According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders are one of the most common mental illnesses affecting about 40 million adults each year. They can have a severe and detrimental impact on the way people proceed with their daily activities. However, many safe/effective treatment options are available to those with anxiety disorders- many of which use a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Self-management treatments can also help calm your anxiety. One of those possible self-management treatments can involve your daily shower routine.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety involves feelings of tension, worry, dread, uneasiness, fear, restlessness, or nervousness in response to stress or perceived danger. One may even feel physical symptoms such as sweating or rapid heartbeat. Anxiety often triggers our fight or flight response. When we feel a threat, our bodies release hormones such as adrenaline or cortisol. These hormones help us feel more alert and increase our heartbeat. However, anxiety can become a mental health issue when it begins to impact how someone lives their daily life. In that case, we highly recommend you speak with your doctor and mental health professional to receive a proper diagnosis.
What Are Some Common Symptoms of Anxiety?
Remember that there are many types of anxiety disorders, which means that anxiety can feel different for everyone. However, some common symptoms of anxiety may include:
- Overwhelming feelings of fear, worry, or dread
- Trouble concentrating or thinking about other things besides your worry
- Over-worrying about the future
- Irritability, feelings of being on edge, physical restlessness
- Sweats or shakes
- Hot flashes
- A fast, thumping/irregular heartbeat
- Grinding of teeth (especially a night)
- Sleep issues
- Depersonalization (feeling disconnected from your mind or body)
- Derealization (feeling disconnected from the world around you)
- GI problems
- Physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, muscle tension, lightheadedness/dizziness, etc.
What Causes Anxiety?
There are many reasons why someone may suffer from an anxiety disorder. However, feelings of anxiety originate from the brain when someone’s fight or flight response gets activated when there is a perceived threat/danger. Usually, people are constantly on high alert.
While anxiety is a normal feeling that people feel whenever a conflict arises, it becomes an issue when that fear is persistent. For people with anxiety disorders, feelings of anxiousness do not simply go away. They often get worse and start to impact a person’s daily life.
While there still needs to be more research on anxiety to understand its causes, life experiences (such as traumatic events) can trigger feelings of anxiety in people. Having a family history of anxiety disorders can also contribute to and increase one’s chances of developing an anxiety disorder in their life.
However, anxiety can also result from an underlying medical issue. To rule out this possibility, your doctor may:
- Perform a physical exam
- Ask more about your symptoms
- Ask about any medications you are taking
- Recommend a blood test to rule out any underlying conditions
Your treatment options will depend on how your anxiety symptoms affect your daily life. The two primary forms of treatment usually involve psychotherapy and medications. Most of the time, many people often pursue a treatment plan that combines the two.
The most common treatment of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT focuses on teaching you various skills to help you manage and get a hold of your anxiety. You learn how to recognize any negative thought patterns or behaviors and restructure them.
As for medications, you and your doctor should discuss the benefits, possible side effects, and risks. Also, it can take a couple of weeks for the medicine to take effect. Several types of medications your doctor will recommend may include:
- Buspirone (an anti-anxiety medication)
- Benzodiazepines (sedatives that are reserved for more severe cases)
Why Cold Showers?
Research has shown that cold showers can have multiple health benefits. For example, a cold shower can help with blood circulation, muscle soreness after intense workouts, itchy skin, etc. Mental health conditions (such as anxiety and depression) may also benefit from taking a cold shower.
Cold showers are also considered an easy and accessible at-home version of hydrotherapy. Hydrotherapy is a form of therapy that uses water (whether hot or cold) to treat a number of symptoms and conditions. Many people state that they feel more alert, clear-headed, and energized after taking a plunge in cold water. As a result, people feel like they have a firmer grip over their stress, anxiety, and/or depression.
Does It Work?
While there are studies on the potential benefits of cold showers, remember not to believe everything you hear or read. We encourage you to do your research on credible sources and discuss it with your doctor before deciding whether cold showers are something you may want to incorporate into your routine.
