‘I used an ice pool for a month to see if it could help my mental health’

tanyel mustafa

Cold plunge (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa/Getty)

The first time I went cold water swimming, it felt as though something literally shifted in my brain.

It wasn’t permanent, but the day that followed felt significantly easier and my mind was calmer.

Ice baths and cold water experiences are all the rage now, thanks to Wim Hof touting the benefits, and celebrities like Dua Lipa plunging into ice pools in aid of hangover recovery.

But, is it just a trend, or can shivering in icy water really bring about revolutionary change? I decided to give it a go.

Kitted out with a Lumi Recovery Pod – which is the one Dua Lipa was recently spotted using, and is generally considered one of the best – I had everything I needed to start my cold water journey.

But I’ll admit, I avoided it for weeks. Given how drab the weather has been this summer I finally capitalised on a rogue sunny Saturday afternoon and decided that was the day.

tanyel mustafa in a lumi pod

Slowly easing myself in (Picture: Tanyel Mustafa)

I was hungover, tired, but enjoying the feeling of the warmth on my skin… until I put my leg in the pool and recoiled. It was colder than expected. On a second attempt after bracing myself, I slowly sunk in.

The first thing to say, is that no matter how often you do it, getting into cold water is always a shock.

Sure, it got slightly easier as the days rolled by, but I’d always wince as I sank my torso reluctantly in the pod.

The momentary discomfort is worth it on most days though, as I did find sitting in the water for a few minutes generally soothed my state of mind.

If I was feeling anxious or low, it kind of worked as an antidote.

However, I found it most effective when used first thing in the morning. It set me up for the day, helped me wake up, and tranquilised my emotions to some degree.

When used in the evening, it felt more like a chore to fit in before bed and I didn’t notice as much of a difference – probably because I was already exhausted by the day.

I did skip some days too, when life felt busy, which I think for most people feels a more realistic approach to using the pod.

It’s hard to describe what the mental benefits actually feel like, but it’s like someone’s thrown a blanket over you and tucked you into bed. Your thoughts are still there, but everything feels a bit more comfy and imaginable.

Having now tried it for myself for a month, I get why many people find ice plunges good for helping with stress and boosting mood. Some experts think it can cause a rush of endorphins too, which make us happier.

Gavin Teague, co-founder at Lumi Therapy, says there are plenty of health benefits beyond the mental side too, that we may not instantly notice.

‘Ice baths can be a fantastic tool to boost metabolism and improve circulation,’ he says.

‘Cold water also triggers the constriction and dilation of blood vessels, promoting blood flow and oxygenation.’

Trendy as they are, there are safety concerns to keep in mind. Gavin recommends staying in no longer than a few minutes each time, gradually building up until your body adapts.

‘Never push your body beyond its limits. If you have any health issue, you always need to consult your doctor before using an ice bath,’ he adds.

Generally speaking, ice baths aren’t for you if you’re: under 18 years of age, pregnant, have history of heart disease or high blood pressure, have diabetes, complications such as neuropathy or retinal damage, wear a pacemaker, history of frostbite, have an open wound, had recent surgery, or epilepsy.

A sign you’ve stayed in the water for too long is having a fast heart beat.

On the days I didn’t get round to using the pod, I challenged myself to cold showers to make up for it. They felt a little easier to do than before.

Whilst it’s not quite the same as submerging your body and keeping still for a moment, a cold shower was able to emulate a similar feeling for me – though I wonder how difficult that will be to continue in the winter.

I’ll continue with the pod though, perhaps less frequently – maybe a few times a week, or whenever I feel like my head needs it.

By starting now, I’ll be in a better place to continue it during the winter, too.

Cold water won’t save me, but it surely helps when I’m in need of a reset.

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