Can ice baths be used as an alternative treatment for depression? Can a brain zap ever be therapeutic (and not just a horrendous side effect of SSRIs?)
As a holistic psychiatrist on a mission to understand alternative avenues of healing, I prefer to immerse myself first-hand in potential treatments before recommending them to my patients.
With this in mind, I recently took the plunge into an ice bath–and I can definitively say the experience was one of the most meaningful of my life.
I cried. I screamed. I endured. I was reborn.
It was exceptionally challenging, profoundly spiritual, and unquantifiably empowering.
Sitting in a tub full of ice at the Music and Sky Festival, I experienced what can best be described as a “dark night of the soul”.
Before you get in, you look down at the frigid 45-degree water–and it seems impossible.
You take a deep breath and step in any way–and the world suddenly illuminates in stark clarity.
A surge of adrenaline rips through your body, awakening every fiber of your being.
The sharp, biting pain of the cold grips your skin and muscles, yet serves as an invigorating reminder of the raw vitality and resilience harbored within.
Each sensation invokes a fierce dance between the physical and the spiritual–with an accompanying high of transformative healing.
Your thoughts race in a chaotic symphony:
“I have to get out, I can’t endure this.”
“Wow, I guess I’m still holding on.”
“Can I really do this?”
“Yes, keep going!”
“You are so much more powerful than you give yourself credit for.”
Since the moment I got out of the ice, I have been pondering the obvious similarities between my journey and the journey most face when coming off psych meds.
When you stop a psychiatric medication, your body is forced to adapt fiercely as your mind strives tirelessly to make sense of the shifting internal, painful landscape.
And, just like the ice bath, with every step is the question of “Can I really do this?”
Stopping psychiatric medication can too be a transformative, spiritual awakening. It forces you to dig deeper than you think you can, to summon unprecedented resilience and courage, to walk through the fire, and to emerge reborn.
But could ice baths serve as an alternative treatment for depression?
Depression is caused, in part, by chronic inflammation. On a physical level, ice is an effective anti-inflammatory treatment.
The cold water also kicks the parasympathetic nervous system into gear–our “rest and digest” mode that allows our bodies to soothe and recover.
The release of dopamine triggered by the plunge has the potential to counter deficiencies.
And the plunge most certainly increases neuroplasticity in the brain–new connections, new possibilities, new beginnings.
But even more potent than the ice baths’ biochemical effects, is the fact that it serves as a potent catalyst. It empowers you to reclaim agency over your own narrative, confront fears with a heart emboldened, and carve out paths in places once deemed impassable.
Whether the journey is an ice bath, ceasing psychiatric medication, giving birth, overcoming loss and grief, or any other challenge, I ask you:
You’ve triumphed once; what’s stopping you from summoning that strength again?