The CDC does recognize that swimming can have a positive effect on improving mood in both men in women. Many researchers also state that there is a possibility and potentiality of cold showers having a positive outcome on one’s mental health- especially since there is more research studying the health benefits of swimming in cold water. However, many of them also address the limitations of their studies. They also stress that further research is needed within this field.
What Are the Benefits?
Many theorize that cold showers could raise our endorphin levels (our feel-good hormones). At the same time, they can also decrease our cortisol levels (a stress-inducing hormone). As a result, this increase in endorphins and decrease in cortisol can help symptoms of anxiety and even depression. A 2006 clinical investigation published in the Circulation Journal shows that cold water face immersion may activate the parasympathetic branch of our nervous system (which helps relax our body after a stressful event). Meanwhile, others see cold showers as a form of therapy that trains your body to handle stress and fear.
What Are the Risks?
Cold showers may also have the opposite effect than what is intended. Remember that everyone is different and what works for someone might not work for another person. For example, those with heart disease may want to avoid cold showers because the body’s reaction to the shock of cold water can further strain the heart through stress.
As noted above, research shows how cold showers boost endorphins and lower cortisol levels, which can have an energizing effect. However, the issue is that this energizing feeling (which often includes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure) may trigger anxiety or panic attacks in some people. Before you think of introducing something new into your health routine, it is always best you consult with your doctor first.
What About Warm Showers?
Warm showers are also known to have multiple health benefits, and many people choose to take a hot shower after a long and stressful day. Warm showers tend to have a meditative effect where people feel their muscles relax and their stress “wash away.” Many also find a hot shower beneficial before going to bed because its relaxing effects can help them get a good night’s sleep. This calming effect may be helpful for those with anxiety since a warm shower can help someone unwind at the end of the day. As noted above, sleep issues are also a common symptom of anxiety. Therefore, a hot shower may help with any sleeping issues.
However, like cold showers, not everyone may benefit from a warm shower. People with irritated skin or certain skin conditions might want to avoid a warm/hot shower because high temperatures can irritate/dry the skin. Others may also experience an increase in blood pressure, which can be an issue for those who already have problems with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.
How Else Can I Calm My Anxiety?
There are also various coping strategies one can learn to help control your anxiety. Some of these include:
- Getting Enough Sleep: The amount of sleep you get has a significant impact on how you feel both mentally and physically. Lack of sleep can often worsen feelings of anxiety.
- Deep Breathing Exercises: Anxiety attacks often cause heart palpitations and shallow breathing. Therefore, learning and practicing deep breathing techniques can help calm your breathing and heart rate when feeling extreme stress/anxiety/fear.
- Meditating: Meditating is another great way to learn how to focus on your breathing and ground yourself in the present moment. To help you get started, you may want to download a mediations app or view a couple of videos.
- Exercising Regularly/Consistently: Exercise is proven to help your physical and mental health. Engaging in exercise can also help reduce anxiety and raise your endorphin levels (your brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters).
- Avoiding Alcohol: Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the brain and nervous system and can make you feel relaxed. However, if you become dependent on alcohol, your body will enter into flight or fight mode once the alcohol wears off. As a result, it can increase your anxiety.
- Avoiding Caffeine: Some individuals are more sensitive to caffeine, leading to symptoms that mimic anxiety. It often results from an unbalance of adenosine and adrenaline.
- Eating a Healthy Diet: No specific diet can cure anxiety, but studies show that vitamin levels (such as magnesium deficiencies) can impact anxious behaviors. Speak with your doctor about any questions or concerns you may have before making changes to your diet.
- Finding Support: Facing feelings of anxiety alone can be challenging. Try finding support from your friends and family. You could also reach out and count an anxiety support group. Or you can also work on finding various healthcare providers and build your mental support group. By working with a team of experts, you can find the right treatment plan- and work towards learning coping skills and significantly reducing your anxiety.
The Bottom Line
Cold and warm showers each have potential health benefits- especially for our mental health. However, keep in mind that taking a shower (or pursuing any other self-management treatment) should not serve as a replacement for professional medical treatment. Always talk with your doctor before trying any self-management treatment method. Also, do plenty of research using credible sources before attempting any health trend.