If you find yourself stressed, anxious, or otherwise hyped up and in need of a quick fix, take a moment to splash some cold water on your face. Here’s how to do it right and get the full benefit.
It’s not just a staple of movie tropes and montages: splashing cold water on your face is a biological “cheat code,” if you will, to immediately calm down.
How does it work? We (and many other mammals) have what is known as the mammalian diving reflex. It’s a hard-wired psychological response to immersion in cold water. When triggered, our heart rate slows, blood is redirected towards our core to protect critical organs, and a host of other energy and oxygen conserving mechanisms come into play in anticipation of us holding our breath for an extended period underwater. When you’re not doing some sudden and unexpected free diving, however, the benefit is that you get all the calming effects without the risk of running out of air.
Just getting part of your body wet and cold isn’t enough to trigger the response though. Dunking your feet in a bucket of cold water or running cold water over your hands in the washroom won’t do it. The reflex is specifically triggered when the cold water hits our face and enters our nostrils while we’re holding our breath. So to get the benefit of the ol’ movie quality dramatic moment of splashing water on your face:
- Run the water cold.
- Take a deep breath and hold it.
- Splash the cold water liberally up towards your face.
- Repeat for a few splashes (holding your breath for a few extra seconds while doing this will accelerate the process).
Take a deep refreshing breath, pat your face dry, and enjoy the instant benefits of using the mammalian diving reflex like a biological cheat code.