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I’m taking an ice bath for 30 days and this is what I’m hoping to gain

I’ve been reading about the physical and mental health benefits of cold-water therapy for quite some time, but I kept making excuses to take the freezing plunge

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When was the last time you did something that made you uncomfortable?

Photo/Police1

Before you start taking ice baths, be sure to consult with your doctor first to ensure it’s safe for you. People with heart conditions, who take specific medications and older adults may be at higher risk of experiencing complications. Additionally, an ice bath, much like a pool or hot tub, should have controlled access to prevent children from accessing the ice bath without adult supervision. This could lead to accidental drowning, which is the leading cause of death for children 1 to 4 years old.

Three years ago, I was given the worst news an expectant mom could hear.

“I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.”

I was nearly 20 weeks along with our daughter after having two prior uneventful and uncomplicated pregnancies with our boys. About a year later, we lost our third son at 15 weeks. No answers were given either time. After many, many tests, we just received apologies and “green lights” to try again.

So, when I found out I was pregnant at the beginning of 2022, my husband and I were terrified. I held my breath the entire pregnancy. I was afraid to tell anyone for fear of losing my child. Everything was spoken in “ifs":

“If he comes home, this would be the perfect bassinet for him.”

Thirty-five weeks went by, and everything was normal – until it wasn’t. I woke up one morning and noticed a significant decrease in the movement of my son. In the back of my mind, I was preparing myself for the worst. I didn’t speak it out loud, but my mom instinct knew something wasn’t right, especially since he had moved like a maniac since the moment I could feel his kicks.

A hospital visit confirmed our worst fears.

His heart – seemingly out of nowhere – had stopped. Many hours later, we had our answer: three true knots in his umbilical cord. I was told this occurs in roughly 1%-2% of all pregnancies. That made me feel super lucky. I will never forget the moment his heart stopped and mine kept beating. It was the same moment my heart broke.

In an attempt to not get too deep here, I’ve been chasing my sense of control ever since. And even though I’ve been told many times that I need to let go of that control, it’s been an impossible ask for my Type A personality.

To ensure I was taking care of myself physically and, most importantly, mentally, I focused on the things I knew would make me feel better. Even if I had no control of the outcomes of our three sorely missed children, I could still make decisions that would make me feel less overwhelmed and stuck.

This meant starting to eat well again, drinking a gallon of water a day, exercising, meditating, getting outside for fresh air and talking to a therapist. But even after all those things, I still felt lost and full of fear.

Cue: ice baths.

Growth through intentional discomfort

The last time I took an ice bath was during my cross-country days in high school. I don’t remember much about them, just that it was uncomfortable, cold and against my will.

Fast-forward to today, I’ve started a new series on Police1, titled Emerging Trends in Officer Wellness. This special series is aimed at making sure first responders are being intentional about their wellbeing and, sometimes, that means thinking outside of the box and getting uncomfortable.

I’ve been reading about the physical and mental health benefits of cold water therapy for quite some time, but I kept making excuses to take the freezing plunge.

Some of the physical health benefits of ice baths include:

  • Muscle soreness relief
  • Blood flow improvement
  • A boost in immunity
  • Increased metabolism
  • Reduced cortisol levels

And a handful of mental health benefits of ice baths include:

  • Decrease in depression and anxiety symptoms
  • Reduced stress levels
  • Improved mental resilience
  • Enhanced mental focus
  • Sleep improvement

Wim Hof, a Dutch extreme athlete who created the Wim Hof Method, which involves immersing yourself daily in cold water while practicing your breathwork, started his cold water therapy journey after the death of his wife. The daily plunge into cold water, according to Hof, allowed him to cope with his grief. The continued practice, he said, made him more resilient against his stress and depression, allowing him to raise their four children by himself.

But it wasn’t until I read an article about a woman who found healing through cold water therapy after the sudden death of her husband that I finally stopped making excuses. In the article, the author, Heather Ashley, a Wim Hof instructor, says her six-days-a-week cold plunge relieved her stress and improved her mental resilience.

