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James O'Halloran taking a cold shower

Transform Your Life with Cold Showers: Insights from a Life Coach on Daily Challenges

My Journey to Embracing Cold Showers During Lockdown​

During lockdown, I decided to try cold showers. I can’t exactly recall why, perhaps because I had so much resistance to it. It felt so far out of my comfort zone.

The Challenges of Starting Cold Showers: A Personal Experience​

I began by having my usual very hot and very long daily shower and then turning the water cold. Initially, I couldn’t hack it at all, the strands of water hit me like sewing needles and I contracted and danced to get away from them. I also didn’t go fully cold. It was a bit pathetic when I think back to it but in truth, I found it more than miserable, I found it painful and somewhat traumatising.

Overcoming Discomfort: How I Learned to Manage Cold, Tiredness, and Hunger​

Ever since I was 17 with every new girlfriend I’ve given them 3 warnings: “Please can we work together to ensure I don’t get:

1. Cold

2. Tired or

3. Hungry

I’m just not a nice person if I am, especially if it’s all three.”

Some girlfriends started carrying snacks for me, that’s not even a joke. I wasn’t a lunatic just irritable, frantic and negative.

Over time I managed to unhook the Hunger one pretty well. It took going Keto (giving up all sugar and carbs) and intermittent fasting for a year to do that but I re-trained my reactive embodied response.

Tiredness is still a challenge but 2020, it turned out, was now my time to work on tolerating cold in a way that didn’t induce a massive reactive nervous system response, usually Fight. Or Fawn; I’ve passed out from the cold too.

Also, for those that don’t know me, I’m wirey, I don’t have a lot of natural insulation.

First Victory: Mastering the 30-Second Cold Shower​

Eventually, after months, I managed to have a fully-cold (not luke-warm) shower for 30 seconds and without too much dancing around to try to avoid the water.

I felt I’d accomplished something.

I read somewhere that the choiceful exposure to adversity, some call it –stress inoculation–, teaches us that we can deal with stress and fear and that maybe the things we are terrified of… we may, in fact, be able to deal with.

I wasn’t sure about any of this but it sounded good and kept my prefrontal cortex happy so I kept cold showering daily.

Expanding My Limits: A Christmas Swim Without a Wetsuit​

About 6 months later I got into the sea. I had actively avoided the sea and, pretty much all cold places (unless I was very wrapped up or certainly in a wetsuit) for my whole life.

But on Christmas Day 2020 I got into Clevedon Marine Lake without a wetsuit. It was 8-10 degrees Celsius in the water.

It felt like there were knitting needles puncturing my skin and poking deep into me and then stinging my internals like a jellyfish. It was a surreal experience but somehow I managed to just be with it and observe it calmly. Then this experience passed as I became numb but even that felt manageable. I stayed in for 10 minutes which was actually too long but I guess, in some weird masochistic way, I was ‘enjoying’ it. It took a LONG time to thaw out, I was trembling for hours after.

For context, my dad swam in the sea on Christmas day for many years. And before it was a thing. I always said I could never do that, even when my Water Polo friends started turning up and doing it. And the water polo guys were similarly skinny. It isn’t nice to feel so trapped and excluded by something that others appear to do with relative ease. That baffled me. Maybe this was the dormant seed that awoken during lockdown.

Progressing Through Cold Exposure: Insights from My Daily Routine​

I upped the cold shower to 1 minute, daily, still after a long hot shower.

I learned that breathing out is the key! Otherwise you just keep on breathing in from the shock and then you panic and become rigid. This leads to mentally escaping the present moment despite forcing yourself to remain under the water. It’s just too much, you’re just bullying yourself. Breath out, just focus on that! Relax under the cold, thats the objective.

I also started wild swimming in beautiful natural spots with friends. There’s something about the ‘afterglow’ of these experiences that is deeply connecting… to your friends but also to the belief ‘I am a person that can do things I used to find impossible’ — that rewiring is profound. I was beginning to experience the value of choiceful exposure to adversity.

CBT or any talking therapy can’t reach this stuff, it’s about helping the body unlearn and relearn and therefore helping your brain rewire.

Continuous Improvements and Their Impact on My Life​

I learned that the daily cold exposure is like a barometer for my life. If I am putting the cold shower off, that’s interesting. If I am squirming under the cold and trying to escape it or fight it, that’s interesting.

I have correlated that on those days I am often less embodied and perhaps a bit stuck in a ‘negative’ emotion or in a ‘poor me’ victim narrative.

When I am relaxed and ‘enjoy’ it then that’s interesting! I notice that they are the days that I am more connected (to myself, others and life).

What I am playing with now is noticing the resistance sooner and inviting my body to relax and ya know what, my mind usually follows. That’s kind of profound!

Additional Benefits of Cold Showers: Environmental and Personal Growth​

1. Yes it is harder to do it in the winter

2. In the summer, just getting into cold showers (without a hot one first) feels amazing physically but also I am doing a bit for the environment (less water and no gas/electric used, every single day)!

3. The shaking / trembling that can occur as a result of cold exposure is not a bad thing. Well it hasn’t been in my case. It both warms you up and it releases stuck emotional trauma from the body. We need that!

4. Cycling to a wild swimming spot, getting in with a friend in just your bib shorts and then cycling home as you dry out feels amazing! No need for a towel. Travel light, go fast!

5. It is possible to get into an ice bath, to actually enjoy it and to want to stay longer. But the only way to achieve this, in my case, is to warm up the big muscles in the body first (by sitting in a horse stance and doing some thai chi) and using breathwork.

6. Wim Hof really was- and is- onto something! As loopy as he comes across sometimes he uncovered something and he brought it to a lot of people. People are healing! They are healthier both mentally and physically. And, they are better equipped to face stress and to more quickly down-regulate back to the parasympathetic ‘rest & digest’ state.

My Verdict on Cold Exposure: Why I Recommend It for a Better Life​

If you want to have that calm and satisfying post-achievement feeling every morning and you want a healthier body, mind, healthier relationships and ultimately, healthier life. Then. Yes. Yes I do.

I can’t say I enjoy the cold -yet- but nonetheless it’s changed my life in big, small and imperceivable ways — I can feel that. And, it’s not only cheap, it’s free and it can actually save you money and the planet a few of it’s limited resources.

Do it!

It’s likely that only fear stops you, are you ok with that?

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