Cold Temperatures and Depression? Cryotherapy as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety
Getting help for depression and generalized anxiety can be tough. Talk therapy and medications can be very helpful, but do not always work as well as we would like. It is especially hard to completely treat severe depression. Treatments can also have unwanted side effects, so it is perfectly understandable why some patients are skeptical about what can be done.
Nature provides us many effective ways to address mental health concerns. Sleep, bright light, and exercise can be extremely effective treatments of depression and anxiety.
Temperature may also be an unexpected ally. A study from 2020 found that briefly freezing people down to -100C (that’s really cold!) 10 times over about two weeks greatly reduced their depression symptoms. These were patients already taking an antidepressant, but not improving sufficiently on it.
Depression symptoms clearly improved, and so did overall quality of life, which is especially impressive. Quality of life is an especially difficult thing to improve with psychiatric treatments.
The idea of nearly freezing one’s self goes way back in our history. Many people in cold climates swear by the health benefits of swimming in extremely cold water for short periods of time. Maybe these “winter bathing clubs” like the Polar Bear Club are onto something more than just giving thrill seekers something to do. Maybe there really are mental health benefits that we never bothered to formally study until now?
We still do not know the mechanism of why freezing would help with depression, and it is certainly possible that this method relies heavily on placebo effect since it is such a dramatic-looking treatment to undergo (dramatic looking treatments often have larger placebo responses). However, this latest study apparently administered a similar looking freeze protocol to the placebo clients, but just did not freeze them with as cold of temperatures as in the experimental condition. Since both groups underwent the dramatic looking procedure, perhaps there really is something specific to the very cold temperatures.
We are by no means advocating you run out and jump into a cold lake, but we felt it was important to share this potentially effective idea of using cold temperature as one of the things to help with depression!
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about the authorS
Jadon Webb, M.D., Ph.D.
Bloom Mental Health
Disclaimer: this blog is NOT intended as medical advice and does not imply any kind of specific guidance or treatment recommendations, and should NOT be used to guide a treatment protocol. (read full disclaimer)
DNP, MSN, FNP-BC
Family Nurse Practitioner