Everyone has seen a movie where the actor or actress splashes their face with water in the bathroom to calm down. (Somehow without ruining their mascara.) And for them, it seems to work. But does that simple tactic really do wonders for banishing anxiety in the real world? According to one expert, it actually makes quite a difference.
When Riverdale star Lili Reinhart posed the water-splashing question on Twitter, multiple users jumped in and said it’s something they do often, whether they’re having anxiety, a panic attack, or just need to give their mind a “reset.” The calm that comes after isn’t a placebo effect; it’s a legitimate way to make your body chill out that comes down to science. “One of the hallmark symptoms of panic and anxiety is a racing heart rate. In order to calm a person down and lower their anxiety, their heart rate needs to lower,” clinical psychologist Michael Breus, PhD, tells me. “Technically speaking, we’re talking about when your sympathetic nervous system—fight or flight—is active, you want your parasympathetic nervous system—relaxation and sleep—to activate to counteract the anxiety.”
And that’s where ice-cold H2O comes in. According to Dr. Breus, splashing water on your face will do two things to your body: “It will shock the system, which will divert your attention to something other than what’s causing the anxiety. It could also be considered a threat to the system, so the system itself will go into preservation or survival mode and lower the heart rate, thus reducing anxiety,” he says. Basically, it’s a quick way to get your mental state back on track when you need it most.
While the tactic works, there’s only one problem: When you’re in the middle of a panic attack, it can be really hard to remember any strategies that will help soothe your system. There’s a trick for that too, though—and no water is required. “I have had patients keep a rubber band on their wrist and whenever they start to have ‘panic-like’ thoughts or feelings, they snap the band, which is similar to a shock to the system,” Dr. Breus says. “It distracts them from the thought, and the panic may subside.” Between a splash and a snap, you’ll be able to find your calm in no time.
Here’s what to do instead of taking deep breaths to treat an anxiety or panic attack. Or, find out how Kendall Jenner deals with anxiety and panic attacks.
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