Were you one of those kids who could stay in the pool all day? I’m guessing you slept pretty well the night following. Well, there’s a scientific reason behind it, and it works to reduce anxiety quickly.
What is dive reflex?
For a moment I want you to picture a baby seal. Really, it’s any semi-aquatic animal, but what the heck is cuter than a baby seal?
Like all babies, seals get tired. There are times where they need to conserve energy. This is when they take in a large breath of air, then dive as deep as they can. As they descend to the bottom, the water gets colder and darker. The cold water slows blood flow, allowing them to use minimal energy and rest their eyes in darker water. This reflex also increases the ability to withstand pressure by prioritizing blood flow to the vital organs like the heart, brain and lungs, while decreasing flow to the limbs.
When can dive reflex be used?
Much like a seal who needs to decrease energy to sleep, anxiety sufferers are able to use dive reflex to immediately slow their heart rate and relax. Shocking cold temperatures reduce the excess blood pressure that comes with being “wound up” in anxiety attacks, rerouting energy to the primal functions of vital organs. What results is an immediate reduction in over stimulation or excess energy. This is when anxiety can be reduced from a 10/10 to a 5 or 6/10- meaning this technique is most helpful in “crisis” situations where grounding and mindfulness are just not enough. Typically dive reflex should be used first, then followed immediately with standard anxiety coping tools.
Examples of 10/10 anxiety could be a large verbal argument, hearing of a loved one’s passing, during times of suicidal ideations, moments of intense anticipatory anxiety, or any time you feel standard coping tools are just not enough.
Okay, great- but I don’t have a pool
Literal deep diving is not necessary. Similar results can be achieved by covering the face with a bag of frozen peas, a frozen washcloth, very cold water to the face, or a cold shower. Be like the baby seal and take a very deep breath, then go “all in” withstanding the coldest temperature in the most surface area you can handle. My personal preference is to keep a wet washcloth in the freezer. When it freezes it maintains malleability, meaning I can use two flat hands ‘facial style’ to hold the cloth to my face, covering nose, sinuses, forehead, chin, eyes, mouth and cheeks at the same time. Hold it as long as you can take it.
Vasoconstriction (or the constriction of red blood cells) can prevent fainting, the feeling of nausea, and many other panic attack symptoms. This tool probably sounds unappealing, but that’s what makes it useful. It’s the shock factor your body physiologically needs to snap you out of a panic attack. Try it next time you ‘just can’t deal with this right now.’
Stay calm. Stay healthy. Stay cool.
-Kate, the kids, and the baby seals.