Ever watch a movie where someone splashes water on their face to calm down? Turns out there really is something to that!

It’s common knowledge that certain breathing exercises will lessen the impact of anxiety, but it can be difficult during times of panic to take the first step and actually breathe! This hack lets you kick-start the process of controlling breath and calming down, and best of all, we are already wired for this to work!

Humans have what’s called the mammalian diving response. It’s an innate physiological reflex shared by all air-breathing vertebrates that activate when we’re submerged in cold water, or, as it turns out, we do something as simple as splashing some cold water on our face. The reflex is an evolutionary advantage that lets the body protect itself from the pressures of a prolonged deep dive by slowing heart rate, redirecting blood to the vital organs to conserve oxygen and other physiological changes. Comes in handy for, say, seals and whales, but even land-dwelling mammals still possess the reflex! (Remember, all life came from the sea after all!)

So this turns out to really be a handy trick for calming one’s anxiety quickly. But in order to activate this reflex, you need to cover your face with water to simulate not being able to breathe. It’s important to have the chilling and wetting of the nostrils and face while holding one’s breath. A lite splash won’t likely be enough, so don’t be afraid to get wet! (Or just jump into a pool of course… preferably in the proper attire!)