Enter the Cold.
What if there was a way to boost the strength of your immune system, and gain control of your subconscious reactions to shock. Would you embrace such a method, and more importantly could you handle it? We are living in strange times. Immune system health is of the utmost importance due to COVID-19, and most 2021 human beings cannot stop their racing thoughts or impulse reactions if they were paid to. Any implementation of a certain method regarding health must be carefully explained and individual recommendations must be taken into consideration. Cold therapy can help lower anxiety, boost the immune system, decrease inflammation, and most importantly in my opinion teach one how to control one's thoughts and reactions.
Have you ever wondered how your child can bear such cold temperatures half naked while you're wrapped up in three variations of a blanket? Children are born with more brown fat. Brown fat cells main function is to turn food into heat, and over time with so much climate temperature control the need for brown fat slows down with age. The reason newborns have so much more brown fat then us adults is because babies are more prone to hyperthermia, so the body's natural defense is to create more brown fat for protection. In fact, there are stories of Native American tribes that would bring their young to the Hudson River during winter for cold water exposure to try and create a stronger immune system.
Cold water exposure has been scientifically proven to help boost the immune system due to the metabolic change in the body causing the white blood cell count to rise. White blood cells are a direct part of your immune system which help fight diseases and infections. When there is a dramatic change in your environment your body uses its energy differently, which makes perfect sense. If you had to survive and live your life outside 12 months out of the year, I highly doubt you would be eating Ben and Jerrys ice cream on a freezing February evening. Same holds true for summer, beef stew with big old white potatoes on a hot July day while landscaping doesn’t sound so appealing because your metabolism changes with the external environment you're in.
Something happens when you enter an ice bath or cold shower. Well actually a few things happen. First the initial alarm reaction to the cold sets in and your sympathetic nervous systems ski rockets. The sympathetic nervous system stimulates the adrenal glands that trigger the release of catecholamines (including adrenaline and noradrenaline). This chain of reactions results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate. The brain thinks the body is in a state of emergency, causing restriction of movement to conserve energy and prioritizing blood away from the limbs and towards the vital organs. Here’s where the true magic happens. After the initial shock to the central nervous system and about 2-4 minutes of what feels like torture, the systems start to adapt. The pin prick sensations turn to numbness, your hate rate slows down, and your thoughts begin to settle. The kicker getting past the first couple minutes and understanding this is by choice not by force. Forcing yourself to stay in the cold and just squeezing and breathing heavily out of control is not the objective here. You have to decide to take control of your subconscious, control your breathing and let go. Your mind is telling you you cannot do this and cannot stand one more second, and to get the hell out of dodge.
Sometimes your mind is right and can’t, whether it is too much stress during a bad time of your life or the foundation of mental strength isn’t built yet. Training the mind to overcome the body’s reaction is the foundation of mental strength. To stay calm, and breathe with careful control, knowing the moment will pass. One could see how this can benefit in everyday life. To approach situations with conscious control versus letting your subconscious of past experiences and anxiety of what will happen next dictate who you should be in the present moment. Let go, stay present, let the shock pass over you and embrace that fact that you can’t control the environment around you, but only control how you react to it.
I started using cold showers and ice baths as a means of recovery. To help my body recover better from the inflammation response of training. It wasn’t until later in life I realized it wasn’t only beneficial for my body, but more importantly my mind. It was a Sunday in March at Dickies, a local surf spot that packs the more challenging waves in this part of Rhode Island. I was at EPS trying to figure out how to survive the impact COVID-19 left on my business. My good friend Uncle PETER called me to tell me it was on. The winds were right and the tide was perfect, but my mind wasn’t in it. It was freezing, I was depressed, and had no desire to surf. The call came through, and I said I was too busy. So, like a stellar friend Uncle Petey showed up at the shop. He came inside and told me to grab my shit and to get in the truck. We paddled out into what felt like the biggest swell I’d yet to surf. On the way out a set rolled through and an overhead wave landed right on top of me. It flipped me 10 times and held me down in what felt like 2 minutes. The cold started to close in, my thoughts began to turn into panic, my breath felt as though it was being pulled out of me, and my eyes saw nothing but darkness. I knew in the second passing if I didn't surrender to the cold of the Atlantic ocean and try to control my thoughts I might not come back up to the surface. With only a few seconds left before I blacked out, I grabbed my leesh and started to pull myself back up to the surface. When I finally got onto my board and started to try and control my breathing I realized that was the moment I had almost lost the fight to my subconscious. This was when my training of entering the cold had begun. Every single day from that moment on I used cold showers and ice baths to build my mental strength of control.
While I don’t recommend you paddle out into a winter surf session as your foundation builder of this mental strength. I do recommend you give the cold a try. The process can be as simple as sticking your hands and feet into cold water for maybe only a minute or two. Over time as you begin to learn the art of mindful control you can progress. If you're up to it, next time you're in the shower, once you're done bathing, turn the water to cold. Maybe for some not all the way cold, but enough to challenge yourself. Try to stay in for a minute or two rotating and exposing different parts of your body to the cold water. I advise you to implement this technique the same way one should if learning how to run. Don’t shoot for a distance, shoot for an intention and easily attainable goal. Control your breathing and in turn you can control your thoughts. Progress the amount of time and intensity overtime, starting with what can be a few seconds into a few minutes. When you think you're ready for the next step, try an ice bath for 5 to 10 minutes. Cold therapy can help lower anxiety, boost the immune system, decrease inflammation, and teach one how to control one's thoughts and reactions. The choice is always yours, but being better prepared to handle the hard times life can bring can start and stop with entering the cold.