If you’re looking for a new, slightly unconventional coping strategy for Body-focused Repetitive Behaviors, cold exposure therapy might be for you.
I know, I know … this sounds like the least appealing coping strategy for BFRBs but hear me out. For someone whose hot water bottle season runs from September through May, I never thought cold water would be something I’d add to my weekly routine.
I practice it by taking cold showers or swimming in cold lakes or the ocean (but only if it’s sunny and a minimum of 19 degrees outside). Let me draw a picture of how this goes:
It’s October, and I’m at this little beach in Vancouver, about to make my first step into the 13 degrees cold water.
- My feet sting from the cold; they’re almost numb: “I don’t want to.”
- I take a few more steps into the cold water: “Why do I even do this?” (insert some swear words here)
- When the water reaches my thighs, there is no going back; I go for it and immerse myself into the cold water: “–––”(my mind shuts down because my body is just focused on surviving)
- After about 20 seconds, I feel alive, completely alert, and all my thoughts concentrate on moving in the cold water: “I looooove it!” (plus, maybe some swear words 😉
It’s always a challenge to take a cold shower as well! I usually finish off my regular shower by cranking the temperature from warm to cold for a couple of minutes.
It may not feel great at first, but the tingling and exhilarating feeling afterwards is so energizing and keeps me from picking my skin!
Take the plunge and discover the mental and physical benefits of Cold Exposure Therapy for your BFRBs!
I’m motivated by both the physical and mental health benefits of cold water therapy. These are some reasons it’s helping me with my Dermatillomania (skin-picking).
1. Redirecting Focus/Sensory Input
The time after taking a shower always has been difficult for me. The exposed skin made me scan for imperfections to pick at. When I take a cold shower, the adrenalin rush makes me feel great and takes all my attention away from my skin. This gives me time to moisturize my skin and get dressed quickly.
2. Feeling of accomplishment
Coping with BFRBs has much to do with being stronger than our urges. Usually, when we engage in our BFRBs, we initially feel accomplishment, followed by deep regret and defeat. When I have a cold shower, I also feel accomplished, but with the difference, I feel great afterward!
3. Anti-inflammatory benefits
Cold exposure may boost the immune system. If you have toothaches, tendonitis, or sore muscles, you also apply an ice pack. Our skin is often irritated from picking, so the cold might even help a little with symptoms of bacterial infections.
4. Alleviates symptoms of depression and anxiety
I’ve noticed that no matter how anxious, down, or stressed I am, the rush I feel upon being in cold water always elevates my mood. In effect, I feel alive, happy, and accomplished, followed by a calmness that I can’t describe.
To throw a little science in here: Cold water exposure lowers the sympathetic state (fight-or-flight) and increases the parasympathetic activity (rest-and-digest). And with time, you get used to cold water, and the initial hesitation wears off a bit.
5. Boot camp for breathing exercises
The cold feels shocking, and you will naturally gasp. I try to control my breathing and slow it down as much as possible. I challenge myself to focus immediately on my breath when I’m in the shower. I breathe in for 4 and breathe out for 8. I repeat that four times. Focusing on my breathing helps me to bridge the initially uncomfortable seconds until the cold water starts to feel “normal” and great!
Ways to practice cold exposure
There are different ways to do cold exposure therapy. Maybe some ways might inspire you to try when you feel anxious or intensely overwhelmed. The cold will take all the focus and give your racing mind a break.
Cold face submersion
- Fill a bowl with cold water or ice cubes
- Submerge your face in the cold water for 15 seconds.
- Repeat as often as you like
Cold application with an ice cube or cold compress
- Hold an ice cube or compress it in your hand for a few seconds.
- Gently rub ice cubes on the face, upper chest, or neck area for a few seconds
- Be cautious of cold burn! If you use the ice cube or cold compress for a long time, put a thin layer of cloth between the skin and the cold source.
- Have a regular warm shower and turn the water down to cold towards the end of your shower. To get perks for skin picking, I recommend not going to warm after!
- Start with 10–15 seconds and work your way up. I usually shower cold for 2–3 minutes.
⚠️ Safety & Precautions before trying cold water exposure!
Don’t do cold showers, swim in cold water, or do sudden temperature changes if you have heart disease or chronic health conditions. Always consult your doctor before making any major changes to your daily routine!
Do some research before immersing yourself in cold water. For another source for cold water therapy, click here.
Experiment with cold exposure to help distract from the urge to pick your skin or other BFRBs! The “shock” of the cold can draw all your attention to the tingling sensation and give you a boost of energy and good vibes. Keep it safe and start small with small doses!
Will you try cold exposure to cope with your BFRB? Let me know in the comments below so I can cheer you on! 🎉👇