Have you considered Cryotherapy as part of your mental wellness plan? Here’s why you should.
So how does Cryotherapy help to alleviate symptoms of depression, anxiety, and related issues like fatigue and irritability?
Last week, when we talked about cryotherapy and mental health, we were largely focused on the research linking the treatment (whole-body cryo) to the benefits (lesser symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other affective disorders).
What we left out, and saved for this week, is exactly how and why that link exists.
The simple answer is cryotherapy’s ability to trigger certain chemical and biophysical reactions in your body. Your body’s response to extreme cold is a version of the “fight or flight” instinct, wherein muscles tighten temporarily and blood flow surges.
What follows is a series of hormonal and chemical effects, and that is where the answer gets a little bit more involved.
During treatment, receptors from the skin send an S.O.S message of sorts to the brain that the body may be in danger (remember, your body operates quite consistently at 98.6 degrees F, so any minor fluctuation in body temperature elicits this distress signal). For the sake of this post – and brevity – we will focus largely on how the endocrine system responds to this signal of distress and how that response translates to the myriad of mental health benefits that we introduced last week.
How does the Endocrine system respond to extreme cold, and why is that helpful/important?
The endocrine system is responsible for producing and disseminating hormones throughout the body, for a variety of reasons and purposes. Once it catches wind of the brain’s message about survival, its job is to produce those hormones and chemicals necessary to preserve and protect. It’s here – in the endocrine system’s assumption that it must save your life – that hormonal production begins to impact, and alleviate, the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and related troubles.
As your endocrine system answers the call for survival, your blood becomes enriched and super-oxygenated. These are the chemicals that are actually responsible for:
- Release of Endorphins
This chemical is known as what’s called a neurotransmitter. In other words, they transmit, or carry messages, across the nervous system. Because they act like a pain-killer, the increased production of endorphins helps to amplify feelings of pleasure.
Why are endorphins first on the list? According to studies, those suffering with depression tend to have a “control” button set, inhibiting the release of endorphins. Thus, when the body tries to reduce the discomfort of extreme cold, it is also helping to correct the imbalanced release of endorphins, too. After a session in the Cryosauna, the rush of endorphins flowing through your veins is what’s to thank for mood enhancement – both short and long term, depending on the frequency of your cryotherapy treatments.
- Increased Production of Norepinephrine
Also a neurotransmitter, this hormone helps with regulating one’s sleep cycle and in helping to produce new neurons in the brain – neurons that are responsible for improving your energy, mood, and focus. Like endorphins, they help to zap sensations of pain. No wonder why they contribute to the “feel-good” effect!
Norepinephrine will help stabilize sleeping patterns and minimize night-time disturbances, so not only will you get more restful sleep, but it helps to correct feelings of fatigue by enhancing your energy and focus during the daytime. (By the way – did you know that those who are habitually robbed of sleep are oftentimes more likely to suffer chronic disease, lower life expectancy, and reduced quality of life? Yikes!)
- Decreased Release of Cortisol
Also known as the “stress hormone,” cortisol can wreak havoc on your body when produced in excess. Apart from the felt stress of a challenging week or situation, stress can create a riot of negativity on the inside. Oftentimes, too much cortisol can be to blame for weight gain, hair loss, exhaustion, and (the most obvious) negative impacts on your mental health and wellbeing. In fact, studies have identified high levels of cortisol as a probable cause for mental illness, poor immune functioning, and lower life expectancies (that last one is reason enough for us to jump in a Cryosauna right now!).
Studies have shown that whole body cryotherapy is so effective in reducing this hormone, that the impact on stress and anxiety levels is often an immediately-felt result.
- Increased Levels of Serotonin
Widely known as the neurotransmitter responsible for balancing your mood and contributing to happiness and general wellbeing, Serotonin is also credited with regulating other body and cognitive processes, such as appetite and sleep.
Depression is one of many effects of a Serotonin deficit. Since it’s stored in the blood platelets, by increasing your blood circulation, cryotherapy helps to promote its release and distribution. As an added perk, some also believe that Serotonin has a role to play in wound healing!
The Big Picture: Improved Mental (and Physical) Wellness
The regulation of just these four basic chemicals is to thank for many a positive effect (most of which we discussed above). By helping to create a proper balance betwixt them, Cryotherapy can viably:
- Help to correct central nervous system processes and communication,
- Stabilize sleep patterns and promote energy and focus throughout your day, and
- improve immune system functioning that is sometimes otherwise negatively affected by poor quality of sleep.
All three of these overall benefits of cryotherapy is what ultimately reduces your risk of illness (both physical and mental). On top of reducing the risk for ailment, cryotherapy has also been proven to help countless patients already suffering with mental illness to reduce their use of pharmaceutical drugs – thanks to all of the naturally-occurring benefits discussed above.
Cryotherapy may be cold, but some healthcare professionals have already considered it as a standard treatment option for those afflicted with depression, excessive stress, or anxiety. With regular cryotherapy treatments, many patients see reduced long-term stress and anxiety, and a marked decrease in the symptoms of depression (including fatigue and sleeplessness).
Of course, for many mental illness sufferers, pharmaceutically-based treatment can help, but what could be more natural than working with the naturally-occurring chemicals within our own bodies?