AnnaLynne McCord Says Taking Ice Baths Helps Her Anxiety—But Can This Really Work? Here's What Experts Told Us
"I don't care if this seems bizarre...it works," the actress wrote in the caption of one of two videos she posted showing herself in frigid bath water.
Actress AnnaLynne McCord has been candid about her mental health, sharing last month that she was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder. Now, she's dropped a surprising hack on Instagram for dealing with anxiety: She sits in an ice bath.
McCord shared two different videos that showed herself calmly resting in a bath with a water temperature at a frigid 42 degrees. "Holy Shit, y'all! I broke 20:00 min," she captioned the first video.
She then explained why she's doing this in the first place. "Supports #MentalHealth #AntiAnxiety (continued cold exposure combined with holotropic breathwork has been studied and found to support the decrease of depression, rumination, mood instability and excessive cortisol and adrenaline production) activates vascular system, boosts immune system and a whole helluva lotta other amazing stuff **also makes you HIGH AF 😂😂😂," she wrote. McCord also noted that she's "built up to this over time" after starting her cold water therapy in October 2020.
McCord followed that post up with another video from the same session. She said she decided to try taking ice baths for anxiety after she read the book The Ice Man Speaks by Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof, who has built up his endurance to withstand extreme temperatures. She then downloaded the Wim Hof Method app, which provides breathwork guidance.
"THE BREATH IS THE SECOND MOST IMPORTANT PART, IT FUELS THE BODY TO PRODUCE HEAT," McCord said. "So I keep breathing throughout my cold exposure period whenever I need a heat boost."
She also added that the "NUMBER ONE MOST IMPORTANT PART" is that she "fully" relies on her mind. "I use my mind to thank my amazing vascular system for warming me from the inside out, and I'm its biggest cheerleader, cheering my body on. And I don't care if this seems bizarre. Who cares? It works. :)," she said.
McCord ended on this note: "I LISTEN TO MY BODY…I do not overstay my welcome in the cold. When in doubt, I "breathe muthf*cka" :)."
Can an ice bath really help with anxiety?
While not a lot of research supports cold water therapy, mental health experts say there can be something to it.
"In the early days of mental health, prior to the discovery of psychotropic medications, this was a standard practice in mental hospitals," psychologist John Mayer, PhD, creator of the podcast Anxiety's a B!tch, tells Health.
OK, but why? "It is somewhat of a trick to the brain," Mayer explains. "What it does is that the shock of the cold stimuli forces the brain to cope with this environmental condition being inflicted on the body and it diverts the mind from thinking and feeling about anxieties." Instead, your brain focuses on how cold you are.
"A great technique for calming yourself during a panic attack is to force the brain into coping with a change in external stimuli to shock the brain away from anxiety," Mayer says. "The brain is forced to go into the fight or flight mode and this takes thinking and feeling away from anxieties."
Alicia Clark, PsyD, author of Hack Your Anxiety, says that cold water in general—even just splashed on your face—can lower your blood pressure and slow your breathing, two things that can also help reduce anxiety levels.
But regularly being exposed to cold water can also lead to a phenomenon known as "hormesis," which "like vaccination, inoculates your body against the stressor," Clark says.
"There is a discomfort with the physical sensation of being cold and, as you grow a tolerance to that discomfort, you're growing your mental tolerance," she says. "It makes sense that, at minimum, the tolerance of learning to live with discomfort is going to be great for dealing with anxiety."
Should I try cold water therapy for anxiety?
Unfortunately, cold water therapy doesn't actually cure your anxiety, Mayer says. Instead, he says, proven treatments like psychotherapy and medications specifically designed to treat anxiety may be more effective. However, it can't hurt.
"There are so many things that can help with anxiety and it's great for people to have a range of tools in their toolbox," Clark says. "This can be one of them. While it may not be for everybody, if it helps you, why not do it?"
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