“You’re never going to know what you will have to face in life. But anything you can do that builds your inner resilience will help hold your hand when life has thrown you a massive curve ball,” Ashley wrote.

The next day, I bought a cold plunge to start my 30-day ice bath journey.

I can do hard things

It takes time to turn a new behavior into a habit.

My tip after years of heartache and loss? Pick one behavior (start small) you want to turn into a habit, because it may take longer than you think for it to become second nature. The process takes patience, discipline and commitment.

After we lost our daughter and third son, I committed to practicing daily meditation after struggling with severe stress and sleep problems. Three years later, I can say with certainty that my daily meditation practice has changed my life. It not only gave me back my regular sleep pattern, but it made me calmer and less inclined to fall into a negative spiral when things didn’t go the way I planned.

[READ: 23 wellness tips for law enforcement officers in 2023]

I know from experience that doing anything for 30 days isn’t long enough for it to become a habit. But I do know myself: once I start something, I won’t stop.

So here are three things I’m hoping happens over the next 30 days of taking an ice bath:

  1. The ability to face my fears: I’ve never considered myself a fearful person. I mean, I’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane all by myself before. However, after losing children, I have become afraid of a lot of things. Most of all, I’m afraid of losing my two living children. But my new fears have become all-consuming, and it has stolen some joy from my life.

    The 30-day ice bath challenge will not only push me out of my comfort zone (quite literally), but it will force me to remember I can overcome my fears one step at a time. Three minutes doesn’t seem like a long time to think about what’s bothering you that day, but with your breathwork and calming your body in the near-freezing temperatures, you will start thinking about your fears or problems. But with that thought process comes the mental clarity to start coming up with solutions to face the fears head-on (or so I hope).

  2. Becoming mentally resilient: I have lost count of how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “You’re so strong” after going through three heart-shattering losses. The truth is, I’ve felt far from strong these past few years. And I’m not talking about physical strength. Taking an ice bath will be uncomfortable. Embracing the discomfort, so I’ve read, leads to mental strength. The ice baths will be a reminder to push myself to do hard things. Because when life decides to throw something difficult my way (and I know there will be plenty more moments of that), it won’t feel so hard to wade through. I’m training myself to fight through the pain (and build my resiliency) in the next 30 days of ice baths.
  3. Focusing on the things I can control: As much as I hate to admit it, I cannot control the outcomes of any situation. The need to feel control over my life has led to anger and anxiety. Again, two things I’m not used to. But I can focus on the things I can control like my breathing, self-care practices, getting enough sleep, eating nutritious meals, drinking enough water, exercising and, yes, taking an ice bath to keep my mind strong. With 30 days of ice baths, I’m hoping I can finally let go of some mental clutter to lessen my stress levels, but, more importantly, remember to focus on what’s important to me and my family.

These three outcomes are high orders, I know this.

And I don’t know if any of these things will come out of my 30-day ice bath challenge, but I will put in the time, commitment and discipline to try.

Join in on the 30-day ice bath challenge

When was the last time you did something you were fearful of or that made you uncomfortable?

Join me in my 30-day ice bath challenge on YouTube or Instagram, where I’ll be posting my daily ice bath. Use the hashtag #Police1IceBathChallenge and we’ll include your videos in an upcoming Police1 article.

During my ice baths, I’ll talk about ways you can start taking care of your whole self, which can be challenging for officers who are working overtime shifts and already struggling to strike a work-life balance. If you want to learn a new way to take care of yourself both physically and mentally, just take the plunge. Stop with the “what ifs” and start with the “why nots.”

NEXT: Ice bath therapy for law enforcement: Physical and mental benefits of cold water

Sarah Calams, who previously served as associate editor of FireRescue1.com and EMS1.com, is the senior editor of Police1.com and Corrections1.com. In addition to her regular editing duties, Sarah delves deep into the people and issues that make up the public safety industry to bring insights and lessons learned to first responders everywhere.

Sarah graduated with a bachelor’s degree in news/editorial journalism at the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas. Have a story idea you’d like to discuss? Send Sarah an email or reach out on LinkedIn.
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