Cold baths help. A shower with cold water, calms you down, cools down overwhelmed senses, stops meltdown from happening… Many of us, however, connects cold water with a punishment. An educational method for “naughty and angry” children was always a cold shower. And a post-war and normalization generation has seen many films where cold water is used to torture people in prisons and concentration camps. Step in cold water for better mental health, or let the water fall on you, when you have experienced the “cold educational methods” or have seen the torture of Jozka Jaburkova. Despite all this, many hypersensitive people use cold water in case of overwhelming or prevention. We have asked them; how does the cold water help them.
How did it Priessnitz mean?
Vincent Priessnitz used cold flowing water for healing. His wet wraps for sore throat probably know everyone. But, when you arrive at the Priessnitz Spa in Jesenik, you will find out that he healed everything with cold water, not just the throat. When he started this weirdness, people heard about it and waited by his home; these days, we would say people with physical, mental, or other handicaps. As it usually goes – people were getting better, and those in power were against it. He even ended up in prison for his quackery. To this day, people come for this “weird” method; they no longer stand in lines though, they live in hotels, and included are even procedures with hot baths. Outside, however, is used the good old method of Priessnits’. Balneopark with a cold stream and pebbles for foot massage, cold swimming pool for feet and other for hands, cold shovers from the local cold stream, and more. The outside Balneopark was founded in 2010. You can enjoy the spa thanks to the state dotation od 4000 Kc. The state has contributed to curing mental health issues and turistics for the second year now.
Cold Water cools senses
Why is cold water good? It brings you back to your body. For example, it is very important for hypersensitive people, who do not feel their body and must always bring themselves back with some kind of stimming to focus and soothe their inside stress (biting, swinging on a chair…). Cold Water can help hypersensitive people as well. It cools down the overwhelming that leads to meltdown. If a person suffers more from shutdowns, the cold water energizes. In both cases, are people brought back to their bodies with cooling down or energization. The body is so smart it finds out the import in cold water. But it does not work just with outdoor education. To put someone in cold water is a punishment. The result is instantaneous, but the side effects are the devastation of personality, not learning how to work with your own body, not learning the mental hygiene, the work with your tension or exhaustion, and more: compassion and kindness to yourself… It also leads to the experience that the “authority” can do anything. And it all leads to future psychosomatic pains and mental health issues (anxiety, depression, passive aggression, or direct aggression…).
Water therapy can help with sensory processing issues
Autism often includes sensory processing disorders, so children and later adults often suffer from “sensory overwhelming”. It has been found out that hydrostatic pressure in water helps children with sensory processing disorders or vestibular problems by creating a mild and calm physical environment.
The best description is by an adult autistic woman Jana Pastelkova: “The Water knows me, accepts me. As soon as you dive into water, it reads you. Water knows who you are. Yet, at the same time, it is meditation. I feel absolute acceptance and connection.”
Petra Dvorakova from Sensorics Integration Association tells me that she and her physiotherapeutic college did a workshop at Motol hospital with minimal requirements. “We tried some activities with children at the Motol rehabilitation pool. The training of balance and improvement of feeling out own bodies is wonderful in water, and I’m not talking about sensual hardening. I recommend such activities for children with ASD, but it is necessary to take care of their comfort.” Reminds Petra Dvorakova.
Flowing cold water helps the mental health
In Jesenik, people with mental health issues are being cured. One would never believe that while fighting depression, having chronic exhaustion and thinking, they need only hot baths and wax wraps, need five minutes in 8 to 10-degree water to get rid of psychosomatic pain, and pained shoulders, migraine, anxiety… “The first time, I thought it was an only coincidence when the psychosomatic pain disappeared after bathing my legs and arms in cold water. When the pain in my right shoulder returned, and my migraine started again, I tried it again,” says 45-year-old Adela, who is on the autistic spectrum, whom the migraine takes three days to subside, and in the last year has these problems every week. The psychiatric medication worked only in the beginning. “Tired and unbelieving, I crawl to the Balneopark. I have sharpened the method. One round in the pool. It hurts for the first time. Then I leave and walk around to get warm again, exactly how the instructions go. Then hands. I can make only 20 seconds; that much it hurts. After other warm-up, I can make 2 to 5 minutes when I add hands from time to time. These only at times because it hurts so much, and you should not do it over the pain. The combination of hands and feet works so well that it releases the tension in my shoulders. And I manage the migraine without medication. But how I would make it in Prague with the cold water and the will to enter it, that I don’t know,” shrugs Adela. Paradoxically, the cold water warms her. However, it supports the statement of V. Priessnitz: It is not cold that heals; it is the heat created by the cold water.
