Winter is here, and the season of swimming in nearly freezing water. We all know that one guy that goes swimming in winter. Sometimes it’s your neighbour, your co-worker or even your grandfather; in my circle of friends, it’s me.
I took my first ice bath at Angelus Hut in the mountains of New Zealand. I didn’t see it as crazy or therapy; it was necessary. We had been hiking for two days, and the only water source was a half-frozen lake. With some hesitation, I went to the beach, undressed and went in. Now it’s your turn.
Taking ice baths or winter swims is easy when you figure out they are 95% mental. You need to accept that it will be uncomfortable and do it anyways. Once you acknowledge that you are choosing discomfort, it is easy to get in.
Why you should seek discomfort
Your comfort zone shapes itself based on your experiences. The longer you spend in your comfort zone, the smaller it will get. Similarly, by challenging yourself regularly, you learn to expand it.
You are choosing to get out of your thermal comfort zone by taking an ice bath, thus expanding it. Growth occurs when you start to lean into discomfort and learn from it.
The lesson ice baths teach you is to focus your attention; they are a meditation on steroids, as you must focus all of your mental energy on anything but the cold sensation engulfing you.
If you focus on how cold the water is, you will only get a toe in before remembering that you have something else to do. You can tolerate the cold and even enjoy the occasion by focusing on something else, such as your breath or visualizing a warm place.
Overcoming a challenge is thrilling; this is why people run marathons, hike mountains and put themselves in uncomfortable situations. By learning to tolerate discomfort, you expand your comfort zone and become a better version of yourself.
The place of comfort
Comfort has its place; without it, we would be miserable. The love of hygge in Denmark shows the importance of comfort. But the Danes use their cozy spaces to escape their bitterly cold winters.
They have accepted that they must be periodically uncomfortable when they inevitably need to go outside. With the acceptance of discomfort came a retreat from it that has evolved into the concept of hygge.
Life gets easier when we focus on balance and acceptance. Balancing comfort and discomfort while pushing both to the extreme expands your range of experiences.
If you have been curious about taking an ice bath, now is the time to get together with friends and try it. Take the proper safety precautions, but don’t be afraid to get sick.
You might shiver from the cold exposure, but it is a good thing as it boosts your immune system. Thus, decreasing your chances of getting sick this winter.
Safety first in cold water
You might not get sick, but cold exposure can stress your heart, so be sure to talk to your doctor before getting started if you have any concerns. Mild stress is good, and it is our aim with this endeavour. Severe stress, however, should be avoided.
- Start slowly to minimize stress.
Either start with cold showers where you gradually turn down the temperature or get into the water slowly. Getting in slow will help you acclimate to the water, as far as it is possible to adapt to nearly freezing water anyways.
- Always swim with a buddy.
Going into a lake in winter does have some associated risks, so you should continuously swim with a friend. Being with a buddy will ensure there is someone if something happens to either of you.
- Breathing exercise (Optional)
When we get into the water, it often feels like we forget how to breathe for a while. You can mitigate this hyperventilation by Wim Hof-style breathing, which prepares you for the cold. This precaution is optimal, and I don’t use it. Instead, I focus on my breathing once I get into the water and treat the ice bath as an extreme form of meditation.
The risk of drowning and hypothermia are genuine, so take these precautions but don’t be scared of the cold water. It takes 30 minutes for hypothermia to settle in, so you are at no risk if you are taking an ice bath for less than five minutes or even up to 15 minutes.
You might shiver like mad when you get out but wrap yourself in a blanket with some hot tea and find your hygge. It might take a while to warm up, but it’s best to do it slowly.
Jumping into a hot shower sounds like a great idea and feels fantastic. However, the sudden shock increases the risk of damaging your heart and can negate the positive impact of cold therapy.
Remember to have fun. As mentioned, it is thrilling to go swimming in winter, and there are often laughs exchanged as we commiserate and use colourful language to express the water temperature.
Now get out there, get cold and find the warm glow that comes when the shivers dissipate. I would be happy to help you get started. Subscribe to my newsletter below and get a free one-hour coaching session.