Stress is a good thing. Or it used to be anyways. That gut wrenching, sweat inducing panic response is what kept our human race going in a very dangerous world. Anxiety is your brain telling you, “Get out of here bozo!!! It is scary here!! You could die!!!”
And all of that is fine and dandy, unless your danger-sensor is off. Most people have experienced stress in situations that haven’t been potentially fatal. Regular stressors include making a work presentation, needing to make a phone call, or looking at your bank account. It isn’t quite the gnarly reality faced by our ancestors. For those who are living with any kind of anxiety disorder, their danger-sensor sees the scary in many everyday stimuli. This skin-crawling, shallow-breathing, all around terrible feeling can cause serious issues to one’s quality of life.
So how do you fix a broken danger-sensor? The old I.T. standby of “have you tried turning it off & then turning it back on?” doesn’t exactly apply here. Fear not, because there is another way to short circuit stress. Humans, otters, and other mammals have a magical diver’s response. The diver’s response, also referred to as the mammalian diving reflex, is an automatic bodily response that causes an immediate drop in heart rate, blood flow, and metabolism when the body is exposed to cold water. This survival reflex is meant to manage the body’s low level of oxygen to prevent us from drowning.
This innate response is so effective and fast-acting it has actually been co-opted for use in non-drowning situations. Dialectical Behavioral Therapy founder Marsha Linehan has “tip the temperature of your face with cold water” listed as one of the first coping skills to reduce extreme distress fast. Linehan suggests holding your breath and placing your face in a bowl cold water or holding a cold pack against your forehead and cheeks. This sends a 'we are drowning' signal to your brain and it overrides the stress-response, providing fast relief to physiological anxiety symptoms. This body hack helps those experiencing high levels of stress to return to homeostasis, allowing them to better manage their anxiety.
So, the next time you are stressed out, overwhelmed, and cannot manage, take a tip from Justin the sage of Canada -- Bieber not Trudeau -- if you feel you’re sinking, I will jump right over into cold, cold water for you. Then you both will feel more physically at peace to contemplate if deleting his social media accounts are the right move.