Using Cold Therapy and Sauna To Manage Stress

Brian Tunney
Brian Tunney
3 minute listen
April 24, 2023
Image of Restore chief medical officer Dr. Rich Joseph in front of people doing whole body cryotherapy for stress relief.
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On a recent episode of the 9 Elements Podcast featuring Dr. Rich Joseph, host Eric Hinman inquired about using the “good” stress of cold and heat therapy to manage the stress of bad days and massive to-do lists. 

Eric Hinman: What I’ve really noticed over time is my ability to manage stress is so much better, doing heat exposure, cold exposure, specifically those two modalities. I just don’t feel nearly as stressed out as I used to; this is something that creeps up in all of our lives. All of us have bad days, all of us have massive to-do lists and we’re just bombarded. As soon as I do my sauna and cold plunge routine in the afternoon, all of those stressors are wiped away. There’s definitely something to it where you adapt from subjecting yourself to these good stressors so when the bad stressors creep up, they don’t knock you off your rocker.

And here, Dr. Rich is quick to point out that the term “stress” isn’t always bad. In fact, some levels of stress are actually good for you. This good stress (called “eustress”) may help your body better adapt to bad stress (or “distress”).

Dr. Rich: And I think the key point; I think the term “stress” comes with a lot of negative connotations now in society. The caveat is, chronic distress is what we’re trying to get away from. That’s the subtle underlying level of anxiety, the stress that causes negative emotions for us. In order to create health or positive adaptations in our bodies, we actually do have to subject our bodies to a level of stress. Call it discomfort. 

Cold Therapy Is 'Good' Stress

Cold therapy, it’s not comfortable, but you get better at it over time. Your body adapts to it, but I wouldn’t say it’s the most comfortable experience. The gains that you realize after that, by subjecting yourself to that micro-deliberate discomfort, is really great. As we think about proactive health, what does that mean? You have to be deliberate and intentional with those discomforts you expose yourself to, in order for it to advance, in order to adapt in ways that are meaningful to you both physically, emotionally and psychologically. 

By super cooling the body over three minutes, Cryotherapy introduces a good stress to the body. This good stress (called “eustress”) may help your body better adapt to bad stress (or “distress”), and help to optimize sleep, relieve minor pain and swelling, boost mood and energy, and promote healing along the way. The cold shock that you experience during a session may also cause your body to release endorphins and other chemicals that can help re-energize and promote better sleep over time.

Eric Hinman: Obviously, exercise is oftentimes uncomfortable in the moment. And you know afterwards, you’re gonna feel so much better. You’re gonna have more energy, you’re gonna have more mental clarity, you’re not gonna have a lull in the afternoon. And I think it’s comparing some of these things, the stress of exercise, the stress from these recovery protocols, is very similar.

Heat Therapy Is 'Good' Stress

Dr. Rich: But it still causes stress. Heat therapy causes stress. It’s an exercise in a lot of ways. Your blood pressure goes up, your heart rate goes up, your levels of inflammation go up temporarily. That’s what exercise does. And if you ever told anyone that you’re gonna do something that’s gonna jack up their blood pressure and cause inflammation, you’d be like, “Crazy, I don’t want to do that. It sounds unhealthy to me. That’s what exercise does, right?

Infrared Sauna focuses on the stress created when the body heats up. By sitting in an Infrared Sauna for even 30 minutes, you can boost healing, optimize sleep, relieve minor pain and inflammation, and enhance mood. And research has shown that whole-body heat stress triggers some of the physiologic responses observed with exercise.

Dr. Rich concludes: So it’s limited, it’s deliberate so that we cause our body to learn how to adapt to that over time. And that is ultimately, I would argue, what increases people’s life. That’s how you expand that.

Restore Hyper Wellness modalities Whole Body Cryotherapy, Infrared Sauna and even Compression, use what Dr. Rich calls “micro-deliberate” stress that may help the body adapt better to chronic distress. So if you’re feeling stressed out and looking for a quick way to level the playing field, introducing good stressors into your life may help.

Curious about services at Restore Hyper Wellness? We can help. 

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