Relieving Stress with Cold Water Face Immersion Therapy

Discover the surprising health benefits of cold water face immersion, a simple practice that can reduce stress and improve your overall wellbeing.
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Have you seen videos going around social media of people dunking their faces in bowls of ice water? As bizarre as it seems, this practice called cold water face immersion 12 comes with some legitimate health benefits.

Submerging your face in cold water can activate the parasympathetic nervous system and elicit the mammalian diving reflex. This triggers a response that lowers your heart rate and reduces stress and anxiety.

In this post, we’ll dive into how splashing your face with cold water affects your body and mind. We’ll explore the science behind why it calms you down, and how it can improve your health.

How Cold Water Face Immersion Affects Your Body and Mind

Key Takeaways:

  • Cold water face immersion activates the mammalian diving reflex, which lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
  • It triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, reducing stress and anxiety.
  • The vagus nerve is engaged, signaling the body to calm down.
  • Studies show it can increase heart rate variability and reduce anxiety.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have concerns before trying extended immersions.
  • For most people, it’s a simple, free way to instantly relax both mind and body.

When you submerge your face in cold water, it sends signals to your body to conserve oxygen and slow your heartbeat. Your parasympathetic nervous system kicks in to put the brakes on the “fight or flight” stress response.

Specifically, cold water on your face triggers the mammalian diving reflex. This natural reflex is designed to help mammals conserve oxygen when underwater. When your face hits the cold water, receptors send signals to your brain telling it to:

  • Slow your heart rate
  • Constrict blood vessels
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduce blood flow to extremities
  • Ramp down metabolic activity

Together, these reactions are known as bradycardia. This lowered heart rate helps your body regulate its systems and activates the parasympathetic activity that prompts a state of calm.

Splashing cold water on your face can also help boost your breath, as the cold causes you to gasp and activate your diaphragm. Controlled breathwork helps lower stress hormones and increase relaxation.

The Science Behind the Vagus Nerve Response

The parasympathetic nervous system activation from cold water face immersion largely stems from its effect on the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is the longest nerve running from your brain to several major organs. It helps put the brakes on the “fight or flight” sympathetic nervous system and has anti-inflammatory effects on your body.

When your face senses the cold water, it sends a signal to the vagus nerve to kick in. This prompts a parasympathetic response of lowered heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones.

Alternatively, holding an ice cube to the roof of your mouth has a similar effect. The cold sends signals to the brain that work to control your heart rate, digestion, and mood. It helps reset your nervous system.

Reducing Stress Through Cold Water Therapy

Because of its instant calming benefits on the body and mind, cold water face immersion has been studied as a way to reduce anxiety and stress.

A small study examined the effects of putting your face in 17°C water for 30 seconds daily. After a week, participants had significant increases in heart rate variability (HRV).

Higher HRV indicates healthier function of your parasympathetic nervous system. It’s linked to lower stress and better physical and mental health.

Splashing some water on your face takes just 30 seconds but can help instantly if you feel nervous or overwhelmed. It activates that mammalian diving reflex to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure.

Is Cold Water Face Dipping Right for You?

While the benefits of cold water immersion sound great, it’s not for everyone. You may want to avoid it if you have certain health conditions like:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Raynaud’s syndrome
  • Asthma

It’s also something you’ll want to ease into slowly, especially if you’re new to cold exposure. Try starting with just 10 seconds of cold water and work your way up as tolerated.

You’ll get the best response by using water temperatures between 50-59°F or 10-15°C. Make sure you don’t go any colder during the winter months.

Talk to your doctor before trying extended cold immersions if you’re concerned. But for most people, a 30-second face dip in cold water is safe and simple.

Conclusion

Dunking your face in cold water for 30 seconds is an easy way to engage the mammalian diving reflex and stimulate parasympathetic function.

This instantly lowers your heart rate and blood pressure to put the brakes on your body’s stress response. It helps activate your vagus nerve and the relaxation response.

While more research is still needed, it’s something you can easily try as part of your daily health or morning routine. It takes just 30 seconds but can help you feel centered, calm, and renewed.

See our complete overview of cold exposure methods to see which one(s) suit you best. Or check out our articles on time management, breathing exercises or relaxation techniques if cold exposure is not your cup of tea!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is submerging your face in cold water good?

Submerging your face in cold water can have several benefits. The cold temperature triggers the mammalian diving reflex, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system. This can lower heart rate and blood pressure. Brief exposure may also help constrict blood vessels and reduce puffiness or inflammation. However, effects can vary by individual. It’s usually safe when done carefully in short bursts of 15 seconds or less.

How long should I submerge my face in cold water?

Experts typically recommend submerging your face in cold water for 10-15 seconds at a time. You can repeat this several times, up to a few minutes total. It’s not recommended to have continuous cold water exposure for longer periods. Start with shorter durations of 10-15 seconds and work up from there. Always move at your own pace and comfort level. Don’t push yourself too far. Be sure to use cold, but not icy water.

What are the benefits of cold water immersion?

Some potential benefits of brief cold water immersion include reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, enhancing focus, tightening pores, decreasing puffiness and inflammation, boosting circulation, activating the vagus nerve, and improving the appearance of skin. However, research is still limited on its effects. Individual responses can vary. It may also just provide a refreshing feeling.

Does ice water reduce inflammation?

Placing your face in ice water may help temporarily reduce inflammation in some cases. The cold temperature constricts blood vessels, which can decrease puffiness and redness. It may also inhibit inflammatory mediators. However, these effects are temporary. More research is needed on using cold water to reduce chronic inflammation. It should not replace medical treatment. Anti-inflammatory medication or lifestyle changes may be more effective.

Can cold water shock the vagus nerve?

When your face is submerged in cold water, it can stimulate the vagus nerve. This is part of the involuntary mammalian diving reflex. Stimulating this nerve activates the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing heart rate and digestion. However, the term “shock” may be somewhat misleading. Brief, careful cold water exposure does not damage the vagus nerve. It leads to a reflexive, temporary response. Longer or extreme cold exposure may carry risks.

 

  1. Health Benefits of Submerging Your Face in Ice Water | Well+Good (wellandgood.com)[]
  2. Cold-water face immersion per se elicits cardiac parasympathetic activity – PubMed (nih.gov)[]
Alex Reijnierse
Alex Reijnierse

Alex Reijnierse is a stress management expert with over a decade of experience in helping individuals effectively manage and reduce stress. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) and has a background in high-pressure environments, which has given him firsthand experience in dealing with chronic stress.