Ice, Ice, Baby

Have you ever realized you have lived all your life and just realized the proper use of a tool long after everyone else? I have those moments a lot in life. When I realized you can pop a top off a bottle with just about anything, I was say…30. Joining TikTok has made me realize many of the actual uses for tools that I somehow missed such as how to close a bag of bread correctly or whatever. TikTok also showed me that though my A.D.D. had me out to lunch most of my life, I definitely am not the lower bottom of the barrel of intelligence on the internet. Somehow that makes me feel better.

In High School we learned about the fight or flight response, our primitive ancestors used this response to stay alive. Their heart would beat faster, their breathing would increase and they would run faster. Then in nursing school I learned about the parasympathetic nervous system and how we have a system to regain homeostasis after stress, but I never put it all together.

Trying to always talk to my girls, checking in. They didn’t always say what was wrong. My kids all struggled with anxiety themselves. We went to therapy, yoga, I read books. I was grieving and dragging through therapy at 47 when I learned about cold therapy. Why had I not learned this simple trick until 47 for anxiety?

I used to tell my girls, do NOT walk up quietly behind me if I am chopping vegetables. My fear was I would jump and stab someone. I have always been jumpy, my fight or flight level being extremely high. Loud noises will send me through the ceiling. On a positive note, one of my dear friends told me recently I would most likely survive the zombie apocalypse and could be with her in the bunker, so that’s handy.

Somewhere in recent therapy my daughter was told to put ice on her face or stick her face in a bucket of water. I was a bit concerned we were seeing a wacky therapist. She explained ice to the face activated your vagus nerve which calms the fight or flight response. It can stop someone during a panic attack, it could help someone avoid self-harm, why hadn’t I ever put that together or heard about it?

The reaction your body has is called the mammalian dive reflex. The reaction to a mammal diving deep into cold water is a slowed heart rate, and decreased breathing. We trigger that response by putting our face in a bowl of ice water or by placing a cold pack on our face. You can also hold your breath and splash cold water on your face simulating a dive response. It calms your body to prepare for oxygen restriction.

When we feel intense emotions we often feel out of control. I finally understand why we tell people to splash some cold water on their face when they are upset. Maybe some of the old housewives tales actually are rooted in something after all. It seems like a skill that could be given with an ADHD diagnosis from a pediatrician but I’ll stop from getting on a rant of our broken mental health system.

The next time you feel extreme emotions coming over you, grab an ice pack or some ice water. To be clear you have to put the ice on your own face, though throwing ice water in the face of an annoying co-worker or patronizing boss may sound temping. I can’t personally recommend it.

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