are young and fierce! Try new things!), I woke up and had only a split second of cozy morning bliss before feeling a sense of dread for the task at hand.

I schlepped over to the bathroom, reluctantly removed my pajamas, and cranked the cold faucet all the way. Why did I agree to this again?

I set a timer on my phone for five minutes and got in.

The worst part was breathing. Practically hyperventilating from the shock of the freezing-cold water, the sensations in my body felt similar to what I’ve experienced during panic attacks. (So, no, this is not fun at all.) About two minutes in or so, though, my breathing slowed down, and I was able to stand still and shampoo and condition my hair under the freezing-cold stream.

When the timer finally went off, I thanked my lucky stars and shut the water off quickly. Immediately, I felt a glowy, warm feeling inside my chest and stomach. I’m not sure if this was just a result of the sudden change back to room temperature, but it certainly felt soothing.

Though the initial shock decreased slightly each day, the first week went pretty much the same way: First, holy hell that’s cold. Then, more controlled breathing, and a calm, fuzzy feeling after getting out.

Observations:
I haven’t noticed any increased immunity — but, to be fair, no one around me is currently sick, and I'm not exactly self-administering blood tests to check my T cells. I do feel like I have more energy in the mornings ("Duh," you say, "you’re practically waking up to a cold bucket of water thrown on your head"), and am less stressed than usual for at least an hour after showering.
2 of 4
Illustrated by: Ivy Liu
Week 2

By the second week, the hyperventilation-like breathing period at the beginning of my showers lasted for no more than 30 seconds. Cold showers started to feel a little more routine, and I began to look forward to the warm feeling I experienced after getting out.

There were a few times when I woke up with a headache, feeling groggy and particularly unexcited about stepping into a shower of freezing-cold water. But, I realized, it was these days that the effects of cold showers were particularly helpful — my headaches went away afterward, and I felt energized in a way that I certainly would not have otherwise.

Observations:
Better mood? Check. Stress relief? Definitely. Improved circulation, stronger immunity, and relief of muscle soreness? I’ll get back to you on that.
3 of 4
Illustrated by: Ivy Liu
Week 3

The third week was fairly uneventful, beyond this: I noted two days when, instead of feeling all warm and fuzzy and calm afterward, I actually began to shiver upon leaving my freezing-cold shower.

Observations:
Though I haven’t noticed any grand changes in my overall health (but how could I, really, in a period of only 30 days?), my daily cold showers have become almost as necessary to my morning routine and daily energy as coffee.

Added bonus: I have no method to measure this as a variable in my experiment, but my girlfriend says my hair has been particularly soft lately (thanks, Zoë).
4 of 4
Illustrated by: Ivy Liu
Week 4

I am surprised by how easy it is for me to step into a freezing-cold shower now. It doesn’t feel shocking for more than a second or two, and I’m able to go about my normal shower business.

The sensation I feel immediately after shutting the water off is lovely. To picture what it feels like, imagine jumping into a freezing-cold river in the summer, splashing around for a little bit, and then feeling the calm, everything-in-the-world-is-alright feeling rush over you when you sit back down on your towel in the sun. It’s nice.

Observations:
I’m a believer, baby!

Obviously, I wouldn’t promote this challenge as a way of obtaining serious health benefits or as replacement for actual medical treatment. Any boosts to my immunity or circulation were too subtle to be noticed (I actually ended up catching my roommate’s cold the day after finishing my 30 days), as was any relief of muscle soreness.

I will say, however, that immersing myself in a cold shower felt really damn nice in the morning, and I would recommend it as a quick energy- and mood-booster — and, as it turns out, there might be some medical reasoning behind this.

"While there is not a huge amount of scientific data out there dedicated to the idea of 'cold hydrotherapy,' I consider it low-risk for most people who would like to try it," board-certified general internist Holly Phillips, MD, tells me via email. "It sounds super unpleasant to me (I'm shivering just thinking about it), but there may be a couple of potential upsides for those who are less cold-averse."

In fact, Dr. Phillips writes, "stepping into a cold shower will cause you to breathe more deeply and boost your heart rate (that's so your body can take in more oxygen and distribute it faster to keep your body warm). This will make you feel more mentally alert, and perhaps more ready to take on the day."

And, Dr. Phillips notes, while the consensus on how cold showers could function as a treatment for depression and a way to improve mood is unclear, these effects "may have to do with increased release of adrenaline in the body and endorphins in the brain."

So if you’re down to get past the initial shock, turning the faucet in the other direction tomorrow morning might not be such a bad idea after all. If nothing else, softer hair may be in your future.
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