'Dive Reflex': The Pro Anxiety-Reducing Hack That Quickly Centers You

There are many areas in our life where we experience extreme emotions. A death in the family, a car accident, an argument, or the loss of a job can put our lives into a tailspin. In addition to these events, there are many who experience daily anxiety that can flare into panic attacks. Those who deal with high anxiety know how intense the feelings can be. Panic attacks can leave a person feeling helpless and out of control, which is often a terrifying experience. Emotions of this kind can make you feel light-headed and sweaty, and cause your heart to pound and your breath to tighten.


Because pausing for mindfulness during situations such as these is difficult, there is an approach we can use to slow our heart rates and settle our nerves: the dive reflex. As Apartment Therapy explains, the dive reflex taps into the body's survival mechanism and creates a centering effect, which is effective for all mammals. Using this trick doesn't feel the greatest, but it may just help you make it through the rough times. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

How to dive

The dive reflex hack physically slows your nervous system down, a natural reaction that occurs when the face is submerged in cold water. You can use it when you feel a panic attack coming on, when you're dealing with general anxiety, or when your emotions are simply running high and you can't calm yourself down. 


In order to get the benefits, you'll have to completely wet your face with cold water (lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit) for between 15 and 30 seconds, per Apartment Therapy. You can do this by taking a cold shower and putting your face directly under the shower head, or filling a bowl with ice water and placing your face in it for the time required. You should notice your heart rate decrease and a sense of calm fall over you. If one session isn't enough, feel free to repeat this until you feel the calm you need. 

If you aren't comfortable taking a cold shower or submerging your face, then you can get similar results by simply splashing water or rubbing an ice cube on your face, according to Sporty & Rich. Also known as the mammalian dive response, this technique is wildly effective in helping you immediately calm down and regulate your feelings.


Why the technique is great for panic attacks

The dive reflex is a reaction mammals have to enough exposure to cold water. As a 2012 study in the Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science explains, this leads to the brain shutting down some of the body's systems to preserve energy. As a result, your heart rate will automatically slow down, and thus, there will be less blood flow to fuel your nervous system. This is extremely helpful during a panic attack, an experience that leads to a racing heart, and spikes of adrenaline and energy which are completely out of context, per Mentally Agile. While this reaction is helpful if you're in real danger and need to run away, it can be debilitating when you're just trying to do life. 


Panic attacks can feel overwhelming, and there is oftentimes no way to take control by breathing through it. But utilizing the dive reflex lets your body do the work for you. By following this hack, you'll find it easier to gain reprieve from your panic attack and start to calm down.