TikTok Made Me Try Cold-Plunging & I'm So Glad It Did
It was colder than I imagined and harder than I thought.
My inspiration to plunge into the freezing cold New England ocean in the middle of winter came from TikTok. Too many times, I saw people boasting about the benefits of their #dailydip on my FYP (the “for you page,” for those more mature than I), saying they felt a real sense of accomplishment after doing something so tough. I couldn’t help but get curious.
And with some further (and a bit more sophisticated) research beyond social media, I learned that science actually backs this up. Wim Hof, a Dutch athlete, created cold immersion therapy, which uses cold plunging and breath work for better circulation, pain reduction, and — my personal favorite — a mood boost by reducing stress hormones and increasing dopamine. People all over the world have been taking to cold oceans and lakes, creating make-shift outdoor ice tubs, and standing in freezing cold showers to reap the benefits of this ritual.
So, of course, as a mom of four with a long-standing anxiety issue (without any pre-existing health risks and an okay from my doctor), I had to try it. TikTok has probably made me try wilder things, but it’s hard to say what.
Conveniently, a new friend became an avid, daily plunger just a few months ago. She tried it out on a whim in hopes of boosting her energy and alleviating some seasonal anxiety and hasn’t stopped since. Cold water is easy to find for me, since I live in New England and very close to the beach, and she was happy to take me under her wing for my first experience. I had no excuse not to give it a try.
She texted me a few quick tips the morning of: Wear shoes, don’t dunk your head, and dry off immediately. Most importantly, though, she suggested that I set an intention before I go. She reassured me that any intention was fine — to dip my toe in, to stay in for a certain amount of time, or to just be present in the moment, however long it lasts. Then she shared her mantra when approaching the water: “decide and go.” Simple and powerful. I loved it.
We met in the beach parking lot on a Friday morning, and it was obvious that I was a newbie. She was fully prepared with a warm, easily removable plunge parka and a pair of neoprene shoes, while I arrived in an old fleece bathrobe and a pair of Crocs. This wasn’t a fashion moment, and I couldn’t let my lack of accessories derail me.
So we headed down the sand closer to the water before shedding our layers and preparing to plunge. She set out a thermos of warm water for me to pour on my feet when I was done, along with a pair of hand warmers. If you’re gonna try this, I highly suggest finding somebody so experienced for your first outing. Many cold plunging clubs in fact recommend never going alone.
The walk to the water was tough. The air was a bearable 40 degrees, while the water was about 35. I’d done fundraising plunges before — the ones where you sprint into the cold winter water with friends while your adrenaline surges and exit immediately after submerging. That’s easy. And this was not that. This was a slow, thoughtful walk into the water. Once my toes were in, I felt nervous. I looked over at my friend and she ever so calmly looked at me and smiled. “Decide and go,” she said. So I did.
We walked until we were waist-deep, we stopped, and we stood still. I quickly lost feeling in my feet and felt pings of pain in my legs. But she was stoic, calmly breathing — making it clear that her body (and mind) had done this before. I, on the other hand, felt panicked. It was colder than I imagined and harder than I thought.
My brain was telling me to get the f*** out! I knew I couldn’t linger — so I submerged, up to my shoulders, keeping my hands and head out of the water. The moment my chest was underwater, I gasped for air. It was an extraordinary feeling, like I could not properly catch my breath until I really concentrated. Once I did that, I was okay. But it was overwhelming, and I never really felt calm. I guess that comes with practice.
I hoped to stay shoulder-deep for two minutes, but I’m positive I didn’t last that long. But I didn’t leave feeling defeated; I felt accomplished, capable, and proud.
Now I have gone a handful of times, and although the plunge itself has not proved any easier (yet!), I think my TikTokers were onto something. The feeling of accomplishment that I have post-plunge is something that carries me throughout the day. It makes me feel strong and capable. It gives me a temporary boost of energy during a life phase that is often so depleting and exhausting.
So although I am far too new to this game to make any big claims, I do know for sure that it’s worth a try. And if you are going to do it, make sure to bring someone thoughtful enough to pack you a personal thermos of warm foot water.
Samm is an ex-lawyer and mom of four who swears a lot. Find her on Instagram @sammbdavidson.