Lots of people talk about taking cold showers. Most of them are men. And because they’re men, it’s easy to go, ‘yeah yeah that works for you but…’.
But I’m a woman. Even if you don’t like playing the gender card (I famously do not), there are some things in which men’s guides just don’t cut it. Showering is one of them.
Uh, cold showers? Wtf?
Just under 30 days ago, I decided to replace a hot shower with a cold shower every day for 30 days. It will be 30 days on Friday 14 April 2017 and I have absolutely no doubt that I’m going to hit (and go beyond) 30 days.
Whoa, what a statement. It’s true, too. I’ve learned so much just from taking cold showers that it’s going to be hard to go back.
Deciding to do this wasn’t hard.
It must have been something in the atmosphere. Something I’d read. Something I’d heard (thanks, Tim Ferriss). And then I had a conversation in early March with a new friend as part of my project to have 100 coffees with new people this year. My new friend was an enthusiastic, amazing guy.
Let me tell you about him. He came from a family with a tendency to be overweight. He’d experimented with a bunch of things in his life and was seeking the ultimate way to feel great all the time. In his venture (so far) he had become a vegan, done 180 days of yoga, learned how to be zen all the time no matter what (180 days of yoga), changed his thinking, gone barefoot most of the time, and started taking cold showers.
The cold showers thing had me interested. So did the yoga. But, cold showers? I had to ask about that. He told me that it’s true: Cold showers are amazing for making you feel amazing.
‘You should try it,’ he said.
Yeah, I should, I thought. So I decided I’d give it a go. That bit was easy.
Doing it was difficult.
Actually taking a cold shower first thing in the morning isn’t something that comes naturally to us soft, first-world people. We’ve been having hot showers since we were born (just about). We’ve grown up with our mothers telling us not to get cold because we will get sick. We have had a narrative telling us to keep away from the cold pounding in our ears, hearts, and minds, since our times began.
Before I actually took the plunge, so to speak, I did some reading. I learned that plunging into cold water is easier if you ‘coat’ yourself with a layer of cold water first. You know, on all your warmest bits: Your head, your private parts, your extremities.
Eventually though I had to just start.
Tips for ladies who want to take cold showers
Here are the lessons for you, if you’re a woman who wants to start taking cold showers. Then, I’ll give you the results of having cold showers every day for just shy of a month.
Tip 1: When you first begin, start taking cold showers after you’re already sweaty.
It sounds really counterproductive, but after 30 days – some days where I exercised first thing, and others where I’ve showered straight out of bed – it’s easier to have a cold shower when your heart is already pounding.
This is partly because you’re already in a different state, and so it’s less of a shock. When you’re just out of bed, you’re all warm and relaxed and sleepy. Getting into cold water makes your body wake the fuck up. Fast. So, be kind on yourself for the first week or so and exercise first thing every day, and then shower after you’re done.
Tip 2: You can’t just get into a 3-minute-long cold shower on the first day
Or the first week, come to that.
No matter how powerful your willpower, the idea that you will have a full-length, cold shower is just a fucking myth. It’s also almost impossible. To make it easier on yourself, prepare your body first. Coat yourself with a bit of a layer of cold water. Then inch into the shower and wash yourself quickly. Rinse off, and you’re done.
Boom – you’ve had your first cold shower. It took you 30 seconds, you’re very clean, you’ve saved a ton of water, and you can celebrate that you even did it!
Over time, your showers will get longer. At this end of thirty days, I can get straight into the cold shower, and can stand in a stream of cold water, and have a less panicked kind of wash.
But doing that 20 days ago? You’re dreaming, mate.
Tip 3: Your warm bits are not like men’s warm bits and are not comparable
So, earlier I mentioned that when you coat your body, you need to coat your warm bits. That those warm bits often mentioned in articles written by men are your head, your private parts, your arms and legs.
Ladies, I’m here to tell you that your warmest bits are your belly and the small of your back. This stands to reason: Your plumbing is some of the most complex anatomy. It has significant blood flow. Its temperature changes throughout the month. And you feel it in the low part of your belly and the low part of your back. It’s generally hotter just before your period than it is just after your period.
Seriously, getting your lady parts wet isn’t a problem. Getting your lower back cold and wet? Fuck me, that’s difficult straight out of a warm bed, especially when you are pre-menstrual.
Getting the small of your back wet is harder than getting your tits wet, or your bum wet, or even the top of your head wet!
So, persevere, ladies!
Tip 4: Cold showers after sex can be punishing, so be prepared
One thing I hadn’t expected was how difficult it would be to have that first, post-sex shower. All that activity going on inside your body? It makes for lots of blood flow in your belly and your back. Its heat means that the cold water will make you fairly leap out of your skin.
