Using Temperature to Manage Anxiety

There are many approaches to managing anxiety in the moment. One of my favorite methods is using temperature, specifically cold, to bring anxiety down. When our anxiety level is high, especially if we’re heading into panic, our bodies go into overdrive to meet what it perceives is our need: fight or flight. Our hearts pump faster and harder, our breathing speeds up, our adrenaline kicks in. It can feel like we have no control over our physical selves in those moments.

The quickest and easiest way to combat that is to shock our system with cold. The fastest, but also most complicated, way is to hold our breath and stick our faces in a bowl of ice water for 10 seconds or so. Dramatic, I know, but it works. If you’re at home and have access, this can be a great tactic. It triggers our dive reflex, which slows the system down and adjusts everything to protect our most vital internal organs. It has the lovely side effect of stopping an anxiety attack in its tracks.

Of course, sticking your face in a bowl of ice water is rarely convenient or appropriate. Can you imagine trying that at work? Or the grocery store? So, what else can you do? I recommend keeping frozen bottles of water in the freezer at home or work, if that’s an option. You can place one against your neck and wrists to help calm your system. If that’s not an option, try holding a piece of ice. If none of those options are accessible, you could go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face. I’ve also had some clients keep instant ice packs with them for emergencies. These are particularly convenient for outings to places without access to freezers or cold water. Pop the pack, shake it up, and place it against your pulse points on your neck or wrist (or both!).

Of course, it’s always important to remember to breathe deeply anytime you’re trying to control your anxiety. What tricks do you use to manage your anxiety in the moment?