Anxiety disorders affect millions of people worldwide, with symptoms ranging from mild worry to debilitating panic attacks. While traditional treatments such as medication and therapy can be effective, many individuals seek complementary or alternative therapies to manage their anxiety. One such therapy is Whole Body Cryotherapy (WBC) for anxiety, a treatment that involves exposing the body to very cold temperatures for a short period of time. Proponents of WBC claim that it can reduce anxiety symptoms, among other benefits.
In this article, we’ll explore the evidence behind WBC as a treatment for anxiety and examine its potential mechanisms of action. We’ll also discuss the safety and practical considerations of using WBC for anxiety, and whether it may be a viable option for individuals looking for natural and non-invasive anxiety management strategies.
Let’s begin with the 10 facts about cryotherapy for anxiety:
- Cryotherapy is a non-invasive treatment that involves exposing the body to extremely cold temperatures for about 3 minutes. The experience in a “cryosauna” can be uncomfortable for some people due to the extreme cold temperatures. However, many people find that the benefits outweigh any discomfort.
- Cryotherapy has been shown to reduce anxiety symptoms in some people, potentially due to its effects on the body’s stress response.
- Cryotherapy may help to decrease inflammation in the body, which is thought to contribute to anxiety and other mental health conditions. The anti-inflammatory effect works by producing the following responses within the body:
- Decreasing blood flow: Exposure to cold temperatures causes blood vessels to constrict, which can help to reduce blood flow to inflamed areas. This decrease in blood flow can help to reduce inflammation by limiting the delivery of inflammatory cells and molecules to the affected area.
- Reducing metabolic activity: Cold temperatures can also reduce metabolic activity in the body, which can help to reduce inflammation by slowing down the production of inflammatory molecules.
- Modulating immune response: Cryotherapy for anxiety has been shown to stimulate the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines in the body, which can help to counteract the effects of pro-inflammatory cytokines and reduce inflammation.
- Reducing oxidative stress: Chronic inflammation can lead to oxidative stress, which can damage cells and tissues in the body. Cryotherapy has been shown to reduce oxidative stress by increasing antioxidant levels in the body.
4. Cryotherapy has been found to increase levels of endorphins and other neurotransmitters in the brain, which can improve mood and reduce anxiety. Endorphins are natural opioids that are produced by the body in response to pain or stress, and are often referred to as “feel-good” chemicals because of their ability to produce feelings of euphoria and well-being. While the exact mechanism by which cryo increases endorphins is not fully understood, there are several ways in which cryotherapy for anxiety may increase endorphins:
- Activation of the sympathetic nervous system: Exposure to cold temperatures activates the sympathetic nervous system, which can increase the release of endorphins in the body.
- Reduction in pain: Cryotherapy has been shown to reduce pain by decreasing inflammation and increasing blood flow to affected areas. This reduction in pain may trigger the release of endorphins as a natural pain-relieving response.
- Stimulation of the pituitary gland: The pituitary gland is responsible for releasing hormones, including endorphins. Cryotherapy may stimulate the pituitary gland to increase the release of endorphins.
- Psychological factors: Some studies suggest that the psychological experience of cryotherapy for anxiety, including the novelty of the treatment and the expectation of pain relief, may also play a role in increasing endorphins.
5. Increasing relaxation is a precursor to anxiety relief. Exposure to cold temperatures can trigger a relaxation response in the body, similar to the way in which meditation or deep breathing exercises can promote relaxation. This relaxation response could help to reduce anxiety symptoms and improve overall well-being.
6. Cryosauna treatments has been shown to improve sleep quality, which could in turn reduce anxiety symptoms. Sleep disturbances are common in individuals with anxiety, and poor sleep can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Exposure to cold temperatures can help to regulate the body’s circadian rhythm, which is the internal clock that regulates sleep and wake cycles. By resetting the circadian rhythm, cryotherapy for anxiety may help individuals sleep more soundly and wake up feeling more refreshed.
7. Cryotherapy for anxiety may also help to increase blood flow to the brain, which could have positive effects on cognitive function and mental health.
8. Cryotherapy has been used in conjunction with other therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, to help treat anxiety and other mental health conditions. While we do not have access to an exhaustive list of therapists who use cryotherapy in conjunction with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), here are a few examples:
- Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg: Dr. Wehrenberg is a licensed clinical psychologist who has written extensively on the use of cryotherapy as an adjunct to CBT. In her book “The 10 Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques,” she recommends using cryotherapy as one of the techniques for managing anxiety.
- Dr. Dianne Dugan: Dr. Dugan is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified biofeedback practitioner who has used cryotherapy in combination with CBT to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including anxiety.
- Dr. Kasey Nichols: Dr. Nichols is a licensed naturopathic doctor who incorporates cryotherapy into her practice to help treat anxiety and other mental health conditions.
- Dr. Emily Deans: Dr. Deans is a board-certified psychiatrist who has written about the potential benefits of cryotherapy for mental health, including its use as an adjunct to CBT.
9. While cryotherapy for anxiety is generally safe and has shown some promising results in reducing anxiety symptoms, more research is needed to better understand its long-term effectiveness.
10. Cryotherapy should not be used as a substitute for evidence-based treatments for anxiety, such as natural medication and therapy.
Examples of studies on the effects of Whole Body Cryotherapy for anxiety on stress-related outcomes:
- A 2017 study published in the journal Cryobiology looked at the effects of WBC on stress and mood in healthy adults. Participants underwent WBC sessions twice a week for four weeks, and their stress levels and mood were assessed before and after the treatment. The study found that WBC significantly reduced stress levels and improved mood compared to a control group.
- Another study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2018 investigated the effects of WBC on stress and sleep quality in athletes. The participants underwent 10 WBC sessions over two weeks, and their stress levels and sleep quality were measured before and after the treatment. The study found that WBC significantly reduced stress levels and improved sleep quality in the athletes.
- A 2019 study published in the journal PLOS ONE looked at the effects of WBC on stress and anxiety in patients with major depressive disorder. The participants underwent 12 WBC sessions over four weeks, and their stress and anxiety levels were assessed before and after the treatment. The study found that WBC significantly reduced stress and anxiety levels in the patients, and also improved their quality of life.
- A 2018 study published in the journal Psychology of Sport and Exercise found that a single session of WBC significantly improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety in a group of young adults. The researchers suggested that the increase in endorphins and the reduction in inflammation may have contributed to these effects.
- A 2017 study published in the Journal of Thermal Biology examined the effects of 10 WBC sessions on a variety of outcomes in a group of healthy men. The researchers found that WBC significantly reduced perceived stress levels and improved mood and quality of life.
- A 2015 study published in the Journal of Human Kinetics investigated the effects of WBC on stress and recovery in a group of professional soccer players. The researchers found that WBC reduced stress and improved recovery after high-intensity exercise, possibly due to its anti-inflammatory effects.
- A 2014 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Clinical and Laboratory Investigation examined the effects of WBC on oxidative stress and inflammation in a group of healthy men. The researchers found that a single session of WBC reduced markers of oxidative stress and inflammation, suggesting that it may have potential as a stress-reducing intervention.
- It’s worth noting that some of these studies have some limitations, such as small sample sizes and lack of control groups. More research is needed to fully understand the effects of WBC on stress levels and to determine its long-term effectiveness as a stress-reducing and anxiety-relieving intervention.
- Individuals with anxiety and certain other medical conditions (as listed in our contraindications list) should consult with a healthcare provider to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for their individual needs.