If you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you know just how unpleasant it can be. What triggers them and how they present themselves can vary greatly from one person to the next; but generally, panic attack symptoms include shaking, dizziness, and shortness of breath. If you’re feeling panicked or experiencing a strong and sudden onslaught of anxiety, there’s a surprising mental health hack that may help calm you down quickly. Here’s how an ice cube can keep a panic attack at bay.

What is the ice cube hack?

The ice cube hack is deceptively simple — yet it may be effective for panic attacks, which can be triggered by anything from over-breathing, to long periods of stress, to activities that lead to intense physical reactions (e.g. excessive coffee drinking). To quell your panic with an ice cube, all you have to do is hold that ice cube in your hand. Focus on feeling the cold temperature and smooth texture of the ice, and you may find yourself starting to calm down.

Where does the ice cube hack come from?

This trick was popularized in a TikTok video from Dr. Julie Smith, a psychologist who shares anti-anxiety tips with her 4.3 million followers. In her video explaining the ice cube hack, she also suggests other ways to use ice cubes for panic: Instead of merely holding the cube, you can move it up and down your arm to feel the cooling sensation; put it in your mouth; or rub it on your face. You can even dip your face in a bowl of ice water, a trick that Dr. Smith says is equally handy for when you’re experiencing overwhelming emotions.

Why does the ice cube hack work?

Essentially, an ice cube can distract a racing mind. The coldness gives you something new to focus on (rather than feelings of panic), plus it has the added benefit of cooling you down, which can be particularly helpful since panic attacks often induce sweating. Focusing on the unique sensations of the ice cube — instead of on your uncomfortable panic attack symptoms — can become a form of calming meditation, helping to keep you grounded. And using an ice cube to ease panic is more than just a TikTok trend; there’s real science behind it, as multiple studies have found that applying an icy compress or even drinking ice water may slow down your heart rate and cause a shift in your parasympathetic nervous system.

However, the ice cube hack is not without its limitations. You may experience a panic attack while out in the world instead of at home, meaning you won’t have immediate access to ice. If this is the case, see if you can procure a cup of ice water to drink — the cold exposure may still help in this form. If you are experiencing frequent panic attacks, you might have panic disorder — so it’s best for you to see a doctor or therapist to address your condition.

An ice cube isn’t going to cure all your anxiety. But in a moment of panic, it can serve as a quick and easy tool to help you quiet your racing thoughts or calm your over-stimulated body.

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