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Soothing Soaks: Contrasting Hot and Cold Immersion for Stress Relief

However much we want to deny it, excessive stress is an unfortunate part of the human experience, and it can have various effects on our bodies, such as fatigue, inflammation, and a weakened immune system.

As most of us juggle external responsibilities that range from work deadlines to family care, we all have stressful times and days that feel overwhelming and deplete our vital energy, giving rise to the added low-grade biological stress of tiredness itself, inflammation and pain.

While hot tubs and traditional saunas often get the spotlight regarding stress relief, ironically, “cold water immersions,” traditionally known as “ice baths” or “plunges into a lake ice-opening,” are an overlooked source of recovery from stress relief, and relaxation (believe it or not) with the added benefits of reducing inflammation and pain.

The result is all the more so when you do cold immersion after the body has had a chance to naturally regenerate from the stress to some degree or naturally regenerate with the accelerated recovery one gets when they use photobiomodulation and precede cold with an infrared sauna.

That means while cold therapy is vitalizing, meaning you experience a lot of energy as a result of the session, it’s just not revitalizing or regenerating new energy unless you precede with regenerative steps.

Traditionally, cold therapy has been reserved for sports medicine and athletes, but a new trend of cold-water immersion is beginning to branch out into other populations of people who may not be into sports or even fitness enthusiasts who are not recovering from the game on the field but rather the stressful game of life.

Cold water immersions have been proven to help reduce the effects of stress and provide surprisingly effective stress relief. Incorporating a cold plunge habit into your lifestyle routine mitigates the effects of stress, even though it also doesn’t necessarily change the stress itself.

It changes your response to stress. 

When most of us seek a break from stress, we tend to turn to comforting things like warm blankets, hot baths, and cups of tea or coffee, maybe alcohol or entertainment.

However, if you’re looking for alternative stress-relief solutions, you should consider the other end of the temperature spectrum: cold, which Regenus Center offers as part of a hold-cold immersion “contrast therapy” experience.

The Benefits Of Contrast Therapy

Combining a sauna with an ice bath effectively improves circulation, reduces inflammation, speeds muscle recovery, and elevates mood. The heat from the sauna causes blood vessels to dilate, which improves blood flow and reduces inflammation.

The cold from the water causes blood vessels to constrict, which improves circulation and reduces muscle soreness. This contrast between hot and cold temperatures helps improve overall recovery and reduce the risk of spasms, back pain, and injury.

What if I’m Nervous About Getting in Cold?
But in this process, most are not too concerned with getting warm, which feels immediately good but gets more challenging as the session progresses and your body temperature rises.

Most are concerned with getting into the cold water, so it’s good to know that cold is initially more challenging but gets progressively easier as your body adapts and builds a thermal layer.

When you first come into contact with cold water, your blood vessels constrict to bring blood closer to your vital organs. This natural constriction helps retain heat within the body and is increased by a hormone and neurotransmitter called norepinephrine. Norepinephrine is released when your body is under stress, such as being in icy water, increasing the constriction of your blood vessels. When you leave the cold, your body naturally reheats, reopening those blood vessels and improving circulation and blood flow.

As a result of using contrast therapy with cold plunge and cold-water immersion, you immediately see a…

  • Decrease in inflammation.
  • Decrease in swelling.
  • Decrease in edema.
  • Improved circulation
  • Stronger immune system
  • Reduced sorenessYou can also burn somewhere between 300 and 600 calories per session.

Cold baths and plunges also help reduce inflammation and swelling, similar to how ice packs can alleviate a fat lip or swollen joint. Cold plunges or immersions flush out toxins and promote recovery by doing a full-body tune-up on your nervous and cardiovascular systems.

For long-term stress relief, you can “stress train” your body to respond more effectively to stressful situations. The Wim Hof Method, developed by Wim Hof, one of the pioneers of the cold therapy movement, involves putting your body into controlled stressful situations to train its response to future stress, both mentally and physically. When you immerse yourself in cold water, your brain releases chemicals, including norepinephrine, which facilitates the “fight or flight” response that is vital to stress control.

Studies have shown that extended exposure to cold water can lead to adaptations in the body’s stress response.

That’s why we like to call it “enlightenment training” at Regenus Center!

For example, a 1999 study on cold water swimmers found that their bodies adapted to oxidative stress over time, resulting in lower levels of certain chemicals and improved adjustment to the water. Another study in 2001 observed hormonal changes in cold water swimmers, revealing a decrease in cortisol (the stress hormone) and better adaptation to the “fight or flight” response. Extended time in cold water helped these athletes become calmer and more relaxed.

  • Research into the benefits of ice baths is ongoing, but evidence suggests that they can positively affect physical and mental health. Physically, cold water immersions (formerly known as ice baths exclusively now that the technology is there) have been found to improve sports performance and reduce pain and muscle soreness.
  • Mentally, they can help develop better responses to stress and contribute to overall mental well-being. While more research is needed to fully understand the extent of these benefits, many individuals have reported positive experiences. If you’re curious, it might be worth trying and seeing how it works for you!

At Regenus Center, we have one of the most advanced contrast therapy rooms around, and the truth is, it’s a lot easier to get into the cold immersion after you’ve been in an infrared sauna, and you get even more benefits!

Book your session today by calling us or at 862-295-1620 and start receiving the benefits!



About the Author

John Allen "JAM" Mollenhauer



Discover the true secrets to recapturing your vitality.

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