Anxiety and depression can really take a toll on people, mentally and physically, so there are many suggestions for helping to treat these conditions. We’re often told tips like, take deep breaths, interrupt your train of thought by going for a walk, use aromatherapy, or write down your thoughts. But one thing that could help that we don’t often hear, is cryotherapy.
Cryotherapy is the “super-cooling” of the body for therapeutic purposes. Cryo- comes the Greek word “krous,” which means “icy,” “cold” or “frost. So this type of therapy can include the use of ice very cold materials on a portion of the body, or exposing the entire body to vapors that reach incredibly low temperatures ranging from minus 200 to minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit.
There are several risks to whole body cryotherapy, so consult with a medical professional before partaking in this activity.
The most common form of “cryotherapy” is the application of ice or cold packs to injuries. This causes blood vessels to constrict, reducing blood flow. It can alleviate pain, swelling, and inflammation. Athletes have long been known to use ice baths to help decrease the inflammation that may lead to muscle soreness after an intense workout.
But how does Cryotherapy help with anxiety?
Applying water of different temperatures to our body can change our physiology and mood.
Since the density of cold receptors (the parts of our body that can sense cold) in the skin is thought to be three to ten times higher than that of warm receptors, it can create a more positive therapeutic effect when utilizing cold therapies.
When humans swim in cold water, once over the initial shock of the cold, it is usually very invigorating. This is because the wet and cold causes our surface vessels to tighten up, making blood move from the surface of your body to the core, to conserve heat. It brings fresh blood to the brain and vital organs, gently detoxify and bring nutrition and oxygen to the area.
The cold can also temporarily take your mind off the things you are afraid of or worried about. The minutes you spend focused on how the cold water feels on your body can keep you in the moment rather than focusing on future or past events that are out of your control.
Additionally, a decrease in stress hormones has been reported with baths, which can also help to:
- Rebalance serotonin, which helps with mood regulation and memory.
- Increase the release of norepinephrine–an adrenal hormone that can help people naturally feel more cheerful.
- Increase production of beta-endorphins—the ‘feel-good’ molecules that give a sense of well-being and eases symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- Decrease cortisol, a stress-inducing hormone.
How can I utilize cryotherapy?
The quickest and easiest way to combat anxiety is to shock your system with cold. When using hydrotherapy for anxiety, only use cold water for a few minutes at a time.
Start with holding an ice pack underneath your eyes, above your cheekbones, for 30 seconds. The discomfort can distract your racing mind, and cooling this area triggers a reflex in the parasympathetic nervous system that results in slowed breathing and heart rate, and provides a sense of calm.
You can also try keeping frozen bottles of water in the freezer at home or work. Place one against your neck and wrists to help calm your system. If that’s not an option, try holding a piece of ice. Alternatively, try going to the bathroom to splash cold water on your face.
If available, the fastest way to alleviate anxiety is to hold our breath and stick our faces in a bowl of ice water for 10 seconds or so.
For a whole-body experience, try brief exposure to cold water in the form of a cold shower. Cold shower therapy is an ancient Ayurvedic remedy that has numerous health benefits such as treating anxiety and depression, improving circulation and toning skin. Patients can start a shower at a comfortable warm temperature and slowly cool down the water over a five-minute period down to 68°F, at which point you can sustain for two to three minutes.