Placing your face, or your body in general, into a bowl or tub of ice water can directly impact your mood. That slightly panicked feeling you get comes from the activation of the stress response, or sympathetic nervous system, as clinical psychologist Aric Prather, Ph.D. explains on a recent episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. “Cold exposure can be alerting,” he notes.
And by activating the sympathetic nervous system, you can also reduce in-the-moment anxiety. “Cold water immersion for the face is one of the best ways to tone that vagus nerve and allow your nervous system to have that type of resilience,” exercise physiologist, personal trainer, and New York Times bestselling author Ben Greenfield says in another mindbodygreen podcast episode. “When your vagus nerve becomes toned, it’s able to more effectively communicate with the rest of the organs—the heart, the lungs, the diaphragm, the brain—and it also is able to respond to stress in a far more refined way.”
Not to mention, ice has anti-inflammatory properties when applied topically1, which is why so many people opt for facial icing to de-puff the skin and soothe painful breakouts. But it’s not only ice water that’s available for this purpose—you can also use ice globes in conjunction with facial massage for an even more beneficial ritual.
But let’s say you’re in the middle of a busy workday and don’t exactly have the time (or the resources) to plunge your face into ice water—are there any other options? Luckily, the answer is yes: According to Prather, you can also stick your head in the freezer—and essentially reap similar benefits.