Social media platforms have introduced us to many health hacks. Some are ineffective and not recommended by experts, and some are actually beneficial. Case in point: ice-bowl therapy. Besides its effects on reducing puffy eyes, helping decrease inflammation, and relieving nausea and hangovers, ice bowl therapy is scientifically proven to activate the body’s mammalian diving reflex.
It appears that all mammals, including humans, have a primitive reflex to prevent us from drowning, called the “Mammalian Diving Reflex.” The diving reflex is the body’s physiological response to submersion in cold water and includes selectively shutting down parts of the body to conserve energy for survival. This means that when our face is submerged in cold water, our bodies instantly kick in a part of our nervous system that slows everything down. If you’re feeling panic or intense anxiety, putting your face on, or taking a shower in, ice-cold water can help calm your emotions and body.
What separates humans from other mammals is that our mammalian diving reflex kicks in only when we’re in a state of emergency, meaning, when we’re in a state of panic. The goal is not to significantly stop your breathing or lower your heart rate. Instead, brief experiences with cold water or objects, particularly when the cold hits the face and nose, send a message to the vagus nerve (which manages the parasympathetic nervous system), also known as the rest and relaxation system. It helps the brain and body understand that there is no emergency and enables you to reset a stressed mind and body.
How to Activate the Mammalian Diving Reflux with Ice Water
You don’t really have to do much to activate your diving reflux, plus it’s a very cost-effective practice. Start by filling a bowl with water and ice that can ideally, fit your entire face. Then, submerge your face into the bowl for 10 to 15 seconds. If you feel uncomfortable, stop at any time, and don’t push yourself. Repeat as needed. If this is uncomfortable for you, there are other techniques that you can use, such as taking a cold shower, splashing cold water on your face, putting a cold towel on your face, or just taking an ice cube and rolling it on your face. It’s recommended to use this technique whenever you feel overwhelmed, under extreme stress, or feel anxiety or panic attack developing.
*If you have major health problems or phobias, consult your doctor before trying this technique.