There is also no delicate way to say that sex is a lot messier for women than it is for men. So if you have a male partner, be prepared for that. You can’t skimp over it, because it’s unhealthy: You have to get yourself clean. Think about how you’re going to handle this. I’m not kidding, it’s a really big deal. It’s an even bigger deal if you’re a particularly wet kinda lady, or you’re not using barrier protection like condoms.
Throughout the past month, for which my goal has been one cold shower a day, I didn’t feel so bad if I wanted to cheat on a second shower and make it warmer. Of course, this won’t help you if you have sex first thing in the morning. All you can do in that situation (which I have also been in) is remember that it’s supposed to be cold, and you’ll be done soon.
Tip 4: If you’ve got beauty things to do, find a way around it
Men don’t typically use their shower time to do things like facial scrubs, leg shaving, private part shaving, under-arm shaving (etc). Women very often do. So, if you’re going to start having cold showers, you can’t simultaneously neglect your beauty routine. What that will do is turn you into a head-to-toe rug very fast and you’ll stop wearing pretty skirts.
The key is to prepare and find a way around it. Here’s how I did it.
First, I shaved my legs outside of the shower. Then this was a royal pain in the arse and took way longer than I wanted to spend on something cosmetic.
So, I went back to the shower. But instead of shaving in a cold shower, I had a warm shower, did the shaving I needed to do, then turned the shower cold.
Eventually, I could do the shaving in a cold shower. Remember: Baby steps. It’s important to do whatever you can and still have a cold shower at some stage than it is to avoid it altogether.
Tip 5: It gets harder at Day 10 and Day 17
The two most difficult days for me in this cold shower thing were days 10 and 17. Don’t ask me why. It must have something to do with the fact that I had achieved a week of this new thing and was past the novelty. At around Day 10, it becomes something you have to do, and without noticing, your thinking shifts. Suddenly you’re hating the idea of this stupid, cold shower.
And then, on Day 17, I found myself actively avoiding it. I had a shower late in the morning. Putting it off was worse because after the shower I felt amazing!
Your difficult days might fall on different days. For me, the two most difficult were these two, and they were critical points for me. Getting through and past them caused the most amazing joy, and it’s simply become easier.
Tip 6: Cold showers are not bad for you
The internet will confirm any bias that you have. This means that if you believe that being cold is bad for you, then the internet will confirm your bias. The truth is quite different.
Cold showers do all kinds of amazing things. They teach your body how to deal with small stresses, and over time it improves your immunity. For me personally, some things I’ve noticed are:
- better moods, in general, even when tired or hungry
- better circulation
- better body image
- improved hair growth (which, for someone with alopecia, is not an insignificant thing! I have hair where I never used to have hair)
- better skin tone
- better eye tone
- more energy
- better breathing
- better sleep.
Lessons from cold showers: What the simple act of a cold shower has taught me
I was surprised to learn a whole lot of things about myself and about life, just from having a cold shower every day. to be clear about this, I am the kind of person who looks for lessons in things, and cold showers are abundant with lessons! Here are a few of them.
Lesson 1: Cold showers teach you how to start small
Having cold showers has taught me an incredibly important lesson. If you’re like me, you will have read fifty billion articles about how good habits start small. Nowhere is this more true than in taking cold showers.
Small isn’t ‘a small, two-minute shower’. Small is: Getting in, soaping yourself down and rinsing off as fast as humanly possible and leaping out of the shower as soon as you possibly can. Small is: Having a warm shower and ending it with a cold blast and still being happy that you had a cold component to your shower.
You can’t get hung up on whether you had a perfect shower. Or whether it was a nicely rounded shower, or whether or not you got your teeth brushed while you were there. The fact is, you had a shower and it was cold. That’s it. The achievement is a lot smaller than you imagine it to be.
Lesson 2: Cold showers teach you how to find your zen
When you’re standing in a cold shower in the morning, and you’ve just had sex so you have more to clean up and warmer body parts to deal with, the only thing you can do is remember that it’s supposed to be cold.
This is a powerful lesson in dealing with things as they are. Cold showers teach you that yes, this shower is cold in temperature. You can’t judge it. You can’t judge yourself for being there. It is cold, and that’s good: The temperature is exactly as it should be. You can enjoy the fact that it is this way, and that it’s doing what it ought to be doing.
In a cold shower, you are supposed to be cold, you are supposed to shiver, the water is supposed to be cold on you, you aren’t supposed to be warm. Amazingly, when you start thinking this way, your pain instantly diminishes and you can even enjoy yourself.
Lesson 3: Cold showers teach you how to deal with difficult things
Having a cold shower is hard. It’s hard every day, though it becomes less difficult with time. But the truth of how we deal with difficult things isn’t to wish they were different; it’s to wish that we were better. And so, with a cold shower, how we deal with the difficulty can shape how you face up to other difficult things.
