At the beginning of the pandemic I found myself 6 weeks postpartum with 3 kids at home – all under the age of three.  The exact opposite of how I had planned the year like so many other moms. 

I knew I needed to be proactive in finding ways to cope without any form of support.  I had tried all sorts of methods from therapy to running daily, meditation and many other mindful activities all with varying degrees of success. 

As a self-professed personal growth addict, I’m always looking for something more.  I also love a challenge. I had binge watched the goop documentary on Netflix around the same time everyone else was watching The Tiger King. 

Francesca Brunsden on how cold water dipping got her through the pandemic

There was an episode about cold water therapy and breath work with Wim Hof, more famously known as The Ice Man.  He had helped people overcome illness and anxiety with breathing techniques and dipping into freezing cold water.  I was intrigued but couldn’t imagine myself actually doing it. 

I’m not a cold person.  I love nothing more than being warm and cozy and his methods seemed extreme to me at first yet intrigued me immensely. 

A short time later, I was curious enough to download his app.  His claim that he could ‘turn off your thoughts’ seemed like a personal challenge.  Given how my hyperactive hormonal mind was racing constantly on very little sleep, I felt compelled to prove him wrong.  Well to my surprise, he was right.  Unlike meditation, I found his methods much quicker, realistic and actionable for a busy mum of 3, with instant pay off.  Within minutes I would feel calmer after doing a couple of ‘rounds’ on his app.  I kept this up for some time. 

Fast forward to December 2020 and I found myself challenging an acquaintance to go in the lake in the middle of December.  We made a date: sunrise on December 21st, a pretty special day to dip..

With only 10 days to get ‘game day’ ready, determined to go in calmly and stay in for a couple of minutes at least, I had started to practice having cold showers daily.  At first it was more of a personal challenge until I had a system that involved showering in warm water, then turning it all the way cold while getting my breathing technique down until the water eventually turned to ice.  Keeping the breathwork going allowed me to stay in longer, focusing on the techniques I had learned in the app and allowing my shoulders to drop and my body to relax, eventually making for an exhilarating experience. 

Francesca Brunsden on how cold water dipping got her through the pandemic

On the day of the dip, I was very nervous, but doing it in the company of two other women and focusing on my breath got me through with ease.  At that time of year it was a case of being able to stay in until I couldn’t feel my hands or feet.  All of this sounds extreme yet it was a very calming and exhilarating experience.  A feeling of being invincible.

I was addicted and at the beginning of 2021, we started doing a family dip.  I began going regularly, usually on a weekend or during my husband’s lunch break.  I had a ‘go bag’ with a towel, neoprene socks, baggy pants and a hat to warm up after.  I am lucky enough to live close enough to the water that the 5/10 minutes to drive, park, dip for a couple minutes and then dash home could be done quite quickly. 

More recently I’ve been looking for ways of doing this almost daily.  I worked hard to get all 3 kids on a sleep schedule where I know they will typically sleep until 7/7:30 AM.  I try to start my days with a run, finishing on the beach to dip and then dash home before the kids wake up.  On Mondays, I sacrifice the run for a sunrise dip.  There is something really quite special about watching the sunrise in the water, while enjoying some pure calm.  The ultimate sun salutation, kneeling in the cold lake, gazing into the sun.  I could get the same benefits from the shower, but anyone who has tried this in open water will tell you there is no comparison for being outside in nature.  For me there is no better start to the day. 

Francesca Brunsden on how cold water dipping got her through the pandemic

Living through this pandemic makes you a bit numb, cold water dipping is the therapy that has woken me up, leaving me ready to face the day and whatever it has in store for me.  It has also been a great aid in mindset shifts, reframing my language and focusing on what’s in my control, which is the way that I react to things.  We can’t make the water warm but we can control how we react to the cold.  A theory I take into other aspects of my life and that I try to pass on to other women. 

2020 has led to a lot of soul searching, growth and change particularly in my career.  I attribute a lot of my success to the still and peace that comes from cold water therapy.  The headspace it put me in allowed me the creativity and courage I needed to pivot careers.  Now both businesses I founded are focused on wellness for moms and women, where my hope is to pass on some of my own learnings. 

Key takeaways & practical advice for those wanting to try:
Your mindset is everything – the key is to try not to run in and out screaming ‘it’s freezing’ but instead to try to walk in calmly and use the breathwork to relax into it and enjoy the experience.  We can consciously choose not to focus on or think about the cold.

You don’t need to like the cold to enjoy the experience – it’s easier to dip in the lake vs taking a cold shower, plus if you can swing it at sunrise, it’s really quite beautiful. 

Some of the health benefits include better sleep, better focus, calmer mind, help to suppress inflammation, increased lung capacity and quicker recovery of your muscles. 

Francesca Brunsden on how cold water dipping got her through the pandemic

Practical advice
1) Going in the water:
 Go in dressed for comfort and have what you need to warm up close to hand.
In winter I wear the following:
- Sports bra and leggings
- Neoprene gloves and socks, any lightweight water shoes, even regular socks will do
- A hat 

    2) While in the water:
    If possible find a shallow spot and kneel vs going out to deep water.
    Do not go in rough conditions unless the water is very shallow.
    Go in with someone for enjoyment factor and to be safe.
    Keep your head out or water in winter.  Personally it hurts to submerge my head in winter (think brain freeze) this is not meant to hurt.
    Try not to put your hands in, in winter, you may lose feeling and that is not the goal, hence why I use gloves.
    Most importantly focus on the breath, the cold will take your breath away it's how we respond that counts.  I practice using the @iceman_hof app.

    3) Coming out of water:
     I have the following ready:
    - Large towel
    - Cozy socks
    - Thick coat in the pictures I wear is a @dryrobe designed for this but not necessary
    - Baggy clothes that will be easy to slip on
    - Gloves and hats in winter (warming extremities is very important)
    → We park as close to the water as possible as we can warm up quickly in winter.
    → You are your coldest 10 mins after you come out hence why warming up is important.
    → This time of year is more forgiving, in the depths of winter the optimal time is 3 minutes (that is enough).

    It’s a great time to start now.  Be warned, it’s addictive in the best way possible.   For me it's about the ritual and the holiday from my thoughts that keeps me coming back.

    Frannie Brunsden is a Mum, founder of Care Club with Frannie and Side Hustle to CEO, Podcast host and mentor in Toronto. She shares her life and story with other women looking to be the best versions of themselves.

    Follow Francesca on Instagram.
    Visit Francesca's website.

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