Many individuals in the world are burdened with healing from trauma that was present in childhood or other traumas experienced throughout life. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is most commonly explained as affecting veterans; as an irrational fear or reaction to loud noises that their brain later associates with the sounds of war, leading to an enhanced stress response. But, PTSD can affect any person that has been traumatized. Exposure to cold helps treat PTSD.
Normal Stress Response
We all experience stress from time to time. And for most people, a certain amount of stress is a perfectly healthy and necessary response for survival and motivation. But for some, the physical reaction to stress is much greater than what is considered to be a normal stress response. The stress response is caused by activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which serves as the hormonal communication from the gut to the brain. Many hormones are produced in the gut. The vagus nerve is also heavily involved in dampening the stress response and serves as the neural communication from the gut to the brain. These lines of communication work together to modulate stress.
In a normal stress response, a person perceives a threat (whether an actual threat or not), such as a car backfiring or fireworks being set off. The amygdala in the brain tells the HPA axis that a threat is perceived and sends a “distress signal“ to your autonomic nervous system consisting of both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system jumps into action and produces the ‘fight or flight‘ response.
This involves the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. When the threat is gone, the vagus nerve, which is the biggest element of the parasympathetic nervous system, takes over and calms down, and lessens the stress response. The vagus nerve has been found to regulate and dampen the stress response activated by the HPA axis.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder can manifest in many ways. Exposure to trauma(s) from your past may alter a part of your brain and subsequently negatively affect the way that you react to situations in the present that others may perceive as innocuous. The brain regions most affected are the amygdala, hippocampus, and medial prefrontal cortex, all of which are strongly involved in regulating emotions. PTSD affects nearly 8% of the population at some point in their lifetime and is often linked with other emotional disorders that can significantly affect function.
In people who suffer from PTSD, the stress response described above is abnormal. Even when not exposed to a current perceived threat, the stress response can happen spontaneously, as in flashbacks. People who have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder will experience one of the following three reactions for a period of more than one month in response to a current or past stressor. These reactions include:
- Reminders of the exposure (including flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, nightmares)
- Activation (including hyperarousal, insomnia, agitation, irritability, impulsivity, and anger)
- Deactivation (including numbing, avoidance, withdrawal, confusion, derealization, dissociation, and depression)
These symptoms can be quite debilitating and greatly affect function.
Cold Therapy for PTSD: Vagus Nerve Stimulation
Stimulation of the vagus nerve is an extremely effective method of lessening stress. Vagus nerve stimulation is being studied as a potential treatment for PTSD. Repeated exposure to cold water stimulates the vagus nerve without medications or other external devices. A fascinating study was performed on participants using repeated exposure to cold water and found that with repeated and frequent exposure to cold, your physiology can adapt to this stimulus to the point of controlling your autonomic nervous system and how it responds to a stressor.
One study found that repeated exposure to cold “lead to tonic changes in autonomous brain mechanisms, a speculation that has implications for managing medical conditions ranging from diseases of the immune system to more intriguingly psychiatric conditions such as mood and anxiety disorders.”
Cold Water Immersion and Hormones
Cold water therapy, along with stimulating the vagus nerve, has long been known to produce feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters in the brain, such as norepinephrine and dopamine which releases endorphins. In the study referred to above from 2008, it was found in a clinical trial that taking a cold shower for two to three minutes for several weeks to several months could alleviate symptoms of depression.
Cold Water Immersion Therapy cannot heal everything that ails you, but performing cold water therapy regularly could dramatically improve your health. That’s why many people use cold therapy for PTSD. It is an alternative health bio-hack that has been used for centuries to improve mental and physical health. Ice Barrel makes it easy and convenient for you to use this modality daily in the comfort of your own home.
Jun 29, 2021
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