The cold water helps to forgo the autistic crisis or stops it
At the 2nd Autistic Conference, the CEO of Famtoys, Jana Pastelkova talked about FAK for crises. One of the last resorts for her is swimming in cold water. “I’m no cold-hardy person, but, if I can, I go swimming in the river. The river heals me; it is healing and kind. Every time I connect with the water, I am glad that I have feet, hands,… I feel my body. I found a simple equation – when a meltdown comes, I have prepared glasses, a towel, a swimming cap, and earplugs. I dress in the swimsuit and go straight down to the river. The cold water gives my soul back to the body. And it is a strong emotional experience, to be able to swim in a cold and wild river, I can make anything. And it is a great compensation of a coming meltdown.”
A similar experience has autistic woman Dagmar: “I remember that I had horrible states of mind when I was really anxious… I had no better idea than to go to the river. /In normal clothing, I couldn’t even go back for the swimsuit/… it was in the middle of April, I was supposed to go to the night shift, and this anxiety came… I calmed down in the water, and I managed the shift well enough.”
Without the river cannot live Helena either. “I’ve been hardening myself for a year. I started with cold showers. Then in April came cold baths – normal baths with head in the water (earplugs are necessary). And it makes me feel good, even though it has been brutal at times, but the feelings of calm afterward were amazing. I can’t live without bathing in a river.”
On the other hand, Martina has an experience that only hot water calms her down. “Cold Water helps me only in case of stopping a meltdown. And then a hot shower is necessary to regenerate.” She needs one to two minutes to stop the meltdown. Sometimes only something cold on her neck and hands may help.
Stepping over your boundaries is a reward
We must again stress that healing with cold water is a free choice, that, in the words of Vladimira Rychlik, is a kindness to your own body. This article is not a manual for parents to use cold water to punish or resolve an autistic crisis. It is not recommended to teach your child to harden themselves in cold water for some reward. Hydrotherapy is an inner choice for every one of us. We can only recommend it based on the experience of those who look for a natural way to mental and physical health. Vincent Priessnitz said: “If I did not find water for healing, I would heal with air.” That is why it is possible to heal by walking in nature.
Stepping over your boundaries is a natural reward; you do not need other rewards. Bara summarises it: “Cold Water is great for the head. So in February, I started to harden myself even outside in the water and added showers in the morning. It’s a great meditation. But one must want to do it.”
The ergotherapist Mgr. Petra Dvorakova expresses the same belief in the recent sensory integration interview, which works with the “right challenge”. “Hydrotherapy is a new experience for the child, overcame a challenge, that helps the child to enforce and carry on. The sensory integration method works with something called the “right challenge” – we give the child the possibility of succession. It is difficult for the therapist because they still work on the edge of comfort and discomfort and always must step back when they see that the child gets more stressed. When you keep this line of comfort and discomfort, the child can overcome themselves. And we share the happiness of success. Usually, the therapist does these activities with the child, so they support the mirroring ability in children with ASD. Or the therapist starts with the child watching them do these activities and stimulates the balance organism… It is not a method based on the outside motivation but the inside, and the reward is overcoming yourself and the sharing of overcoming yourself,” explains Mgr. Petra Dvorakova.
Cold shower helps even with socialization
Have you also wandered that your “different” child makes friends easier while in a swimming pool? Water and movement bring people together. The differences lessen, communication becomes easier… autistic people get more overwhelmed by communication with others. Or the socialization makes them anxious. It is the same for extremely sensitive people. They have coping mechanisms. “To me, it was helpful to harden myself with cold water against social anxiety. Cold water releases endorphins that help with anxiety. When I wanted to talk to my classmates at the pool, I went to take a cold shower. The anxiety disappeared, and I could go back to them and talk,” shares in an autistic group on Facebook Stefan.
Even in balneopark, you can see a natural way, how the spa guests start to chat naturally. Even though it is usually the introverted people that come here after traumatic events… The shared topic of water connects them. For example, you can meet a man from Jesenik going around in the stream with a magazine, and he goes there for eleven years. He can make 30 minutes or longer. The will and want is everything, he says.
Cold Water stops you from thinking
“I take cold showers even several times a day because it helps me not to be in my head. I always think my brain just does not stop,” says herbalist Petr Lukes, with whom we had an interview in ATYP Special. “It also helps me with unsteady feet, that people with autism and anxiety often have, it helps with sleep, makes better your immunity. Hardening with cold water is amazing!” adds Peter, who takes 3 to 5 minutes long showers. “It’s not a punishment as most people think. Smoking, drinking alcohol, being under stress… that is the punishment… Hardening improves the quality of your life. When you take cold showers for a month before sleep, you’ll find out that you’re better. You must overcome yourself in the beginning. Strong will and decisions are necessary. When you repeat it every day, it is less and less difficult. It makes you feel good, and after time you even look forward to it,” adds Petr.
