For quick anxiety relief, look to … your freezer? Y’all know we love a good hack here at Poosh, so when our FYP served us a video about “vagus nerve icing” to quell anxiety in record time, we had to look into it.

As it turns out, there’s actually something to it.

First, let’s turn to the longest cranial nerve in the body—the vagus nerve. It runs from the brain to the abdomen, carrying signals from the brain to organs and organs to the brain. It regulates important body functions like heart rate, respiratory rate, and digestion, plus some reflexes like swallowing and vomiting.

The vagus nerve plays a crucial role in the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). Quick refresher on the nervous system: The PNS is responsible for “rest and digest,” and the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) takes care of “fight or flight.” When activated, the vagus nerve tells the body to calm the eff down by slowing heart rate and lowering blood pressure. (Tbh, that’s the only time we’re okay with being told to calm down.)

Studies have suggested that stimulating the vagus nerve with cold can help regulate the nervous system and lower heart rate.

Vagus nerve icing is popular on TikTok, thanks to a video by Frankie Simmons, who relies on this hack when she can’t fall back asleep. “I swear, when I found this, an hour and a half of trying to calm myself down to get back to sleep when I woke up at 4am turned into 15 minutes,” she says in the video.

It’s not just a TikTok thing, however. Cold temperature is also used as a distress tolerance skill in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Distress tolerance = being able to handle tough emotions without becoming overwhelmed. It’s a short-term coping strategy that can quickly reduce the intensity of emotions.

Ways to activate the vagus nerve with cold:

  • Splashing cold water onto your face
  • Holding your breath and submerging your face in a bowl of cold water
  • Holding a soft ice pack over your eyes
  • Drinking ice-cold water
  • Taking a cold shower

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