Cold water + our nervous systems = improved mental health

Updated: Jul 21

There is irony in buying a van to roadschool across the North American continent as, in all honesty, I prefer to live without a car.

It is is less destructive to the Earth, and just a more gentle way of being in the world.

Living in a small, mountain town, where everything we need is accessible within walking and/or biking distance and most of the people rely on taxis and public transportation - as is our life in South America - is my #1 preference. There was absolutely no way that my son and I were going to thrive in isolation within southern California, where the cost of rent is exorbitant and the lack of efficient public transportation is abhorrent. My mental health is my #1 priority however, so buying a van and roadschooling was our best option. (My dream is that, someday soon, we cordon off blocks of towns and suburbs in the USA and move all of the cars within them to the periphery; that we take public transportation to get around our neighborhoods and the other neighborhoods within close proximity; as well as to and from our own vehicles (which we share with our neighbors, because we don't all need cars!) and that we only use our vehicles for longer distance commutes between communities.

Imagine the improvement of our collective mental health when we don't have to stress about the added bills and responsibilities that come with car ownership, and when we know we have an efficient system that we can rely on to help move us around our lives? )

But, back to the topic at hand... Sitting behind a wheel and driving (somedays for upwards of 8 hours at a time! Which, if I crank up the tunes, I can sing loudly and to my heart's content. Amazingly, as well, is that my young child can handle going the distance, too.) can and does trigger my anxiety. My life-long habit of biting at my nails or fingers will rear its head and I will unconsciously fall prey to behaving in a more unconscious way. I also notice that, when I am behaving like this, it affects my son and he begins to mimic my actions by biting his own nails. From June - September 2020, as we drove north up the west coast of the USA and then over to Montana, we spent a lot of our time driving to water falls and other nature areas where we would immerse ourselves in cold water. (You can view more images from our journey here.)

"It turns out cold water exposure, even if it's only splashing our face, activates the vagus nerve, slowing down our breathing and heart rate and switching us into a state referred to as parasympathetic mode, but more commonly known as 'rest-and-digest'." "The vagus nerve represents the main component of the parasympathetic nervous system, which oversees a vast array of crucial bodily functions, including control of mood, immune response, digestion, and heart rate. It establishes one of the connections between the brain and the gastrointestinal tract and sends information about the state of the inner organs to the brain via afferent fibers. The stimulation of vagal afferent fibers in the gut influences monoaminergic brain systems in the brain stem that play crucial roles in major psychiatric conditions, such as mood and anxiety disorders. In line, there is preliminary evidence for gut bacteria to have beneficial effect on mood and anxiety, partly by affecting the activity of the vagus nerve. Since, the vagal tone is correlated with capacity to regulate stress responses and can be influenced by breathing, its increase through meditation and yoga likely contribute to resilience and the mitigation of mood and anxiety symptoms." (from Frontiers in Psychiatry) "Monoaminergic systems include the dopaminergic (DA), noradrenergic (NA), serotonergic (5-HT), and histaminergic (HA) circuitries, which start to differentiate during late embryogenesis. Impaired monoaminergic signaling underlies a large number of behavioral and neurodegenerative disorders in humans." (from Science Direct) Many people in the New Age, "higher consciousness" and personal development world are familiar with the work of "the Ice Man," Wim Hoff. Wim has codified a modern strategy that includes ice baths and a type of breathing that resembles hyperventilation as a means to soothe the nervous system and leads to greater relaxation, rest and focus throughout the day. Naturally, though, "the Ice Man" simply remembered a way that has long been in existence. The Tum-mo meditation, an Inner Fire practice of the ancient Tibetan Buddhist monks, hones one's ability to create inner warmth within our minds first which can then radiate out from our navel chakra (or, center). "This inner fire has profound benefits. It enables us to generate more essence, balancing our hormones, warming our blood, spreading energy throughout. This sun energy rises and melts the frozen water of bliss located in the head. When we experience this bliss, we immediately go beyond thought, beyond duality, and realize the union of wisdom and emptiness....With this practice, not only does one highly refine their subtle body (and therefore physical health), but it is a path to enlightenment itself." from the Tibetan Healing Movement. You don't have to drive to waterfalls, sit in an ice bath or practice an ancient meditation to soothe your nervous system though. Here are two things you can do to support a more relaxed state of being today: 1.) After brushing your teeth every morning, splash cold water on your face. 2.) After your hot showers or baths, rinse in cold water.

Enjoy! Or, as we say in South America, "¡Disfruta!"

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