The same says Jana Pastelkova: “Water is a cure to my pain. Cure for my soul, because I am no longer alone. It cools down my senses, stops my unstoppable thoughts…”
Cold Water washes out endorphins and helps from psychosomatic pain
“I also like hot water, I go to cold see, pool, rivers… It helps me calm down, concentrate on my feelings and myself, and now and here… Cold Water is good for head pain and pain in general. I suffer from back pain, I am all stiff in the morning, but when I enter a swimming pool with 10 to 20 degrees for 5 to 10 minutes, I suddenly can move better, and the pain subsides, to that endorphins are hormones of happiness – they make your mood better,” says Lucie. Ina describes it in other words: “I’ve been using pain for pain on the cultivated level since childhood. The brain prefers the new perception for a moment.” And the stress pain vanishes.
The hardening has its rules
However, please pay attention to the fact that it is not a good idea to go to the cold shower for several minutes after reading this article. “When I read that showering with cold water helps against depression, I tried it, and I got sick the next day, so nevermore. It isn’t worth it,” remembers Vitek. Hardening cannot go without the rules. In Balneopark are, therefore rules by every pool:
Enter the pool after at least 10 minutes of warming up or walking around. Do not go over the pain. Start in steps—five seconds to five minutes. Then warm up again. There should be at least 30 minutes between the baths.
Even at home, you should not start having full cold showers for a long time. First feet, the hands, and then the whole body, when you can make it. And just for a short time. You can also start with slightly warmer water and then use cooler and cooler. Going behind what you can make is just an old habit that has led you to some mental health problem or making what you can as well as you can. That is what your body tells you when you start the hardening too boldly. You do not take care of your body well, just as you were thought. It is a challenge that heals but heals only in harmony with your kindness towards yourself.
Hardening is a part of learning quality lifestyle
Vladimira Rychlik, DiS., who is on the autistic spectrum and gave a lecture at the 2nd Autistic Conference about the influence of CBD and auto-message, cannot imagine life without swimming in a cold river. “Hardening by cold water and “catharsis by cold” has been an intimate and important part of my everyday life for over 10 years,” says Vladimira. “At one point, I even led catharsis courses by cold. The personal contact with Wim Hof was a great experience for me. Cold is a great guide, doctor, and guru for me. I always know how I feel. It helps me to balance the quality of my life and my tissues. I love to overcome the physical comfort and the huge mental force that comes from long-term contact with cold air and water. It is always training. And I try it to be strong, careful, and kind,” says Vladimira, that has a cooling barrel on her garden. We will have an article about cold therapy in the autumn.
It does not have to be just water. In an autistic Facebook group, shares Mirek: “I like to walk barefoot in the snow, but you can do it just for a while. It supplies your feet with blood nicely. Walking barefoot in nature is recommended to all highly sensitive people to ground themselves and get more surety in themselves and their intuition.
Highly sensitive people
Psychiatrist Judita Orloff, who considers herself a highly sensitive individual writes in her book Guide for highly sensitive people: “A quick way to dissolve stress is to dive into water. Highly sensitive people love water. Healing salts in baths help. After a difficult day is a bath a holy ritual for me. Water cleanses you from all gasses to hours spent outside your house and annoying symptoms you have gained through the day. The best balsam for highly sensitive people is a bath in natural mineral streams because they purify and cure all pains.”
Many people on the autistic spectrum say after reading the books about highly sensitive people that they have been doing this for a while. Many autistic people with high sensitivity create their coping mechanisms. They search for them often only after a long-term burnout. They do not usually find prevention even after burnout. Many experts only recommend autogenous training. In many highly sensitive people can relaxation techniques even worsen the problems in the long term. Highly sensitive people are not in their bodies, they do not know their centers, they cannot ground themselves. (Relaxation can therefore make them float even more away from their bodies.) that is why they need techniques for how to ground themselves: walking barefoot, dance, being in contact with water, sweating while running or walking… Only then can they leave their heads and hearts. Highly sensitive people always think or are primarily focused on others. To help the others, they need to find their center and must be able to return. It is the body that gets them back to the center. The body they had to suppress from childhood, suppress their high sensitivity, and now return to it. “Man feels their body intensely in cold water, as we say: feels to be inside their body,” adds psychologist Ondrej Fejt from Institute for high sensitivity.
Use the influence of water
According to Swedish psychologist Asa-Saga Hammarstedt the calming influence of water feel many people – highly sensitive or not. It can be walking by the river, watching water, listening to its noise, swimming, bathing, or shower. “Or drink a glass of water every hour. Let it cool down your senses – literally and abstractly,” recommends Hammarstedt in her book Firs aid for highly sensitive people.
Text: Dagmar Edith Holá