You can run away or procrastinate, or you can just effing do it. You can blame other things for it, wish they were not the way they are, but none of that will help you.
In forcing you to be right in this moment, cold showers force you to deal with things as they are, right now, and to deal with it as best you can. So you do. It teaches you, in tiny increments, how to level yourself up. As you progressively meet the challenge, and do it a little bit more every day (almost without realising), you realise that your resilience is growing, too.
Amazing, isn’t it, that a shower can teach you resilience?
Lesson 4: Cold showers give you the most amazing energy
It’s true. Having a cold shower will wake you up mentally, will wake you up physically, and will make you feel amazing. Since taking cold showers, I’ve found that my energy levels are more balanced throughout the day, even into the evening. I find that I suffer less from physical lethargy, and that the horrible fog of weariness is just absent for many more hours in the day.
This has happened even without any significant shift in my exercise or dietary habits. As an extra bonus, the huge amount of additional energy in the morning is like lighting a fire under your arse. You don’t need coffee. Just have a cold shower.
Lesson 5: Your body feels fresh and warm after a cold shower, but tired and gross after a hot one
Do you remember what it was like having a swim as a kid, and then getting out of the pool and feeling like your eyes were bright, your body strong, your energy high, and your body in perfect working order? And then getting dressed and still feeling like that?
Well if you want to experience that again, have a cold shower. I have been consistently surprised and happy about this feeling. I hadn’t felt it since I was a kid on holidays and spent early mornings in the sea on cool days, followed by hours of feeling amazing, and like I wanted to do this every single day of my life.
I rediscovered it in my cold showers. It’s a feeling after you get dressed like your body is lithe and strong.
Conversely, the one hot shower I’ve had this month made me feel sick, actually. I felt tired, lethargic and just yuck.
Of interest, after a cold shower your body warms up. You shiver a bit, you rub yourself down, your circulation is given a kick in the arse, and you find yourself tingling with warmth. After a hot shower (especially in a cool or cold house) the opposite happens: You get cold, you start to shiver, and it’s unpleasant. But if it’s warm, you might even start to sweat.
I know which one I prefer, and it’s warming up afterwards, with buttloads of energy and feel-good along with it.
Lesson 6: Cold showers make your life easier
At about Day 20 or 23, I suddenly realised that if I can have cold showers every day, I can shower anywhere. I can shower if there’s no hot water. I can get clean easily and without too much effort even if all I have is the sea, or a lake, or a river, or a water tank in the middle of nowhere.
All of a sudden, I have removed a complexity that ties me to a certain lifestyle, one in which I have hot water on demand.
Along with this realisation came another one: Humans washed in cold water for most of their existence, and hot showers are relatively new. If we survived for millennia washing in cold water, then why are we so fucking precious about it now? It’s because of habit, more than anything else.
But besides all of this, I now find myself using cold water to rinse dishes, wash my hands, and do other things around the place. If I splash myself with the hose while watering the garden, it’s less of a big deal. If I’m out in the rain, and the rain is cold, it’s less of a problem. Everything is just simpler.
Lesson 7: Cold showers teach you discipline and persistence
If you’re going to shower cold every day, then there are two things you will grow: Discipline, and persistence. It just happens. Along with the cold showers, I have found that other disciplines have become easier. Being organised, doing cyclic chores, finding rhythms and patterns of life. All of them are easier.
Additionally, persisting with difficult tasks is easier, because I’ve learned that knowing how to do it is in the doing. And also that once you do it, it’s done. I knew this, cognitively, but I feel like I never had it under my skin until I had to put myself through a physical challenge every single day, one that involves discomfort rather than effort.
Lesson 8: Over time, it becomes normal
Just as not having coffee, not eating meat, not eating bread or sugar eventually become your new ‘normal’, so does having a cold shower. This lesson is important because it’s a real signifier for how we deal with life. Over time, all things become normal.
It doesn’t matter whether that’s less money, fewer people, different jobs, different locations, cold showers, no coffee, less sleep. Whatever it is, time normalises it. The longer you stick with something, the more it becomes part of you. Building habits is no exception; it’s just that the cold shower habit is something that also teaches you about how you build habits in other areas of your life too.
Lesson 9: Cold showers are just better, and I probably won’t go back
It’s very unlikely that I’ll go back to hot showers, now. Not only does a cold shower make me feel balanced in terms of my physical temperature, but hot showers make me feel like my blood pressure rises. I’ve rediscovered early morning joy in a cold shower, and I am very unlikely to go back to hot showers.
Plus, my showers now are shorter. Showering has become less about a luxurious soak, and more about a functional wash. And for anyone in Australia, that’s a massive plus that hot showers will just never have.