How to beat stress – Why dunking your head in ice water is the QUICKEST way

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It’s normal to feel stressed every now and then as a result of issues related to work, finances, health, and relationships, but it’s not normal for stress to affect your life on a regular basis. Nearly a third of adults feel stressed 10 or more days a month and that isn’t healthy. No clue how to manage your stress? chatted to Dr Noel Young, Clinical Innovation Associate, Thriva, to find out how to beat stress (and why dunking your head in ice water is the best way).

How to beat stress

Identifying the cause of your stress is the first step to managing it.

Sometimes there is a singular cause of stress, but other times it is caused by a “build-up of small pressures”, according to mental health charity Mind.

This might make it tricky to put your finger on what’s making you feel stressed and put it into words for other people.

In general, feelings of stress are normally triggered by things happening in your life that involve:

  • being under lots of pressure
  • facing big changes
  • worrying about something
  • not having much or any control over the outcome of a situation
  • having responsibilities that you’re finding overwhelming
  • not having enough work, activities or change in your life
  • times of uncertainty

Once you’ve identified your triggers and attempted to address them, you might find that your stress has dramatically decreased.

Not many things can fix stress quickly – treating the issue is normally about developing resilience and managing your time or reactions to stressful situations in a way that takes the pressure off you.

However, experts have found that dunking your head in ice water could relieve stress almost instantly.

Dr Young from Thriva recommends doing this every single day when you brush your teeth in the morning.

To understand why ice water helps you beat stress, you need to understand what is physically happening when you are stressed.

Stress and anxiety activate the sympathetic nervous system and this increases your heart rate.

Lowering your heart rate can help provide relief from these sensations associated with stress and anxiety.

Surprise surprise, dunking your head in ice water can help to lower your heart rate when you’re feeling stressed.

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More specifically, contact of your face with cold water activates the trigeminal nerve which triggers the mammalian diving reflex.

Dr. Young explained: “It does this by signaling to the brainstem, which then activates the vagus nerve, which is the main nerve of your parasympathetic nervous system – which slows your heart rate.

“At the same time, your brainstem sends signals to the blood vessels in your extremities to constrict, which increases blood pressure.

“This is a reflex that allows you to adapt to being underwater – a slower heart rate conserves oxygen levels, and diverting the blood from your limbs means your brain and organs get more blood flow.”

This might sound really complex and unpleasant, but it gets easier.

Dr. Young instructed: “All you need to do is take a moderate breath, hold it and submerge your face in the water for 20 to 30 seconds.

“Your heart rate will slow within 10 to 30 seconds of holding your breath, and if you breathe in too deeply this may take longer.”

It’s worth noting that the water doesn’t have to be ice cold, just cooler than the surrounding air. So, 10-20 degrees C is a good temperature to aim for.

The doctor also warned those with low heart rates (bradycardia) or other underlying health conditions to consult with their doctor before attempting this or avoid doing it altogether.

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