How to Enjoy Cold Water Immersion When You Hate Cold Water

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  • Post last modified:March 14, 2023

In early February, my friends invited me to a sauna boarding the Baltic sea. 

image 5
Winter swimming in the Gulf of Finland

The practice is to spend 15 minutes in the sauna, then get out in the snow, immerse yourself in the sea (that is anywhere between -5C and +5C), and get back to the sauna. 

Before we get into the story, you must know that there is nothing that I despise more in this world than cold water. 

When I was a kid, I’d hide in the shower during the last 20 minutes of swimming lessons because I could not stand the cold water. 

I was the only kid whose lips were blue coming out of the water, and I was shivering just thinking about swimming. 

I managed to maintain pretty much any morning routine exercise ever invented (gym, meditation, journaling, nofap, etc) except for cold showers. 

I can’t. I just…can’t. The shower is a place reserved for warmth, comfort, and deep thinking.

However, I accepted my friends’ invitation knowing that I wasn’t under any obligation to do anything. I just wanted to go and see. 

I deemed that standing outside would already be brave enough giving my relationship to cold. 

I was wrong. 

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The sauna in Tallinn, Estonia. 

My First Time

We arrived, undressed, and started with the cold water. 

The purpose of the sauna, was I told, isn’t so much heat exposure, but cold exposure. 

“You start with the cold, finish with the cold, and heat up in the sauna in between”, were we explained at the entrance. 

As I was preparing myself to step outside, I tried to remember everything I had ever learned about cold immersion. 

Six years earlier, in Budapest, an old lady had advised me to relax my body and breath as slowly as I could as we stood in a +10C swimming pool. She explained that it hurt as much as your muscles were tensed. 

Six years later, I hadn’t forgotten. I took a deep breath and relaxed. 

The lady hadn’t lied. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. 

The pontoon for swimmers. Photo by the author.

I looked at my friends taking turns in the water, curiosity grew in me. I decided to dip a part of my body. 

How much, I hadn’t decided. 

I started with the feet. It was ok. By the time the water reached my knees, I was screaming. 

I went until the height, then stopped. I was already hyperventilating so it was useless to adventure myself past that point. 

I got out of the water and jumped on my towel. It felt like thousands of knives were scratching the skin of my legs. 

We calmly walked back to the sauna… and did it again. 

We repeated this routine four times in total. After roughly 1h15 of cold then heat exposure, I was exhausted. My friends and I dressed up and left. 

On the way back, I couldn’t help but notice how happy, light, and relaxed I felt. 

It felt good. Too good. That thing was better than weed. 

And just like that, I was hooked. 

Atomic Habits

In his bestseller Atomic Habits, James Clear explains that we tend to repeat actions that make us feel good. This is essentially how habits are built. 

For me, the cold water exposure made me feel so good that I instantly knew I would become addicted to it — despite my deep hatred for cold water. 

I went back to the sauna the next Sunday and after two “half-dips”, managed to immerse my body entirely. 

I was surprised. A friend of mine, who practices cold immersion as a side-hobby, had told me that “it wasn’t getting easier with time”. For me, it clearly was. 

The third time I went, I did full-body exposure in the water each time I dipped. And I didn’t scream. 

The fourth time, I managed to stay 5 seconds in the water before getting out. And I wasn’t getting out because of the cold, but because of hyperventilation. 

It seemed that the more time passed and the more I practiced, the more I was willing to get into the water and stay. 

Not that it was nice. But the direct after-effect feeling when getting out of the water, despite feeling like “pain”, felt strangely good. 

Overall, the positive experience I was getting was clearly worth 5 or 6 seconds of pain in the water. 

The Baltic Sea in Tallinn, Estonia. 

How You Can Do It Too

There are two tricks to succeed. The first one is time. 

The first time I entered the water, it was a shock, both to my mind and body. 

Now, it’s actually ok. I can fully immerse myself into it without feeling too much pain. 

The truth is that if you have no cold exposure experience, it will definitely take a bit of time before you adapt. 

The second piece of advice is to do only what you are comfortable with. 

Taking a page out of James Clear’s book, the pain you experience going in cannot be bigger than the happy feeling you reap afterward. 

So if you’re only comfortable with dipping your toes at the beginning…so be it. 

As time goes by, you will be able to put in your knees, thighs, until you put your entire body. 

It’s important to always remain comfortable with what you do. 

The last time I dipped, I decided to stay 5 seconds in the water. It was a…5X improvement. 

I also noticed that the feeling I got the first one putting my legs only would not reappear. If I hoped to feel relaxed, I had to progress in my cold immersion. 

Furthermore, the more I dip, and the longer I stay, the better I feel. 

So you are naturally encouraged to progress.

Why Would You Torture Yourself Like That?

It’s a legitimate question I was asking myself on the pontoon. 

Besides the high-like feeling you get at the end, cold exposure has many benefits. 

The first one is that it makes you happy. 

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It’s difficult not to smile after going into freezing water. Photo by the author. 

In his famous Ted Talk, the cold suffer Chris Burkard explained that his friends told him he was constantly smiling when being cold. 

In fact, cold water therapy has been used to treat depression

It’s difficult to understand how in hell this thing could work out, but I swear you need to try to feel it. 

According to Healthline, cold water can further:

  • cut down soreness 
  • help your immune system 
  • boost your metabolism

It may as well:

  • reduce inflammation
  • improve sleep
  • help with focus

This would make sense, as our cavemen ancestors did not have access to hot water. In a way, cold water is another “natural thing” we stopped getting benefits of with the development of society. 

In fact, regular cold water swimmers have been found to have in their brain a “cold water protein” that may protect against dementia. 

Convinced yet?


This whole cold water thing was completely random — and a happy discovery! 

If my friends had not invited me, I would have never gone. 

I am now addicted to it and it’s become a Sunday routine of mine. In fact, I often can’t wait to go back!

I should also specify that as someone who doesn’t smoke, doesn’t eat sugar, and rarely drink, cold water immersion is one of the ways I “get high”. 

And it’s likely one of the healthiest ways to do so! 

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